Got G.E.R.D.?

admin/ September 30, 2015/ Dr. Danielle/

G.E.R.D. (also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, also known as heartburn) sucks. It hurts. It can take over your every thought and every move. So what is it? GERD is a condition in which your stomach contents regurgitate through your esophageal sphincter causing symptoms. Most commonly, it causes a burning sensation. But it can also cause difficulty or pain on swallowing (dysphagia), a sour taste, chronic cough or spasming of your airway, chest pain, loss of voice (laryngitis), excessive burping, bloating, and erosion of teeth!

I clearly remember my first ever bout of GERD….I seriously thought I was having a heart attack! I had to hang my head in shame as I walked out of the ER simply because I went in there convinced I was dying. What this experience did show me, however, was how debilitating it can actually be.

So who is at risk for this disease? Well, let’s start with people who have really crappy lower esophageal sphincters. Why are they so crappy?? Perhaps they are born with it, congenitally speaking. There are also a number of things that make this sphincter less competent. There are foods that detrimentally affect the sphincter including chocolate, yellow onions, and peppermint. And as if we need another reason to stop – smoking, alcohol, and coffee also hinder our sphincter’s performance. And without fail, a number of medications also cause GERD: calcium channel and B-adrenergic blockers (mostly used for high blood pressure/heart disease), theophylline (used for bronchspasm and congestive heart failure), and anticholinergics (wide range of use but predominantly used for I.B.S. or Peptic Ulcer disease).

There are also physical attributes that will increase your risk at developing GERD and these include pregnancy, obesity, and hiatal hernias. In addition, food intolerances have been shown to be the root cause of GERD.

And lastly, STRESS!!! Yes, stress alone can alter the terrain of your stomach and endorse the development of GERD.

I also want to note that just plain old heartburn may be more than just GERD. It is important to differentially diagnose the heartburn as it may be Peptic Ulcer disease (linked to overuse of NSAIDs like Advil), unstable angina (a heart condition), esophagitis (inflammation of esophagus due to infection of Candida, herpes virus), esophageal spasm, or worse, esophageal cancer.

As a naturopath, it is also important for me to figure out if this is a case of the stomach making too much acid (hyperchlorhydria) or too little (hypochlorhydria). Logic would say your stomach is making too much. However, if your stomach is making too little acid, then there is too little pressure put on the esophageal sphincter to keep it shut. And as a response to the presence of food, it overcompensates by producing too much acid in the short term.

Ssssssooooooooo….what do we do?? An allopath or medical doctor will put you on medications that reduce the amount of acid your stomach cells make. Proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) such as pantoprazole are most common and most effective. And these meds generally work really well. The problem with them is they are a bandaid. They aren’t healing the root cause. And that, my friends, is where I come in!

First, I would want to figure out the root cause. Is it structural? Lifestyle-related? Medication-induced? Food intolerance? Etc. Then I would treat depending on that using a variety of modalities. Lifestyle and diet always being #1. And usually followed up with short-term botanical support to retrain your stomach to do what it’s supposed to do! I also make sure to include some education regarding effective coping strategies for stress. Because we all have stress. All of us. Dammit.

Is it too late to seek Naturopathic help if you’re already medicated? Absolutely not! I can either help your GERD adjunctively, or alternatively, depending on your specific needs.

So now, I rant. What’s with babies having GERD??? This wasn’t even a concern a very short 7 years ago when my oldest was born. What’s changed?? Why are we putting babies on meds for GERD (that FYI, irreversibly inhibit the stomach cells from making acid. Ever.). Is it mom’s diet while babe is in utero? Possibly. Is it mom’s diet while breastfeeding? Possibly. Is it the formula the babe is on? Possibly. Is stress playing a role? Could be. Is it a good option to put babe on a medication for GERD? No. Not in my professional opinion. There are so many other effective and safe things we could be doing!!! OOOOooohhhhooooo, and not just babies. What about the kids? Why aren’t we working harder for them to find out why this is happening and HEAL the problem? This is just so frustrating for me.

On an ending note, I did manage to include the word ‘sphincter’ six times in this post. My goal was 10 times but I couldn’t do it without being obvious. ‘Sphincter’. Possibly one of the greatest words ever spoken. Heck, it’s even fun to type.

Distractingly, and if you’re from where I’m from, then you’ll know the Christmas parade is this saturday. Which is an exciting time of year in my household if only because it’s also the annual comeback of Freddie, our Elf on the Shelf. Damn Freddie. Easily, the bane of my existence. Maybe this year, Freddie is going to get a real bad case of GERD and will have to spend repeated amounts of time in the North Pole hospital. Poor Freddie.

Yours in love, and war.

Dr. D