GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, is a condition that affects 20% of all Americans each year. Many people experience occasional reflux, which occurs when the stomach contents flow back into the esophagus and/or mouth. Over 15 million Americans experience heartburn every day, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. This is usually caused by overeating, food triggers, or lying down too quickly after eating. However, GERD is diagnosed when the reflux is frequently occurring, usually more than twice a week. Sometimes the causes of GERD are unknown, but it may be caused by a weakened or dysfunctional valve at the bottom of the esophagus or from a hiatal hernia, which may cause pressure on the esophagus.
Tissue damage and inflammation may occur to the esophagus from repeated acid exposure. This may result in ulcers in the esophagus, which are open sores that may cause painful swallowing or bleeding. Another potential complication is an esophageal stricture, which is a narrowing of the pathway in the esophagus due to a build-up of scar tissue. Barrett’s esophagus is another possible side effect of GERD. This is a precancerous change in the lining which increases the risk of esophageal cancer.
While heartburn is the primary symptom of reflux, a person does not have to experience reflux in order to have GERD. Other signs and symptoms include regurgitation, belching, burping, nausea, vomiting, chronic cough, difficulty swallowing, sore/hoarse throat, chest pain, or a sour taste in the mouth.
Lifestyle changes, medications, and supplements can all be used to treat GERD. Stress has been shown to increased reflux, and different relaxation techniques to reduce stress have been shown to decrease the risk of GERD. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight, exercise, and quitting smoking decrease the incidence of GERD as well. It is a good idea to avoid eating large meals or eating late in the evening and to not to lie down after eating. Raising the head of the bed and sleeping on your side may also reduce symptoms. It is also important to remove foods that may trigger symptoms, such as alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, cow’s milk, friend food, citrus fruits and juice, tomatoes, carbonated beverages, sugar and sugar sweeteners, and spicy foods.
Proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers and antacids are frequently prescribed to alleviate heartburn. These usually work by decreasing the level of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This will prevent the erosion of the esophagus, but it will not fix the cause of GERD. Prolonged use of these medications can alter the immune function, disrupt the microbiome and alter the pH level in your stomach, which can affect the absorption of nutrients. This may contribute to poor digestion, anemia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, fatigue and infections. Supplements can be used as an alternative to drugs. Some supplement shown to alleviate the signs and symptoms of GERD are betaine HCl, probiotics, DGL, slippery elm, marshmallow root, chamomile, fish oil, magnesium, glutamine, ginger tea and antioxidant rich foods.
Don’t let GERD take control of your life. Change your diet, exercise and stress levels and GERD and other issues will stop controlling your life!
by Denise Groothuis MS RD CPT CFMP