Taking the Grrrr out of GERD. Myths vs Facts about Acid Reflux (aka Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Diseas
As a functional medicine practitioner, I find myself talking with patients about acid reflux A LOT! The interesting thing is, half the time we are talking about it, they don’t know that’s what we’re talking about and the other half of the time they seem to have complete misinformation on how GERD really works.
But Dr. Caroline, its simple! Too much stomach acid causes it to “reflux” up into the throat causing a burning feeling. Duh.
Nope! If only that were the case, then modern medical treatments such as antacids (tums), H2 blockers (Pepcid) and PPI’s (Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium) would cure reflux, but in reality all these do is mostly mask the symptoms of reflux by reducing acid. So let’s talk about the myths vs facts of acid reflux. With a firm understanding about this, we can actually be much more effective in treating this chronic common problem.
Myth #1 – acid reflux is caused by too much stomach acid
Facts: Acid reflux is caused by normal amounts of stomach acid making their way into the esophagus when they should not be. Some studies even suggest that LOW stomach acid levels may be more of a culprit. If this turns your head upside down about what you think you know about acid reflux you’re not alone.
There are a few different reasons that low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) can lead to heart burn.
So first let’s talk sphincters. At the top of your stomach, you have a sphincter called the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) that is generally supposed to close down once food is in the stomach to prevent the contents from regurgitating back up into the esophagus. This sphincter may not properly close for two main reasons. The first being what is known as a hiatal hernia. To avoid an anatomy lesson, this basically means that your stomach is coming up through your diaphragm causing the contents to be pushed up through the LES. The second cause is the low stomach acid. The LES is designed to remain closed when the acidic contents of the stomach reach a certain level. If this level is never reached due to low stomach acid then the LES may not close appropriately thus allowing acid to creep up into your esophagus while your meal is churning away.
The second reason that lower stomach acid leads to heartburn is due to bacterial imbalance. Studies show that when you have too little acid in your stomach it can quickly get taken over (as well as the small intestine) by bacteria coming up from the colon. This bacteria, while healthy in the colon, causes overgrowth issues and imbalance that lead to a number of the digestive symptoms listed above, heartburn being one of them.
Myth # 2 – Burning feeling in the chest/throat is the main symptom of acid reflux
Facts: While this burning sensation may be a “hallmark” symptom of reflux (hence the term heartburn) it is not always the only symptom. There are a load of other symptoms associated with GERD that many people are completely unaware of, and it’s possible to have acid reflux without the hallmark burning sensation. The fact that most people don't know this is the reason that I end up talking to a lot of patients with reflux who have no idea that they have reflux.
Other symptoms of reflux disease can include: excessive belching, chronic coughing, sore throat or “lump in the throat”, sour taste in the mouth, nausea, bad breath and tooth decay. Knowing this can be the start of a proper diagnosis.
Myth #3 – Medication is the safest, easiest way to reduce GERD
Facts: As discussed above, reflux is more commonly the result of low stomach acid and/or bacterial imbalances. Yet the main medications used to treat reflux are still acid reducing medications largely due to the fact that people often feel better taking these despite the fact that they are just masking the issue.
Reflux drugs have been shown to have correlations with an increased risk of osteoporosis, nutrient malabsorption, certain infections and respiratory disorders. They also can cause indigestion due to the stomach’s inability to properly break down food.
There are more efficient ways to solve the problem of GERD and it starts with working with a doctor willing to find out why your stomach acid is too low and how to address this problem.
Tune in next week when I’ll be talking solutions and the easiest ways to be able to enjoy spicy food AND a good night’s rest!
Dr. Caroline Ricker has been passionately helping people avoid unnecessary medications and surgeries since 2009. She combines a very logical functional medicine approach to digestive disorders and more using a more alternative holistic approach, utilizing standard lab tests and in-office evaluations as well as nutrition, acupuncture and homeopathy.
Whole Health & Wellness
10807 Big Bend Road
St. Louis, MO 63122
P: (314) 269-3847