GERD: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
Have you ever experienced heartburn, hoarse voice, sore throat, coughing, or difficulty swallowing? If so, you may have been feeling the symptoms and side effects of reflux. Reflux can happen when stomach contents, including stomach acid, flow back up into the esophagus and sometimes the throat. When reflux happens, you experience the unpleasant aforementioned side effects. Anyone can experience reflux from time to time, but when reflux happens chronically, it is known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), or laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR or silent reflux).
GERD ranks as the most common digestive disorder in the United States. Left untreated, GERD can contribute to scarring, constriction, ulceration, and cancer of the esophagus. On the bright side, more research is emerging that addresses the true cause of GERD and there are various methods to fully heal this condition.
How do you know if you have GERD? Look for the following GERD symptoms:
Regurgitation (Food coming back into the mouth from the esophagus)
Feeling like food is getting caught in your throat
Sore throat and hoarseness
What causes GERD?
Historically, it was believed that GERD was caused by too much stomach acid. What recent research is finding is that low or too little stomach acid is the problem.
One of the purposes of stomach acid is to inhibit bacterial overgrowth. The normal pH (a measure of acidity) of the stomach is 3. If stomach acid is insufficient and the pH of the stomach rises above 5, bacteria begin to thrive. In addition, if our stomach acid is too low, we won’t properly break down the carbohydrates we consume through our diet. The bacteria that have overgrown love to use the maldigested carbohydrates as their preferred source of fuel. The bacteria start to ferment the maldigested carbohydrate. As the fermentation happens, gas is released and causes intra-abdominal pressure. The pressure builds on the lower esophageal sphincter and opens it up, allowing stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus. These findings of how bacterial overgrowth and fermentation can cause reflux have revealed how reducing bacterial overgrowth and/or reducing carbohydrate intake can help prevent GERD.
GERD Treatment: Here are 3 Steps to Follow to Treat GERD and Improve Symptoms
Reduce, Replace, and Restore.
Step 1: Reduce
Reduce the things that support bacterial overgrowth and low stomach acid. The first item to reduce is carbohydrates. This includes breads, pastas, cookies, crackers, chips, sugar, and other refined carbs. One study showed that multiple study participants healed their GERD by switching to a low carbohydrate diet. A strict low carbohydrate diet doesn’t have to be followed for a long time. Once digestive function is restored (no more GERD), then a diet moderate in carbohydrate is sufficient to prevent a recurrence of symptoms.
Step 2: Replace
Focus on replacing the things that support digestion and help prevent GERD: stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and nutrients.
Working with a physician that can test your stomach acid and help you find ways to safely increase your stomach acid to proper levels can be very beneficial to restoring health. Working with a registered dietitian can be helpful as well as RD’s can highlight foods, such as bitters (think dandelion greens, arugula, ginger, and fennel) that can help boost the flow of digestive juices. RD’s can also guide you on monitoring the amount of liquid you drink with a meal so you don’t further dilute stomach acid.
Step 3: Restore
Focus on restoring the good bacteria in the gut and reinstating the protecting lining in the GI tract.
As you work with a Foodsmart registered dietitian, they can guide you through choosing fermented foods to include in your diet that offer probiotic (good bacteria) protection and they can also help you choose an appropriate probiotic supplement. In addition, the Foodsmart RD can suggest foods and supplements to restore the mucosal lining in the GI tract.
For some severe cases of GERD, these steps may not be enough to fully eradicate the condition, so working closely with a knowledgeable physician is recommended.
Work with a GI Nutritionist and Dietitian
You can take the first steps needed to improve your health by scheduling a consult with one of the Foodsmart's registered dietitians. They will work with you on reversing the course of some chronic diseases and getting your on the path to optimal health! Book a visit today!