At the root of acid reflux is the dysfunction of the lower oesophageal sphincter. This sphincter should close once food passes from the oesophagus to the stomach, but it does not close properly, stomch acid can leak back up from lower in the digestive system and begin to cause a host of problems which, if not handled correctly can result in severe damage to the oesophagus.
Signs and symptoms
The most common symptoms of GERD in adults are an acidic taste in the mouth, regurgitation, and heartburn. Less common symptoms include pain with swallowing/sore throat, increased salivation (also known as water brash), nausea, chest pain, and coughing.
GERD may be difficult to detect in infants and children, since they cannot describe what they are feeling and indicators must be observed. Symptoms may vary from typical adult symptoms. GERD in children may cause repeated vomiting, effortless spitting up, coughing, and other respiratory problems, such as wheezing. Inconsolable crying, refusing food, crying for food and then pulling off the bottle or breast only to cry for it again, failure to gain adequate weight, bad breath, and burping are also common. Children may have one symptom or many; no single symptom is universal in all children with GERD.
Symptoms of Acid Reflux and GERD might include:
- Sore, dry chronically irriitated throat
- Having problems with swallowing food
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Coughing during your sleep that wakes you up
- Dry mouth
- Bad breath
- Experiencing bloating, belching, gassiness, and flatulence after meals
- Hoarseness when waking or during the day
- Food regurgitation
Complications Due to Acid Reflux
The importance of getting to the root cause of your acid reflux / GERD is vital. The oesophagus can become narrowed as a result of scar tissue forming in the lower part of the oesophagus. Not resolving your acid reflux can result in one or more of these injuries:
- Reflux esophagitis – inflammation of esophageal epithelium which can cause ulcers near the junction of the stomach and esophagus
- Esophageal strictures – the persistent narrowing of the esophagus caused by reflux-induced inflammation
- Barrett's esophagus – intestinal metaplasia (changes of the epithelial cells from squamous to intestinal columnar epithelium) of the distal esophagus
- Esophageal adenocarcinoma – a form of cancer
- Sleep-related problems
- Chronic coughing
- Cancer of the oesophagus
Despite what you think or are told by mainstream medicine and pharmaceutical companies, the real cause of acid reflux has been shown in studies to be a LACK of stomach acids and NOT an excess. It therefore makes not sense whatsoever to further reduce this so-called excess acid, by taking medication.
The oesophagus is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach and when the oesophageal valve that connects the oesophagus to the stomach does not shut properly, the gastric juices flow back into that tube. The low levels of stomach acid impede your digestion process and cause further health complications.
There is no one diagnosis for acid reflux / GERD – food triggers and sensitivities are different for everyone but generally speaking some of the general causes / risk factors associated with acid reflux could include:
Some Causes and Risk Factors
- Hiatal hernia: Heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is not as strong as normal. This allows stomach acid to escape back into the esophagus and create discomfort. Hiatal hernia is diagnosed when the stomach moves up into the chest through the opening in the diaphragm.
- Age: as we age, stomach acid production declines in many of the elderly results in the inability to properly digest our food
- Obesity / Over-Weight: being either overweight or obese can put extra pressure on the sphincter and valves that allow the release of acid. At least six studies have shown a notable link between obesity and GERD.
- Pregnancy: During pregnancy, the muscles in the oesophagus push the food more slowly into the stomach and your stomach takes longer to empty to give your body more time to absorb nutrients for the foetus. This often can result in heartburn. As pregnancy progresses, the foetus can push your stomach out of its normal position which can often lead to heartburn. During this time, try eating smaller meals, elevating the head of your bed for sleeping at night. Sipping herbal teas an hour or so after meals. Ginger tea, peppermint tea, rooibos tea spring to mind. Do however avoid parsley (excess amounts can affect the development of the baby and put you at risk for miscarriage), sage (this tea contains thujone which has been linked to high blood pressure and miscarriage) and fennel (only very SMALL amounts to be used, if at all) teas during pregnancy
- Over-eating: Eating large meals, more especially at night, can cause the stomach to become overly full which places pressure on the diaphragm. This will cause acid to travel upwards and back into the oesophagus.
- Smoking: Nicotine, in cigarettes is thought to relax the ring of muscle in the lower esophagus that keeps acid in the stomach, where it belongs. When that ring relaxes, acid can trickle up and cause that burning sensation.
- Medication: Make sure that if you choose to continue with OTC and prescription medication that you read the information provided in the box or the warning lables on the container/boxes, carefully. Certain OTC medications such as ibuprofen, asprin, muscle relaxants as well as some blood pressure prescribed medicines can cause acid reflux / GERD
- H. pylori: one of the first symptoms in this infection which is fairly common, and is tied to stomach ulcers, is heartburn. Investigate and address the root cause of heartburn.
- Magnesium Deficiency: the improper functioning of the oesophageal sphincter which will allow acid to escape,can be as a result of low magnesium levels..
What is the difference between Acid Reflux, GERD and Heartburn?
Occasional heartburn or acid reflux symptoms from time to time is not necessarily a sign of some chronic disorder. It might very well just be a simple case of over-eating. Nevertheless, should these symptoms persist, it would be prudent of you to investigate the cause as chronic, long-standing heartburn puts you at greater risk for serious health problems, not the least of which is the narrowing of the oesophagus
All three of these digestive conditions have very similar symptoms and causes and are certainly related – but each develops at certain stages.
The early stages of acid reflux which presents as a ‘simple’ back-flow of acid from the stomach into the oesophagus. Attending to this as soon as possible by addressing root causes will ensure that the condition will not progress into GERD/heartburn.
- Histamine type 2 receptor antagonists
- Proton pump inhibitors.
These prescription medicines do not address the root cause and only help to keep the symptoms at bay temporarily. Visit this page to see which prescription medicines can contribute to deficiencies of nutrients such as B12, calcium and magnesium.For more information on deficiencies caused by medications see our charts on: Nutrition for Life - Food for Life – Nutrient Deficiencies.
Other health problems that can arise from the continued use of these drugs are:
- Poor digestion
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- C. difficile
Some Natural Remedies
1. Change Your Diet
Following a healthy diet will contribute to overall general health. Eating ‘clean’ – non-processed and non-GMO foods, free of preservatives, colourants and other additives will go a long way to ensuring good gut health. Including fermented foods, pre and probiotic foods will keep the gut healthy. Remove sugar and refined grains from the diet as well as vegetable oils. All of these changes in your diet will keep your gastro-intestinal tract healthy, balance hormone functions and help to prevent chronic diseases associated with poor gut and digestive health.
Avoid these foods:
- Carbonated beverages, sugary drinks or energy drinks
- Artificial sweeteners
- Fried foods
- Vegetable oils, including canola oil
- Spicy foods
- Processed foods
Foods that can help improve acid reflux include fresh organic vegetables (especially leafy greens, squash, artichoke, asparagus and cucumbers), pre- and probiotic foods like goat yogurt (check with your DBM Physician if these are indicated on your program), bone broth (in the case of DBM patients – vegan bone broth), healthy fats like coconut or olive oil, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, parsley, ginger, and fennel.
2. Supplement your diet with 'medicinal' foods
In addition to eating a healthy diet, supplementing this diet with foods that will target your health imbalance is important.
- Probiotics — Adding healthy bacteria helps balance the digestive tracts and crowd out bad bacteria that can lead to indigestion, leaky gut and poor absorption of nutrients. DBM preference is 7 tablespoons of sauerkraut daily
- Chamomile, papaya or ginger herbal tea — Sip one cup of chamomile tea prior to bed sweetened with raw honey. Chamomile tea helps reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, supporting healthy functioning. You can also boil a one-inch piece of fresh ginger in 10 ounces of water for 10 minutes. In addition, papain, an enzyme in papaya, aids in digestion by breaking down proteins.
- Magnesium — add either Epsom salts or magnesium chloride to your bath daily.
3. Other Tips for Improving Digestive Health
- Raise the head of the bed four to six inches. Use blocks to raise the bed, not just a pillow to keep your head propped up, which can help keep acid in the stomach.
- Exercise and manage stress. A sedentary lifestyle and stress worsens symptoms of acid reflux and overall disrupt digestion. Try yoga, meditation, acupuncture, music or art therapy, or whatever helps you effectively manage stress.
- Don’t overeat. Eat smaller meals to allow foods to properly digest, as large meals and overeating put extra pressure on the sphincter.
- Give up smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Don’t consume food three hours prior to bed. Allow your stomach to digest the foods from the meal, and sip an herbal tea instead. It is DBM's recommendation that your last meal for the day be eaten around 18h00.
- Chew foods more thoroughly. Most people today don’t chew their food enough. Remember, digestion starts in the mouth.