It is estimated that around 1 in 3 people in the western world suffer from upper digestive pain, indigestion and/or reflux – otherwise known as GORD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease).
Reflux may be common but is not pleasant. It often looks like:
- Upper abdominal pain, in the center of the chest cavity with a sensation of “heartburn” with sometimes also nausea and vomiting,
- Pain on an empty stomach, sometimes relieved by plain foods like bread and dry crackers.
- Lingering cough often accompanied by vomiting,
- Difficulty swallowing and hypersalivation,
- Presence or absence of ulcers in gastric tissue as seen via examination with a camera,
- Feeling of excessive “fullness” and belching after eating, even with small amounts
The debilitating pain and discomfort caused by reflux can have real genuine impacts on quality of life. Such as having to restrict certain foods, not being able to socialise at times or limiting enjoyable experiences due to discomfort, restlessness at night from reflux while lying down.
You may be more at risk of having reflux if you are:
- eating too much sugar, coffee and spicy foods or not enough protein, or going to bed too soon after eating or eating too quickly,
- taking certain medication (which can deplete nutrients required for normal gastric mucosal function, including antibiotics with disrupt our microbiome)
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are a type of antacid prescribed by doctors to patients with reflux. These are some of the most common and most widely used medications in the world – and it is common that when people are this using this style of antacid medication, they quite literally can forget they have any reflux issues at all! But doesn’t mean the problem has “disappeared” – it often just means the condition has been silenced or suppressed. The issues that caused the reflux in the first instance are still lurking in the background and if you have ever needed to take a PPI type medication, you will know the moment you suddenly stop even if just for a day, all of the symptoms return and in full force. The pain and discomfort is often debilitating, so it is rare that anybody would forget to take their medication!
This type of medication is very effective at stopping stomach acid production in its tracks – but is that such a good thing ?
Shockingly,the number of proton pump inhibitors prescribed is growing and growing each year however, many regular users are unaware that this medication was only ever developed for short term use.
Long term use of proton pump inhibitors has been linked with side effects like:
- repeated bone fracture,
- Increased risk of gastric and respiratory infections,
- Heart attack and stroke
- Increased gastric cancer risk in patients who also sought treatment for H.pylori infection
It is advisable that you may want to speak to your doctor about reducing your daily dose over time in an effort to safely wean off. And at the same time, perhaps consider some viable alternative medicines that can help repair and protect gastric and oesophageal tissue and optimise normal functioning.
What if your reflux pain isn’t actually being caused by “too much” acid. What if its actually not enough?
Take the case of hiatus hernia – where the stomach is being pushed up into the chest cavity through the opening in the diaphragm. This can often occur where due to low stomach acid, undigested food sits for too long in the stomach and toxic gases build up, bloating the stomach and causing it to expand, often causing dysfunction of the opening and closing mechanism of the esophageal sphincter. In the same way that you squeeze out the last bits of toothpaste in the tube – there doesn’t have to be very much acid in the “tube” to leak out. In fact, one tiny drop of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) placed on the skin on the back of your hand would be extremely damaging. In the same way, the esophagus just doesn’t have the same level of protective mucous layers that the stomach has to protect itself with and one tiny drop really does cause alot of burning on this delicate unprotected tissue.
The reflux symptoms in such a case feel almost identical so how can you tell if you have too high acid or not enough?
When you come to see a naturopath presenting with reflux-like symptoms, treatment aims are not necessarily just centered around stopping or increasing acid production, but may look more like using herbal and nutritional medicines to support:
- Improved functioning of digestive enzymes and healthy bacteria involved in microbiome
- Improved gastric emptying,
- Increased nutrients for mucous membrane repair,
- Improved functioning (opening and closing) of upper and lower esophageal openings
Reflux is actually a condition very well managed by natural therapy practitioners such as myself – and the results could mean more pleasure and less pain at dinner time. Why not ask a naturopath for some advice before resorting to commonly prescribed high strength and health disruptive medications ?
About The Author
Vashti has been involved in the Natural Medicine profession for over 20 yrs. She has worked in numerous clinic settings and currently has joined the growing number of practitioners consulting patients globally via telehealth.
She takes a simplified approach with emphasis on regular support via health coaching and education. She is passionate about helping others to discover their highest potential through improved health and inspiring a lifetime of change through educating on health options.
Her special interests include: cellular health and anti aging medicine, gut health and mood disorders and metabolic health.
Vashti D’Vyne – Founding Practitioner, Wellness Advice Now:
BHSc Comp Med Adv Dip Nat
A selection of references used for this article:
Miller, G., Wong, C. and Pollack, A. (2015). Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) in Australian general practice patients. Australia Famiily Physicain, 44(10), pp.701-704
Hunt, R., et al. (2015) World Gastroenterology Organisation Global Guidelines: GERD Global Perspective on Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. J Clin Gastroenterol. 51(6): 467-478.
Ness-Jensen, E., Hveem, K., El-Serag, H., & Lagergren, J. (2016). Lifestyle Intervention in Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Clinical Gastroenterology And Hepatology, 14(2), 175-182.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2015.04.176
Tack J, Becher A, Mulligan C, Johnson DA. (2012). Systematic review: The burden of disruptive gastro-oesophageal reflux disease on health-related quality of life. Aliment Pharmacol Ther; 35:1257–66.
Patrick L. (2011). Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): A Review of Conventional and Alternative Treatments. Altern Med Rev; 16(2):116