Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) aka “heartburn” or “reflux” is a disorder in which stomach acid and occasionally stomach contents backs up into your esophagus, or food pipe. When the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxes when it isn’t supposed to, the acidic contents of the stomach have free reign to rise into the esophagus. This acidic mixture irritates the lining of the esophagus causing a burning and painful sensation.
GERD is very common and often over diagnosed and over medicated. Some studies point out that more than 60 million prescriptions were written for GERD related medications. GERD has become a widely accepted fate for many and synonymous with indulgence, aging, and overweight status. Most acid reducing medications are intended to be used for short term therapy along with diet and lifestyle adjustments and not meant for chronic use. Dietary strategies are extremely helpful in reducing the occurrence and frequency of reflux, but often overlooked.
- Symptoms include:
- Burning in the chest and throat
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hoarseness or sore throat
- Dry cough
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
Common and often overlooked causes of GERD
- Too little stomach acid
- Yep, you read that correctly! While some do have an over-production of stomach acid, the contents of the stomach often back up into the esophagus due to the relaxation of the LES (lower esophageal sphincter—the “gatekeeper” between the esophagus and stomach”). When stomach acid is too low and the contents inside aren’t at the proper pH, food will sit in the stomach longer than it is supposed to which causes a slowing of nutrient digestion. Additionally, if pH is not where it is supposed to be, microorganisms that are destroyed by the acid can begin to ferment and build up gas. This produces a lot of pressure on the stomach which must be released, therefore dilating the LES. The LES is a two-way street, allowing contents to flow back and forth up the esophagus.
- Stomach acid is your body’s first line of defense against harmful foreign organisms which may enter through your mouth. Therefore, ensuring stomach acid is at optimal levels is really important to your health. Stomach acid also plays a role in nutrient absorption, like B12, and the breakdown of proteins into amino acids. Stress, bacterial imbalances, medications, and certain pathogenic organisms can have a negative impact on the level of stomach acid present.
- Many other factors can contribute to malfunctioning LES such as spicy foods, acidic foods, caffeine, too much food intake, pregnancy, medications, and being overweight.
- Poor Dietary Choices
- A diet high in caffeine, alcohol, and fried foods tends to exacerbate symptoms of GERD. Being overweight and having increase abdominal fat pushes weight against your stomach, causing your LES to spasm and open up.
- Food Sensitivities
- When your body’s digestion is inhibited by food sensitivities, excess food can sit in your stomach where it is able to ferment and cause gas, leading to a relaxation of the LES to relieve pressure. When the LES is relaxed, reflux occurs.
- Bacterial Imbalances in the GI Tract
- Certain bacterial imbalances in the GI tract can lead to fluctuations in acid secretions and an impairment of digestion. Balancing your gut flora is a key step in the treatment of your GERD.
- When you are chronically stressed out, your body is in “fight or flight” mode versus “rest and digest”. These constant stressors impair the effectiveness of digestive enzyme secretion and can leave you symptomatic. Practice self-care by reducing necessary stressors, participating in something that makes your happy, and getting adequate sleep.
Nutritional Therapy Discussions include:
- The importance of the gastrointestinal tract on the management of GERD
- Ways to optimize your bacterial ratios in the GI tract
- Foods to help “heal and seal” the gut
- The role of stress on the body
- Therapeutic foods to incorporate
- Foods to avoid for symptoms relief
- Targeted nutritional supplementation