Heartburn, gas and bloating- these are all common symptoms of gastrointestinal reflux, also known as acid reflux.
It is commonly assumed that a person who suffers from these symptoms produce an overabundance of acid in the stomach. He or she is then placed on a Proton Pump Inhibitor (also known as PPI). PPI drugs reduce the production of acid by blocking enzymes in the wall of the stomach.
If the cause of acid reflux is physiological, from an over-production of stomach acid, PPI drugs may be effective. As it turns out, only a very small percent of patients seen for acid reflux are actually producing too much stomach acid. More commonly, its a mechanical issue and is the result of food not being properly moved through the stomach and sitting on the lower esophageal sphincter. The food pushes on this valve, causing acid in the stomach to leak back into the esophagus, and creates a burning sensation.
When food hits the stomach, hydrochloric acid begins to break it down immediately. Enzymes are then released to break down remaining food before it is moved to the small intestines for absorption.
When a person suffers from acid reflux due to low stomach acid, the food comes into the stomach and does not get broken down. A PPI works to treat the symptoms for a time because it lowers acid in general, but within a year or so the drug backfires because the cause was not addressed. Other symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea begin to develop as a result of too little stomach acid and enzymes. A shortage of stomach acid may also lead to more serious problems such as gall bladder issues, rashes, eczema, psoriasis and acne.
A naturopathic doctor treats acid reflux by finding the reason food is not being moved through the stomach. This may be caused by a genetic disposition, blood type, stress, chronic dieting, chronically skipping meals or food allergies.
Treatments usually begin by taking a patient off of PPI drugs. While on the drug, the body suppresses the production of stomach acid. When coming off the drug it responds by producing too much acid. This is why it is important to wean off of it. A naturopathic doctor will administer pancreatic and gall bladder enzymes until the effects of the drug wears off. The patient will then be given acid to help in the breakdown of food. After this treatment, an acid reflux sufferer will find that the burning, gas and bloating disappears.
To prevent acid reflux, it is important for a patient to find possible food allergies and minimize stress. Some common food allergies include wheat, dairy, eggs and corn, but can be anything. Many gastrointestinal doctors tell patients to avoid tomatoes, citrus and spicy foods. But in in many cases, these foods actually aid in digestion because they aggravate the hydrochloric acid used to break down foods. Eating smaller meals and taking time to chew thoroughly is also important.
A person who has suffered from acid reflux for an extended period of time is often suffering from chronic inflammation. Here are some herbs and nutrients that can help alleviate this inflammation:
L-Glutamine: L-Glutamine is an amino acid that repairs mucosal surfaces. If the inflammation is caused from lack digestion due to a lack of acid, it can repair the esophageal and stomach lining.
Slippery Elm: Slippery elm has significant mucilage, which coats and protects the GI tract and decreases intestinal inflammation.
Deglycerized licorice: Deglycerized licorice has been used for thousands years to soothe heartburn, acid reflux and other GI problems.
For patients suffering from gastrointestinal reflux, there may be a number of causes. Finding the root cause is crucial to finding the right treatment plan. Due to possible side effects, it is always important to seek the health care advice of a naturopathic physician before administering herbal remedies.
Dr. Tricia Pingel is a naturopathic medical doctor located in Scottsdale, Arizona. She treats a variety of conditions, including menopausal symptoms with bio-identical hormone replacement, infertility, cardiac, thyroid disorders, anxiety/depression, gastrointestinal concerns, such as, gas/bloating, food allergies, celiac disease, IBD and more!
Please visit www.drpingel.com for more information.