GERD is an acronym which stands for “gastroesophageal reflux disease”. The more commonly known name is heartburn. Most doctors will tell you that heartburn happens when a mixture of food, liquid and strong stomach acid backs up in the wrong direction from the stomach to the throat, causing a burning sensation and damage to the lining of the esophagus. Taking antacids to reduce stomach acid is the most common form of treatment.
The symptoms of GERD include:
- Belching, and coughing or wheezing, usually when the reflux comes into the throat while sleeping and accidentally dragged into the windpipe.
- Heartburn, or a burning pain in the chest (under the breastbone), which is increased by bending, stooping, lying down, or eating. The heartburn is more frequent or worse at night.
- Hoarseness or change in voice, sore throat, difficulty swallowing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vomiting blood
Heartburn Cases are Rising
The scope of this common health ailment is staggering. Approximately 40% of Americans, or 120 million people, suffer from chronic heartburn, and more are diagnosed each year. The costs of treating GERD are astonishing as well.
In 2010, the sales of over the counter antacids nationwide topped $1.2 billion dollars. A stunning 113.4 million prescriptions were filled for proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) last year. (PPIs are a class of drug that reduces the production of stomach acid by blocking a certain enzyme in the stomach wall that produces acid. Common brand names include Prilosec, Zegerid, Prevacid, Protonix, and Aciphex.)
Along with a prescription for an antacid, the conventional advice given to heartburn sufferers is to avoid alcohol and tobacco, dietary fat, chocolate, caffeine, peppermint, onions, garlic, citrus juices, and tomato products.
Patients are also told to avoid lying down after meals, to sleep with the head of the bed elevated, and other physical measures, such as taking antacids and prescription medications.
But as most GERD sufferers know, these measures don’t help. Worse, the drugs prescribed for heartburn have unwanted side effects.
Your stomach acid is one of the most important players in your immune system’s defense against the bacteria that you ingest along with your food. The very low pH of your stomach acid is designed to kill off the toxic germs that might be in the food or beverages you consume.
Taking medications that constantly neutralize or block stomach acid production interferes with your body’s normal immune defenses, and this interference can result in other more serious gut problems:
- toxic bacterial overgrowth in the gut
- poor nutrient absorption
- higher risk of infections
- higher risk for cancers
The PPI drugs mentioned above have also been linked with an increased incidence of bone fractures, causing the FDA to issue a warning about using them at high doses and over long time frames.
Heartburn continues to be a health issue in America because the root cause is not being treated. In fact, recent research by Drs. Stuart Spechler and Rhonda Souza at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center proposes that heartburn is a result of an autoimmune response; in other words, the body is mistakenly attacking itself in response to a food based irritant. Untreated autoimmune attacks can result in autoimmune related diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Although most doctors are not aware of the supporting research, the real cause of heartburn and other autoimmune health issues are rooted in dietary causes.
Specifically, the consumption of grain based foods, particularly wheat gluten, is strongly associated with GERD, and a growing list of health issues and autoimmune reactions.
A Real Cure
In his book Heartburn Cured, Norm Robillard discusses how a high carb diet contributes to heartburn. He shares his story and other stories of people who have changed their diets and become completely heartburn free.
His view (and mine) is that eliminating grains, sugar and processed, high carb foods can help the stomach lining heal, and result in a reversal or lessening of symptoms.
Dr. Stephen Wangen, in his book Healthier Without Wheat: A New Understanding of Wheat Allergies, Celiac Disease, and Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance writes that heartburn, along with irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and other digestive problems are common symptoms associated with wheat gluten intolerance.
I suffered from GERD for years, but after switching to a low carb, no grain diet, I no longer have any symptoms. Unless I accidentally eat some kind of wheat gluten or other grain based food, I am heartburn free.
Chris Kresser over at the Healthy Skeptic has a great series of articles here on treating heartburn.I heartily agree with his suggestions.
Safer Symptom Relief from Brazil
There is also an natural alternative health product called Protexid which is extremely beneficial for heartburn suffers, but the FDA has blocked the market access for this product. The results of a clinical trial on Tripiradol, the active ingredient in Protexid, were published in the Journal of Pineal Research, and indicated that those who received the supplement reported marked improvement in their acid indigestion symptoms.
Tripiradol seems to work by strengthening the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES muscle band works to prevents acid from the stomach from backing up into the throat. It has been shown that those with gluten intolerance have elevated levels of a gas called nitric oxide (NO) in the gut. This gas has the effect of relaxing the LES, thereby allowing stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus. The melatonin in Protexid works to tighten this sphincter muscle, which helps to keep stomach acid where it belongs.
I can attest to the fact that this product works very well. If I eat too many carbs or accidentally ingest some sort of wheat gluten during the day, my GERD symptoms return. But I can take just one capsule of Protexid, and I am able to sleep symptom free. Dr. Eades posted on this product on his blog here.