GERD/ Heartburn/ Dyspepsia
By Dan Gleason
Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a relatively new diagnostic term that has replaced the term heartburn. The digestive symptoms of GERD, including bloating, burping and pain, are almost always the result of diet; either the Standard American Diet (SAD) or reactions to food toxins like gluten, lectins or nightshades. In the past, doctors have recommended alkalinizing agents like Tums, Alka-Seltzer, Rolaids or even baking soda.
To treat GERD today, products such as Cimetidine, Tagamet, Omeprazole, Prilosec and Nexium have moved onto the scene. These medications are effective at moderating the symptoms of GERD; however, they can have serious side effects and over time can lead to significant nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin B12, protein and mineral deficiencies are some of the more common results of blocking normal digestive juice production. These medications also have significant withdrawal or discontinuation syndromes that look a lot like GERD and may result in people taking them long-term.
Each part of the digestive system has a normal pH. The healthy stomach is highly acidic with a normal pH of 0.5-1.5. This allows for ionization of dietary minerals and hydrolization of dietary proteins. The small intestine is moderately alkaline with a pH of 8.0-8.5. This allows for neutralization of the acidic mixture coming from the stomach and activation of the pancreatic enzymes. The large intestine is normally mildly acidic allowing for a good environment for the colonization of “good” bacteria.
When the GI tract is functioning normally the food/digestive juice mixture moves from entrance to exit using coordinated muscle contractions called peristalsis. This nutrient-rich mixture travels from “north to south” through one-way valves. These include the tongue/throat/glottis, the lower esophageal sphincter, the stomach’s pyloric sphincter and the ileocecal valve. This process is coordinated by the gut’s own “brain.” Reflux results when gas and undigested foods are moving in the wrong direction. Chiropractors trained in soft-tissue manipulation can often treat disturbances in areas such as hiatal hernia and ileocecal valve dysfunction.
Most GERD is caused by gas from undigested foods, inflammation and toxic reactions to foods. Digestion is dependent on having strong stomach acid, appropriate bile production and plenty of pancreatic enzymes. Undigested protein results in putrefaction leading to strong smelling gas and stool. Undigested carbs lead to bloating, burping and flatulence. Undigested fats lead to indigestion and stool that tends to float.
Contrary to the common perception of “acid reflux,” lack of adequate hydrochloric acid in the stomach is a common cause of GERD. While the stomach is designed to deal with high levels of hydrochloric acid, it does not tolerate sulfuric acid and other acids from poorly digested food. Many people with indigestion respond to mild- to moderate-strength acid supplements including apple cider vinegar and betaine hydrochloride. If a trial acid supplement causes a burning sensation it means that there is still significant gastritis or inflammation of the stomach and esophagus. A routine of healing agents is thus indicated. Up to six weeks using large doses of aloe vera or mulberry extracts may be necessary to calm the gastritis before re-introducing acid supplements.
Often, there is an overgrowth of pathogens that cause or complicate GERD. These can be bacterial, parasitic or fungal (e.g., candida). Comprehensive stool testing uses DNA technology to determine if “bad bugs” are present and whether adequate acid, enzymes and bile are being produced. Additional support for the gallbladder and pancreas may be indicated. These imbalances need to be properly diagnosed and treated as part of a comprehensive plan to deal with the many causes of indigestion including GERD.
Dr. Dan Gleason is the owner of The Gleason Center located at 19084 North Fruitport Road in Spring Lake. For more info: go to TheGleasonCenter.com or call 616-846-5410. See ad page 14.