Acid Reflux (GERD)
Within the context of integrative medicine physicians may recommend other ways to treat acid reflux (a.k.a GERD or heartburn).
What Is GERD (a.k.a. heartburn)?
GERD occurs when the contents from the stomach (called refluxate) comes up into the esophagus. This can happen after meals or during particular times of the day. It can either be a mild disturbance or it can lead to further complications down the line. If someone experiences this problem on a regular basis, then a patient has a higher chance of developing more serious complications over time. A patient might develop esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus) or stricture (a scar-like buildup of tissue in the esophagus).
Is It Dangerous?
The severity of GERD depends on a variety of factors, but it does get worse over time if a patient experiences it regularly. Because the acid in the stomach is corrosive, the more that it comes up into the esophagus, the greater the damage is does over time. Mild discomfort on a rare occasion may not be a cause for alarm. If, however, a patient experiences heartburn multiple times a week or the pain is severe when it does happen, then the person needs to address the issue as soon as possible. That way, the person to prevents the condition from getting to a point where surgery or drastic measures must be taken.
While the most common side effect of GERD is mild burning in the throat and chest area, it can lead to a variety of symptoms including nausea, vomiting and trouble swallowing. The more severe the reaction, the more likely it develops more serious complications down the road.
According to data, around 15 to 20 percent of American adults experience heartburn or acid reflux on a weekly basis. About 7 percent experience it daily.
How Does GERD Affect Human Health?
The human stomach is designed to work in a particular way. Food that is supposed to go down into the digestive system not back up through the throat.
When someone starts to experience something like GERD, it is a sign that something is amiss. GERD throws the digestive system out of balance, and it can mess with other parts of the body. The esophagus is thick and resilient, but it’s not built to handle stomach acid on a constant basis.
The esophagus has certain mechanisms that prevent acid and other things from coming up. There are muscles that make food go down, and then entryways called sphincters that keep food from coming back up. As someone swallows, and for about an hour after eating, the esophagus is more susceptible to regurgitation because it is more relaxed.
Some foods can affect this process in various ways. Coffee, for example, can lead to a longer period of relaxation of the throat and increase gastric production. That’s why some people get heartburn more frequently after drinking coffee.
Three factors determine how much GERD affects a person’s health. They are the frequency of occurrence, the degree of causticity of the acid and how healthy the esophagus is. As for esophagus, the throat can wear down over time. Even if it is stable enough to prevent wear from acid now, that may not be the case in the future.
What Causes GERD?
Many different factors can contribute to GERD, but most of the time it is related to the food that we eat. Some common examples of foods that lead to increased heartburn or acid reflux include:
- Cow’s milk
- Orange juice
- Spicy foods
- Tomato juice
Other lifestyle factors, such as stress, smoking, and obesity can also exacerbate the symptoms of GERD and lead to a higher frequency of occurrence. While no one factor can be to blame, it’s important that patients do as much research as possible into personal lifestyle to see when someone experiences acid reflux the most, what seems to trigger it and how long it lasts. The more information a person can get regarding how it affects the body, the better and easier it will be to treat it. Discussing GERD with a doctor is another wise course of action.
Integral Medicine’s Approach
Looking at the body in a comprehensive way is the foundation of integrative medicine, and it’s also why it’s becoming so much more popular and effective than conventional methods. The old way of doing things is to treat the problem as it happens. Integrative medicine aims to prevent disease from occurring in the first place by identifying the source of the problem and helping each patient solve it there instead of just treating symptoms.
Treatment Options for GERD
There are plenty of ways that people can correct the issue and hopefully eliminate GERD from their lives. While it may be impossible to remove and prevent GERD entirely, patients can reduce the frequency and severity of the problem by addressing the underlying issues that cause the disease. There are several natural and complementary therapies that may work to combat GERD. Pharmaceuticals can do a great job of alleviating the pain, but most of the time they have side effects that can do more harm than good.
If someone’s GERD happens due to lifestyle choices, then this is the easiest and best way to correct the problem. Altering someone’s lifestyle choices can keep GERD from worsening, and reversing those choices can possibly get rid of it altogether.
Noticing acid reflux or GERD after eating or drinking particular foods and not at any other times may point to a problem with food. Patients should then avoid those foods entirely or start taking treatment during and after meals to mitigate the damage. For example, if coffee causes a person to get GERD, then the patient might want to eliminate coffee entirely.
Patients can start their path to healing by creating a comprehensive list of “triggers” that can result in acid reflux. It’s also imperative that a patient writes down each occurrence no matter how severe or mild the reaction is. That’s because the damage from acid reflux can build up over time and lead to complications down the road. When spicy food causes a severe reaction but milk leads to a mild episode, the person should list both of them so that the doctor and patient can create a better diet plan accordingly.
Exercise and Weight Loss
Obesity and excess fat can also be a contributing factor to GERD. A person might consider controlling his or her weight as a means of reducing the overall frequency or severity of GERD. Shedding fat and pounds can have a ton of benefits on the body beyond just just relieving GERD symptoms. If food isn’t the problem and the weight is an issue, a patient might solve several health issues at once by losing weight.
Another primary source of acid reflux can be too much stress. If someone notices heartburn or other GERD symptoms during stressful situations, then the person might have to either reduce exposure to such environments or take treatments before things get to a point where acid is coming up. Ideally, the person should minimize the amount of stress that he or she experiences. If that is difficult to do, the patient should try things such as yoga, meditation or breathing exercises to minimize the problem. Herbal supplements and treatments may work to reduce GERD as well.
Herbs and Supplements
There are a variety of plants and natural remedies that can help alleviate GERD symptoms. Here are the most common treatments people can take.
- Licorice: two to four tablets before meals
- Slippery elm root bark powder: 1 to 2 tablespoons mixed with water, three to four times a day
- Marshmallow: 5 to 6 grams in tea per day
- Chamomile: 1 to 3 grams of a flower infusion in water per day
The more a patient can utilize natural remedies, the better since these treatments may not have as significant side effects as compared to pharmaceuticals. Natural treatments, coupled with lifestyle changes, may greatly reduce the effects of GERD. A best-case scenario occurs when the care team eliminates GERD entirely and the patient goes on living a normal, healthy life.
University of Chicago Medicine. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).”
University of Maryland Medical Center. “Gastroesophageal reflux disease.”