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Acid Reflux & GERD: A Naturopathic Approach to Finding Relief

By Dr. Curtis Baker (ND) & Dr. Maryanne D’Silva (ND) - July 2024

The burning sensation in your chest, the sour taste in your throat, the persistent sore throat – these are just a few of the uncomfortable symptoms that can plague those suffering from acid reflux, also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

GERD occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, irritating its lining and causing a range of unpleasant symptoms. A holistic approach can help address the underlying causes and promoting long-term relief. This blog post delves into the causes and risk factors of GERD, explores natural therapies, and provides a comprehensive guide to nutritional and lifestyle modifications for managing this common condition.

Understanding the Root of the Problem

The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) acts like a valve, preventing stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus. However, when this valve weakens or relaxes inappropriately, acid reflux can occur. This can be due to a variety of factors which will be discussed below.

Risk Factors & Causes:

1. Dietary Factors:

  • Low Fiber Intake: A diet lacking fiber can contribute to slow digestion, leading to increased pressure in the stomach and potential reflux.

  • High Fat/Fried Foods: These foods can relax the LES and increase stomach acid production, making reflux more likely.

  • Spicy Food: Spicy foods can irritate the esophagus, exacerbating reflux symptoms.

  • Acidic Food: Citrus fruits, tomatoes, and vinegar can increase stomach acidity, leading to more frequent reflux.

  • Processed Foods: Often high in fat, sugar, and sodium, processed foods can disrupt digestion and trigger reflux.

  • Chocolate: Chocolate contains substances that can relax the LES, increasing reflux risk.

  • Mint: Mint can relax the LES and may worsen reflux symptoms.

  • Garlic and Onion: These pungent foods can irritate the esophagus, triggering reflux in some individuals.

  • Coffee and Carbonated Beverages: Caffeine and carbonation can relax the LES and increase stomach acid production, making reflux more likely.

2. Lifestyle Factors:

  • Smoking: Nicotine weakens the LES and irritates the esophagus, making reflux more frequent and severe.

  • Alcohol: Alcohol relaxes the LES and increases stomach acid production, contributing to reflux.

  • Tight Clothing: Tight clothing can put pressure on the stomach, pushing acid back up the esophagus.

  • Overeating: Eating large meals can put excessive pressure on the stomach, increasing the risk of reflux.

  • Midnight Snacking: Eating late at night, especially high-fat or acidic foods, can trigger reflux before bedtime.

  • Lying Down Soon After Meals: This allows gravity to work against the LES, increasing the likelihood of acid reflux.

  • Stress: Stress can disrupt digestion, increase stomach acid production, and weaken the LES.

3. Medical Conditions:

  • Hiatal Hernia: This condition allows a portion of the stomach to protrude through the diaphragm, weakening the LES and increasing the risk of reflux.

  • Weight Gain: Excess weight increases abdominal pressure, pushing on the stomach and LES, making reflux more likely.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux:

  • Heartburn (burning in the chest): The most common symptom of acid reflux.

  • Burning in the throat or an acid taste in the throat: Acid reflux can irritate the lining of the throat.

  • Stomach/chest pain: Reflux can cause pain in the stomach or chest.

  • Trouble swallowing: Acid reflux can irritate the esophagus, making it difficult to swallow.

  • Raspy voice or sore throat: Chronic reflux can irritate the vocal cords and cause hoarseness.

  • Unexplained cough: Acid reflux can trigger a cough reflex.

Signs of Chronic Acid Reflux:

  • Wearing of tooth enamel: Stomach acid can damage teeth enamel if it frequently backs up into the mouth.

  • Chronic sinusitis, mouth sores: Chronic reflux can irritate the nasal passages and sinuses, leading to sinusitis and mouth sores.

When to Seek Medical Attention:

  • Severe or persistent symptoms: If your symptoms are severe or don't respond to home remedies, it's crucial to see a doctor.

  • Inability to control symptoms: If your symptoms are interfering with your daily life, consult a doctor.

  • Long-lasting symptoms: If you've had symptoms for years, seek medical attention to rule out any underlying complications.

  • Trouble swallowing or feeling food gets "stuck": These symptoms could indicate a more serious problem and require medical evaluation.

  • Unexplained weight loss: Sudden or significant weight loss without trying to lose weight could be a sign of a digestive issue and should be investigated by a doctor.

  • Chest pain or choking when eating: These symptoms can mimic a heart attack and require immediate medical attention.

  • Vomiting blood or red bowel movements: This indicates bleeding in the digestive tract and requires immediate medical care.

Naturopathic Treatments for GERD:

Naturopathic medicine takes a holistic approach, addressing the root causes of GERD and supporting overall digestive health. Here are some natural therapies that can be helpful:

1. Dietary Interventions:

  • Identify Triggers: Keeping a food journal to track meals and symptoms can help pinpoint specific foods that trigger reflux.

  • Fuel Your Body Wisely: Focus on a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, providing essential nutrients and aiding digestion.

  • Avoid Smoking and Excessive Caffeine: Limit coffee, tea, and soda to less than 2 cups per day, and avoid smoking altogether.

  • Eat Smart for Sleep: Avoid large meals and high-fat meals within 3 hours of bedtime or lying down after eating.

  • Eat Breakfast Within an Hour of Waking: This jumpstarts your metabolism and helps regulate digestion throughout the day.

  • Hydrate Adequately: Aim to drink 64 ounces of water daily, promoting healthy digestion.

  • Eat Slowly: Take the time to savor your meals, chewing thoroughly and swallowing fully before taking another bite. This aids digestion and reduces pressure on the stomach.

  • Smaller, More Frequent Meals: Eating smaller, more frequent meals can reduce pressure on the stomach and minimize reflux episodes.

2. Nutritional & Lifestyle Modifications:

  • Practice Breathing Exercises: Deep breathing exercises can help strengthen the LES and promote relaxation.

  • Elevate the Head of Your Bed: Raise the head of your bed by 30 degrees using pillows, blocks, or a styrofoam wedge to reduce acid reflux while you sleep.

  • Chew Sugar-Free Gum or Lozenges: Chewing gum or sucking on lozenges after meals can help neutralize stomach acid and alleviate discomfort.

  • Gentle Exercise: Regular, moderate exercise, like walking or prenatal yoga, can aid digestion and improve overall well-being.

  • Wear Loose-Fitting Clothing: Avoid tight clothing that puts pressure on your stomach.

  • Reduce Alcohol Intake: Limit or avoid alcohol, as it can relax the LES and irritate the esophagus.

3. Goals of Herbal Support:

  • Regulate digestion and reduce reflux frequency.

  • Help strengthen the LES and reduce reflux episodes.

  • Form a protective coating over the esophageal lining, reducing irritation and discomfort

  • Stimulate digestion

  • Reduce gas and bloating, which can exacerbate reflux symptoms.

5. Assessing Underlying Nutritional, Hormonal, or Metabolic Factors:

  • Blood tests can assess for deficiencies in essential nutrients, hormone imbalances, and metabolic abnormalities that may contribute to GERD.

Important Considerations:

  • Individualized Approach: The best course of treatment for GERD will vary based on individual factors, so it's essential to work with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized plan.

  • Lifestyle Changes: Lifestyle modifications, such as diet, exercise, and stress management, are crucial for long-term GERD management.

  • Holistic Approach: Naturopathic medicine focuses on addressing the root causes of GERD and promoting overall health.

Remember, GERD is a chronic condition that often requires ongoing management. Working with a naturopathic doctor can help you develop a personalized plan to address the underlying causes, reduce symptoms, and improve your overall quality of life. The information provided above is not intended to be a comprehensive guide, as there are many other variables to consider and treatments that we may use at our clinic.



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