In discussing natural solutions for gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD, or simply acid reflux, it’s a good idea to start by briefly reviewing the digestive process.
Digestion is the means by which the body breaks down the foods we eat into the smallest particles which our bodies can then use. How important is this? Every single structure and every single function in our bodies runs off of these nutrients, and that is why if we want to be healthy it is critical to eat both nutrient-dense foods and also be able to properly digest them to access the nutrients.
Digestion is a cascade with each step, relying on the proper functioning of the prior step. If digestion is not working optimally, you will not be able to break down food into the smallest particles (amino acids, fatty acids, sugars), which your body is able to use and health will suffer. If one step of the digestive process is disrupted, the remainder of the process is impaired.
GERD is a condition in which the stomach contents backflow into the esophagus, causing heartburn, pain and potentially cancer. Doctors often prescribe acid blockers to reduce acidity in the stomach so that the reflux is not as painful and potentially damaging to the esophagus. These medications are designed to be used short term to allow the esophagus to heal.
However, what happens all too often is that patients stay on these medications long-term. It is important to recognize that this completely disrupts the remainder of the digestive cascade, which is dependent on the stomach contents being highly acidic. The stomach is designed to be the most acidic area in the body because the acid is necessary to break down proteins, keep the foods moving along and to signal the body to produce further digestive enzymes in the small intestine.
Long-term reduced acidity in the stomach results in numerous potential consequences to health, including bowel inflammation and disease, nutrient and neurotransmitter deficiencies and autoimmune disease. A comprehensive natural approach to GERD can often eliminate the need for medications which disrupt the digestive process and our access to essential nutrients.
Here are some suggestions:
- Eat in a relaxed, mindful state, chewing thoroughly before swallowing. Take a few minutes beforehand to breath, pray or just be grateful. It’s not a good idea to eat when you are stressed (the sympathetic ‘fight-or-flight” state), because then your body is preparing for an emergency and it cannot produce the digestive enzymes needed to adequately break down your foods. These are produced by the parasympathetic, “rest-and-digest” branch of your nervous system.
- Consume a whole-food, nutrient-dense, low-sugar diet. We ate for two million years before the more recent advent of processed, toxic-convenience foods. Excess sugars and carbs and poor food combining cause fermentation in the stomach, leading to reflux. Over and over in my practice, I see improvement or complete resolution of reflux when clients implement a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet.
- Through observation, find which foods are problematic for you and avoid them. Common offenders are alcohol, tomato sauces, chocolate, coffee and eggs.
- Don’t overeat, and finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bed.
- Intermittent fasting or a reduced feeding window can be a powerful strategy that gives your body a break from digestion and time to heal.
- Excess weight carried around the waist increases intra-abdominal pressure and contributes to GERD. Weight loss will be beneficial.
- Cut out or reduce alcohol consumption, at least for a period while you are healing. Have you ever poured alcohol on an open wound? It hurts! This is what is happening to your inflamed esophagus when you drink.
- If you choose to take the natural route, work with a nutritionist or other practitioner trained in acid-blocker-weaning protocols. These involve healing the area with natural herbs and supplements and then actually increasing the acid in the stomach so that foods can be properly digested, moving them forward so they do not back up, as with GERD.
Freya Oostingh is a nutritional therapy practitioner trained in the Bredesen Protocol. She sees clients individually at her office and runs group nutritional programs at Building7 Yoga, Wyomissing, at www.bio-logicnutrition.com.