Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which stomach contents are refluxed back into the esophagus. The disease can often cause severe discomfort. Prolonged esophageal exposure to the harsh stomach contents and subsequent esophageal damage can also lead to complications including esophageal cancer.
Many people do not realize that prolonged use of proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) drugs to suppress GERD symptoms can lead to impaired nutrient absorption.
Natural integrative interventions like raft-forming agents and deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) extract can offer relief for GERD symptoms.
What Increases GERD Risk?
- Food sensitivities (blood tests to detect antibodies against specific foods can be useful for GERD symptoms that fluctuate with diet)
What are the Signs and Symptoms of GERD?
- Difficulty swallowing and/or “lump” in the throat
- Sleep disturbances
- Respiratory symptoms such as coughing
What are the Conventional Medical Treatments for GERD?
- Antacids to neutralize stomach acid
- Histamine-2 receptor (H2) blockers to prevent secretion of stomach acid
- PPIs to inhibit production of stomach acid
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid B (GABAB) receptor activators to reduce lower esophageal sphincter relaxation
- Surgery to reconstruct the lower esophageal sphincter mechanism
Note: Long-term use of PPIs and other acid-blocking drugs may cause adverse effects. PPIs may impair nutrient absorption and lead to deficiencies in the body. In one study, chronic use of high doses of PPIs and H2 receptor blockers increased the risk of hip fractures significantly.
What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Help Relieve GERD?
- Avoid foods and beverages associated with GERD symptoms including coffee, chocolate, spicy foods, carbonated beverages, and alcohol.
- Quit smoking, as it can increase symptoms.
- Increased body mass can cause pressure on the stomach, increasing stress on the esophageal valve. Obese individuals have shown a 94% increase in GERD symptoms over those with body masses in the normal range. Losing weight may help alleviate symptoms.
- Reduced fat and carbohydrate intake may help alleviate symptoms.
- Avoid eating close to bedtime and sleep with your head elevated.
- Limit use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for GERD?
- Melatonin. Melatonin exhibits GI tract protecting abilities and has shown faster relief for GERD symptoms than a commonly-used PPI.
- Raft-forming agents. These agents combine gel-forming fibers with an antacid to form a “raft” to block stomach contents from entering the esophagus.
- Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) extract. DGL extract can help heal the delicate tissues of the digestive tract and has shown effectiveness in treating indigestion.
- Mineral carbonates. Calcium and magnesium carbonate, and potassium bicarbonate, neutralize stomach acids to decrease irritation of the esophagus.
- Increased intake of fruits and vegetables, fiber, zinc, vitamins E and C, beta carotene, and dietary folate are linked with lower risks of esophageal cancer.