It is not uncommon to occasionally experience acid reflux, but when it occurs repeatedly you may have Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD). Treating GERD is important because over time stomach acids can cause damage to your esophagus, pharynx, or respiratory tract.
GERD is the condition in which stomach acid frequently leaks upward into the esophagus, usually the result of a relaxed lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a ring of muscle that relaxes to let food pass through, and tightens to keep it from flowing back upward. When the muscle is weakened or malfunctions, symptoms of GERD may start to appear.
Certain foods may aggravate symptoms, such as spicy, greasy, or fried foods, peppermint, citrus, dairy, tomatoes, grains containing gluten, as well as caffeine and alcohol. Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), birth control pills and some heart medications may also aggravate the symptoms. NSAIDs can also lead to bleeding and ulceration in the stomach or small intestine. In some cases, GERD is a result of a hiatal hernia or a bacterial infection called Helicobacter Pylori.
For successful long-term results, it is essential to first pinpoint the root cause of your reflux.
The most common symptom of GERD is frequent heartburn, but other common symptoms include cough, hoarseness, sore throat, bad breath, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, and indigestion.
Treatment options for GERD
When GERD symptoms are mild, natural remedies can be a safe and effective option for managing GERD. Recommendations may include one or a combination of the following.
- Lifestyle modifications: Try to adjust your routine to eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. If possible, elevate your head while sleeping and don’t eat too close to your bedtime so you have more time to digest your food before lying down. Lying on your left side when sleeping may also help with digestion.
- Dietary modifications: Nutritionally, start by eliminating inflammatory foods. Keeping a food diary may sound tedious, however, it is a great way to identify possible triggers. Once they are identified, dietary modifications can help reduce severity of symptoms. Certain diets have also been found to be helpful as well – such as paleo and/or low FODMAP diets.
- Weight loss: Losing weight may improve, or for some, eliminate symptoms. Carrying extra weight can add pressure on your stomach which leads to stomach acids traveling to the esophagus.
- Quit smoking: If you are a smoker, stop smoking. Among the many other negative health effects, smoking weakens the esophageal sphincter which in turn increases acid reflux symptoms.
- Herbal remedies/nutritional supplements: There are a variety of herbal remedies and supplements that can ease GERD symptoms because of their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities as well as their ability to support the microbiome. Based on a patient’s health profile, we may recommend one of the following: DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice root), marshmallow root, slippery elm, aloe vera juice that has been fractionally distilled, digestive enzymes, ginger, Betain with HCL, magnesium, and turmeric, apple cider vinegar, chamomile tea, probiotics. (Check with your provider before taking any supplement.)
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture promotes relaxation, it can improve gastrointestinal motility, and can restore balance to the microbiome.
- Meditation/relaxation practice: Perhaps the simplest change you can make is practicing meditation. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) practice can help GERD symptoms by reducing stress and anxiety – both of which can aggravate symptoms.
Depending on how severe your GERD symptoms are, your provider may prescribe medication. Acid blockers may be necessary for severe gastritis, ulcer, or Barrett’s esophagus, which is a precancerous condition. However, prolonged use can lead to calcium and magnesium deficiency, and achlorhydria (absence of hydrochloride acid) leading to an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine (SIBO). This condition as well as H. Pylori are diagnosed by a breath test, and both are treated with different antibiotics and/or supplements like garlic and Candibactin. Research has also confirmed that the long-term use of certain types of acid blockers – PPIs – can increase the risk of a cardiac event and also increase the risk of dementia, so it’s extremely important to speak to your provider about the risks, benefits, and length of use.
If you have GERD, consider the dietary and lifestyle changes above. If symptoms are persistent or severe a conversation with your provider is necessary to determine which medications may be most helpful – or – to refer you to a specialist if necessary. Please give us a call today at 703-532-4892 to make an appointment.
For more information on how to treat acid reflux symptoms while staying heart healthy, click here.
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This article was originally published in January 2016. It was reviewed and updated in December 2023.