Category Archives: heartburn

Effective Approaches to Heartburn and GERD

Ask someone what their most annoying health challenge is, and there’s a good chance they’ll answer “heartburn and GERD.” Stomach on Fire illustrating Heartburn and GERDHeartburn and GERD are uncomfortable and potentially damaging conditions which are one of the most common issues experienced by people in the US. There are currently 285.3 million people on prescription medications for heartburn and GERD. That equates to one in ten people! This number doesn’t even include the large number of people taking self-prescribed over-the-counter medications for heartburn and GERD. Many people (including mainstream medicine) assume heartburn and GERD are caused by excess acid. This means the common approach is to prescribe proton pump inhibitors (such as Nexium and Prilosec) without determining the true root cause of the problem.

One problem caused by the prolonged use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) is they interfere the absorption of vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, iron, B12, etc. Long-term use has been linked to malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies. PPI use has also been connected to frequent headaches, constipation and diarrhea, fatigue, increased incidence of pneumonia, higher rates of bone fractures (due to inhibited calcium absorption), bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract, higher incidence of C Dificile infections, magnesium deficiency, increase in coronary disease, and other serious health problems.

The primary reason it is so imperative to assess the cause of heartburn and GERD is that many people’s heartburn and GERD is actually caused by a lack of stomach acid, not by an excess. Although PPIs may bring relief by further decreasing already faulty levels of stomach acid, they ultimately lead to poor digestion and absorption.

As I stated previously, it is absolutely imperative to determine the root cause of heartburn and GERD before taking any medication. It does’t make sense to take a medication designed to decrease the production of stomach acid when heartburn and GERD are actually caused by a deficit in stomach acid. Most people assume the acidic burning in their stomach is caused by excess stomach acid, but the truth is that many forms of heartburn and GERD are actually caused by a deficiency in stomach acid.

Stomach acid is essential for digestive enzymes to work. A deficiency in stomach acid causes the body’s digestive enzymes to  not work effectively, which leads to indigestion, poorly digested food, heartburn and GERD. Stomach acid does not digest food but instead creates an acidic environment that allows digestive enzymes to work at their peak efficiency. Decreasing stomach acid weakens digestive enzymes, which ultimately means the nutrients in foods cannot be absorbed. Stomach acid is also essential for the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc.

Heartburn is a typically burning sensation limited to the stomach. Heartburn my cause burping, bloating, and/or nausea, too. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when the contents of the stomach rise into the esophagus. (Which should never happen.) GERD can create a burning in the chest and throat, a gagging sensation, or a feeling something is stuck in the throat. GERD can also cause muscles in the esophagus to spasm, which sometimes creates intense pain that may be confused with a heart attack. (A single nerve communicates pain from both the heart and esophagus, so pain in the esophagus often feels like pain in or near the heart. This pain may be severe.) 

If you are having chest pain, seek medical attention immediately even if you suspect the cause of the pain is heartburn. The root cause of GERD is that the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) that should separate the esophagus from the stomach (and prevent food from traveling up) doesn’t close when it should or does not close completely. Some studies found increasing the stomach’s acidity actually improves the LES’s function. This means PPIs may eliminate symptoms but actually worsen the root cause of heartburn and GERD. Since GERD causes stomach acid to enter the esophagus and damage it, use of PPIs may cause worse damage to the esophageal tissues while hiding the symptoms – for a while.

My perspective on PPIs is that they may be valuable as a short-term means of restoring quality of life, but that steps need to be taken to identify and address the true cause of the problem. The goal should always be to shorten the use of PPIs. Heartburn and GERD are miserable conditions. If left untreated, it may cause a lack of sleep, inability to work, and may lead to vomiting multiple times per day. Restoring quality of life needs to be a priority.

The most common causes of heartburn and GERD include, but are not limited to:

  • Food allergies:  This is the THE most common cause of heartburn and GERD, but is a factor that is often ignored. I have many clients who were told their symptoms couldn’t possibly be caused by food allergies. When we identified their food allergies using a simple blood test and eliminated allergenic foods, those clients experienced complete relief and no longer needed medication. Food allergies can produce over 200 different symptoms from head to toe, so it is important to identify them and eliminate the offending foods. I’m a firm believer that anyone with chronic heartburn or GERD should have a food allergy panel run.
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    I spent two years vomiting three or four times daily and feeling horrible due to digestive distress and extreme GERD. My gastroenterologist laughed at me when I asked about food allergies. (I’ve forgiven him and am now thankful to have had that experience because it enables me to help more people today.) I ignored my gastroenterologist and sought help in other places, including having food allergy testing done. Identifying and eliminating the food allergies I had completely eliminated my digestive issues. I often find identifying food allergies and eliminating the culprits quickly restores health in many ways. Sadly, some people aren’t wiling to give up “comfort” foods and prefer to remain on medication. Food allergy testing can be conducted by a single blood test that can identify over 700 allergens.
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  • Lack of stomach acid:  Our bodies produce less stomach acid as we age, which can cause heartburn. Using herbal remedies known to increase the production of stomach acid is my preferred approach when a lack of stomach acid is the cause of heartburn. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to take HCl in capsule form with meals. (Organic Apple Cider Vinegar may also help.) I try to avoid the use of HCl, as taking an external form of HCl may cause the body to stop producing it.
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  • Excess consumption of liquids with meals:  It sounds simple, but drinking less than 6 ounces of liquid with meals often eliminates heartburn and reflux. When we drink too much liquid with meals, the stomach’s agitating action tends to force stomach contents and liquids up into the esophagus instead of down into the small intestine. This leads to pain and potential damage to the esophagus.
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  • Ulcers:  Active ulcers don’t always show up on stool tests designed to find blood. It is important to test for H Pylori or use other assessment techniques to identify ulcers. There are natural approaches that can be used to address an ulcer, but they should only be begun under the supervision and direction of a trained practitioner.
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  • Extreme dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance):  Digestion and absorption can be harmed if the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the digestive tract is skewed. This typically results in an overgrowth of fungus that can lead to leaky gut, diarrhea or constipation, anal itching, constant nasal stuffiness, and other challenges. (See Candida Basics: Important Info for more information on this condition.) Re-establishing ample beneficial bacteria greatly improves digestion and absorption. This can sometimes be accomplished simply by taking a probiotic or eating fermented vegetables.
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  • Gallbladder imbalance:  Removal of the gallbladder or stagnation in the gallbladder (including sludge and stones) may lead to heartburn and indigestion when fatty foods are eaten. Restoring gallbladder function using natural methods often eliminates this problem very quickly. I do not believe the gallbladder should ever be removed, as it performs a vital function. The body will reverse gallbladder disease when proper support protocols are used.
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  • Structural abnormalities:  Sometimes heartburn is caused by physical abnormalities. This cause is the toughest to treat and may sometimes require surgical intervention.

Have you eliminated GERD or heartburn? What solutions did you use? Please share!