What is Gastroesophageal Reflux?
Gastroesophageal reflux, also known by the acronym GERD, is when the stomach acid starts to backflow from the stomach into the esophagus.
Almost everyone has experienced gastric reflux at one point in their life. Remember that time you ate one too many hot dogs at your friend’s barbecue? You felt like your stomach was filling with gas and then came the heartburn and belching. You may have run to the store for some Alka-seltzer and the bicarbonate in that medicine probably got you through the night.
However, patients that are prone to gastric reflux (and I am one of them) become aware that certain foods trigger the uncomfortable feeling of a tense stomach followed by soreness in their throat and sometimes the taste of bitterness in their mouth from stomach acids.
Heartburn relief commercials are frequently aired during sporting events. Drug manufacturers know the average fan loves his fast food, pizza, chips, and salsa along with some beer to enjoy the game. They figure by half-time or by the final buzzer your stomach would need some relief.
But These Drugs Have Their Setbacks
Acid blockers, which have been the mainstay of gastric reflux treatment, have evolved. The initial medications Cimetidine, Zantac and Pepcid are called H2 blockers, because they blocked histamine(H) receptors in the stomach to decrease acid production. These medications work reasonably well in most patients to quell the initial burn of heartburn. The problem is that when patients continue to eat high acid-forming foods they continue to need these medications. For a long time, doctors told their patients that these medications were safe to take for long periods of time- not true anymore.
Next, came Nexium and Prilosec, a stronger version of acid blockers that inhibit the proton pump channels in the stomach. To go back to basic chemistry, the body utilizes hydrogen ions to make acid, which your stomach needs to digest food. So, of course, stronger was promoted to be better. Now, patients can get Nexium and Prilosec over-the-counter for their chronic heartburn- not a great idea. If the H2 blockers were drying up the stomach acid, these proton pump inhibitors were causing a drought! Your stomach needs an acid environment to digest and absorbs foods.
It is now well-known that patients on long-term acid blockade suffer from an increased risk of osteoporosis(soft bones) due to decreased absorption of essential minerals. The stomach that is not in the proper acidic range from these medications decreases a person’s immunity and they are more prone to infections.
The basic problem is a Catch-22: you want relief from the pain of heartburn, but you need your stomach acid to do its job. The answer is that you can heal your gastric reflux by doing some simple and natural steps to re-balance your digestive health.
Controlling Your Gastric Reflux Naturally
- Adopt a more alkaline Diet: this means eating a diet more tilted to plant-based foods. Vegetables are alkaline and help in a gentle way keep the stomach pH in its proper acidic range but not allowing the acid to get too acidic. Dr. Jamie Koufman, an otolaryngologist reflux expert, has published in medical journals and her book, Dropping Acid, an induction diet to control reflux. In the back of her book, she actually has a color-coded chart that divides food into the Good Green foods that are alkaline and the Bad Red foods that are acidic. It is very helpful to know what you should and shouldn’t be eating.
- Drink Alkaline water: not all water is the same. Surprised? Certain bottled water has added minerals and other ingredients that make it slightly more acidic than other bottled waters. the best alkaline bottled water isEvamor with a pH of 8.8( Dasani in comparison is 6.9).
- Do Breathing Exercises: What does this have to do with gastric reflux? Everything! I am always teaching my patients in my office at Mitchell Medical Group to learn diaphragmatic breathing to help their reflux. I explain to them that the stomach is bordered by the diaphragm one of the thickest muscles in the body. When you get tense, or if your stomach gets acidic and then tense, the diaphragm starts to squeeze the stomach and cause more acid and more pain! Diaphragmatic breathing is just like Lamaze breathing used to help pregnant women get through labor. Trust me–it works for heartburn too.
Try my natural approach and see if your Alka-seltzer stays in its packet.
– Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC