GERD, GORD, reflux, regurgitation, or heartburn. It doesn’t matter what you call it, if you suffer from it, you know how painful it can be. Some people can get reflux due to a hiatal hernia or from high stomach acid (hydrochloric acid or HCL), but I find the most common reason to be from low stomach acid. At the top of the stomach is a sphincter, the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES), which closes in reaction to stomach acid. When there isn’t enough acid, this sphincter doesn’t receive the signal to close resulting in what acid there is, leaking up the oesophagus. This can result in painful reflux most often at night, but also after eating certain foods.
HCL is needed to digest protein, so a common feeling of low HCL is feeling like your food is just sitting there after you eat. HCL helps to kill pathogens, inhibit overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, encourage the flow of bile and pancreatic enzymes and facilitate the absorption of several vitamins and minerals including folate, B12, vitamin C, iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Low HCL can result in many problems down the road if left untreated. Stomach acid can decrease with age and with several medications.
An easy test for low stomach acid (and the beginning of treatment) is to take a supplement that contains hydrochloric acid. If you take one capsule and feel nothing, you are likely deficient. Treatment consists of an increasing number of capsules until your body learns to create HCL on its own again.
For reflux that is caused by high stomach acid, there are many options as well. Melatonin has been found to be a very effective treatment for reflux and can help you sleep better at the same time. Studies find that if you take it for 8 weeks you can achieve remission of symptoms. Food intolerances can cause reflux also, so doing an elimination diet or a food intolerance test is usually warranted.
If you think you might have a hiatal hernia, this technique may help – drink a large glass of water upon rising in the morning. While standing, rise up on your toes and drop back onto your heels – the weight of the water may help to replace the herniated organ.
For natural symptom relief, you can try liquorice (the real stuff, not just candy), slippery elm powder or baking soda in a bit of water. If you have high blood pressure, use DGL (deglycyrrhizinated liquorice) instead.
Other triggers for reflux include caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, cigarette smoking and stress. Reducing these can help with symptoms as well.
With prolonged reflux, damage can be done to the oesophagus which can eventually result in cancerous cells forming there. Some treatments to reduce this risk are folic acid, mushrooms, zinc and probiotics. Fish oils and turmeric are also useful for decreasing pain and inflammation.
Medications can decrease HCL, but these come with side effects such as decreasing the absorption of the vitamins and minerals mentioned above and reducing the breakdown of protein.
These are just some of the options for treating reflux. Contact a naturopath before starting on any supplements for reflux to make sure they are right for you and that you have the correct dose and timing.