By Dr. Nina Lauffer, Naturopathic Doctor
GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as acid reflux or heart burn. Many people present to me in clinic with a diagnosis of GERD, for which they have been put on drugs to lower stomach acid. Did you know, however, that acid reflux (heartburn) can be caused by LOW STOMACH ACID? I have decided to write a quick article to clear up some common misconceptions.
Over and over I see people presenting with heartburn taking acid lowering drugs, but the issue is actually low stomach acid, which should be managed ENTIRELY differently. Acid splashing up into the esophagus, especially chronically, is a very serious problem. It causes damage to the esophagus, which can lead to many issues including esophageal cancer. Taking a drug that lowers stomach acid is therefore protective, but not the solution for people with low stomach acid. Stomach acid actually triggers the lower esophageal sphincter to close, preventing acid from splashing into the esophagus. If stomach acid is too low, the sphincter does not close, which causes reflux and ultimately heart burn symptoms. Low stomach acid also causes problems downstream. Food cannot be digested properly, and therefore nutrients are not obtained or well absorbed. Moreover, a change in the acidity of the stomach also puts a person at risk for infection. We have bacteria that live in the stomach and help break down food, as well as prevent other bacteria from colonizing. Changing the acidity allows for bacteria, which would otherwise not be able to live in our stomach, to invade. Adding a stomach acid lowering drug is protective for the esophagus, but exacerbates these other problems.
What can be done?
Firstly, it is incredibly important to consult with your Naturopathic doctor or Medical doctor to ensure that you actually have low stomach acid. Do not attempt to treat this on your own. There are diagnostic tests that can be done to establish the proper course of treatment. If you have had heart burn for a long time, it is also important to have further diagnostic work to ensure that your esophagus has not sustained significant damage. Once established, naturopathic treatment will focus on increasing stomach acid and re-training your body to produce the right amount.
What are the symptoms?
One of the key symptoms indicating possible low stomach acid is frequent burping after meals. This is the result of food not being broken down properly, which leads to gas formation in the stomach.
Other symptoms include:
-Pressure behind the chest
-Reflux into the throat and even mouth
Consult your doctor if you think this might be your problem. You can also book a free 15-minute consultation with Dr. Nina Lauffer, ND, and get more information.