Have you ever had that uncomfortable burning sensation behind your breastbone when you’ve eaten a large meal? It could be heartburn–an influx of stomach acid into the esophagus. Or, it could be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD is essentially chronic heartburn. You may also hear it called acid reflux because stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, causing irritation. Over time the regurgitation of acid can damage and erode the lining of the esophagus, so it’s important that you get GERD under control.
Symptoms of GERD can include:
- Chronic dry cough,
- Difficulty swallowing, or a sensation of something being stuck in your throat,
- Chronic sore throat,
- Laryngitis (loss of voice),
- Bitter taste in mouth,
- Halitosis (bad breath),
Talk to your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms of GERD listed above. GERD can be diagnosed based on clinical symptoms. Imaging studies like an upper GI study (i.e. endoscopy) are helpful to confirm the diagnosis of GERD and determine the extent of esophageal damage.
Why GERD Happens
GERD is mainly a Western medical condition because of stress, lifestyle, and dietary factors. GERD can also be triggered by conditions like obesity, pregnancy, or a hiatal hernia. Lifestyle factors like smoking or alcohol use, frequent heavy meals or late-night eating can also be triggers.
GERD can also be caused by eating trigger foods like:
- Fatty foods
- Acidic foods
- Peppermint flavoring
What happens with GERD is that over time with multiple insults the lower esophageal sphincter—the bundle of muscles that prevents stomach acid from entering the esophagus—becomes dysfunctional.
Repetitive acid reflux can cause the esophageal lining to become inflamed and more symptoms to appear. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve digestion and prevent GERD from happening.
Treating GERD, Naturally
Reducing or eliminating the GERD symptoms starts with your diet. Avoid the common food triggers and try to eat a diet similar to my modified paleo diet.
Plus, here are some other strategies:
Try going vegetarian with reduced wheat and dairy consumption.
- Before eating, take a moment before you eat to calm your nerves. Doing so allows the parasympathetic (rest and digest) part of your nervous system to turn on, helping to improve digestive function.
- Chew your food thoroughly to stimulate the release of enzymes that help to predigest your food.
- Elevate the head of your bed 4-6 inches if you have GERD symptoms at night.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing to take pressure off the abdominal region.
- Reduce stress through meditation and relaxation exercises.
Plus, Natural Remedies Can Help
Natural remedies that reduce inflammation and support digestion are available to help alleviate GERD symptoms.
Digestive enzymes, taken with meals, function like solvents that break foods down into the components that allow them to be absorbed and used by the body. They work throughout the GI tract, but are especially plentiful in the stomach and uppermost sections—helping to prevent GERD symptoms.
Other options for preventing GERD include:
- DGL (licorice) chewables
- Gamma oryzanol
- Slippery elm
- Marshmallow root
For some– but definitely not all– people, I’ve suggested taking hydrochloric acid (HCL) with meals, depending on their symptoms. That can contradict how proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec or H2 blockers like Zantac, work. But GERD can sometimes be the result of too much acid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If HCL is taken with meals by individuals with that problem, foods are broken down more efficiently and less stomach acid is regurgitated into the esophagus.