NATURAL JOURNEY BY AMY PUNKE
I see someone in my naturopathic practice almost every day who suffers from reflux or heartburn. While many of these individuals suffer on a daily basis, I find that reflux is not usually the main reason for their visit with me. It is not until I review their medical history and medications that I realize they are suffering from reflux. Unfortunately, reflux seems to be one of those conditions that many people think they just have to live with. Chronic reflux is not only uncomfortable and painful, but can lead to precancerous changes in the lining of the esophagus (food pipe).
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is characterized by the backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus, resulting in various symptoms (e.g., heartburn, regurgitation, burping, nausea, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness and/or coughing). Some well-known causes of GERD are certain foods (coffee, alcohol, citrus fruits), hiatal hernia and obesity. Conventional therapy includes weight loss when necessary, avoiding certain foods and beverages, avoiding large meals, raising the head of the bed, and decreasing the acidity of the stomach with antacids and other prescription medications.
Regrettably, as many sufferers are aware, the symptoms do not necessarily go away despite these interventions. One of the most common causes of reflux that I see in my practice is from "hypochlorhydria" or low hydrochloric acid. This is a condition where the stomach doesn't secrete enough acid.
Why, you ask, would too little acid in the stomach cause reflux? Don’t I take an antacid or a prescription medication to decrease the amount of acid in my stomach? Hopefully, this will all make sense in a moment.
It is a common misconception that reflux is caused by having too much acid in the stomach. It is, in fact, more commonly found to be the opposite problem. The explanation goes like this. We have a sphincter at the bottom of our esophagus that opens and closes as we eat (kind of like a door that stays open when we eat and closes when we are not eating). The opening and closing of this "door" is controlled by how much acid (in this case, hydrochloric acid) is secreted in the stomach. If we don't have enough acid in our stomach, the "door" stays open and the contents of the stomach “reflux” back into the esophagus, and we experience heartburn.
The proper amount of acid in our stomach is extremely important to our overall health for the following three key reasons:
– the first being the aforementioned – to close the "door" so we don't get reflux and damage to our esophagus from our stomach contents backing up;
– second, the highly acidic environment in our stomach is one of our first lines of defence to kill off germs that enter into our bodies on our food and in our environment;
– third, the acid in the stomach kick-starts the whole digestive process, helping us digest our food properly.
While antacids and other medications may decrease the amount of acid in our stomach and provide some well-needed relief (especially for those diagnosed with a stomach ulcer or gastritis), chronic use of some medications tend to stop working overtime, and this results in constipation, poor absorption of nutrients and overgrowth of fungus and bacteria in our digestive system.
Please talk to a qualified health care practitioner if you suffer from chronic heartburn. If you are on a prescription medication, do not stop without the guidance of the prescribing physician. If you have been on medication for heartburn for a long period of time, it will take time to bring your body back into balance. With the right diet, medicinal herbs and supplements, you can become pain free and stop reflux for good.
Dr. Amy Punké, ND, has a naturopathic practice at Whole Self Wellness Centre, 106 Stellarton Rd., New Glasgow (above Healthy Selection). Visit www.dramypunke.com or call 902-755-1210.