Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Also called Hiatal Hernia or acid reflux disease.
Caused by stomach acid squirting up from the stomach into the food pipe (called the esophagus). This causes heartburn, reflux of acid backup into your throat, or coughing/choking. It can get worse at night as gravity is no longer helping to keep food down in your stomach where it belongs. If you inhale the acid while asleep, which you usually aren't aware you are doing, it can also cause night sweats and worsen asthma or bronchitis.
Although your stomach has a special mucus lining to protect it against stomach acid, your esophagus does not. A special valve between it and your stomach (called the LES or Lower Esophageal Sphincter) acts like a "one way door," letting food go down, but not back up. At least on a good day…
Sometimes the LES valve doesn’t work well and the acid can squirt (reflux) back up. This is very common and is aggravated by:
- Being overweight: This shifts the valve out of position so it leaks (herniates).
- Indigestion: If you don’t digest your food properly, it sits in your stomach churning and churning and churning. It should be past your stomach into your small intestine within an hour after eating. If digestion is poor (from inadequate digestive enzymes or stomach acid. Yes, you heard correctly — too low a level of acid!), then the food sits in the stomach too long and starts refluxing back up. When this happens, any acid can burn the foodpipe. (See Indigestion.)
- When in bed, gravity is no longer keeping the acid down in your stomach where it belongs, so reflux while sleeping can be an especially severe problem.
Unfortunately, physicians have been brainwashed to treat indigestion and reflux with a lifetime of acid blocker medicine, even though the FDA recommends using it no more than 1-2 months in most cases. And the side effects of long-term use are piling up (but so are profits — especially as acid blockers have been shown to be addictive, causing rebound excess acid secretion when you try to stop them). A better solution is to fix your digestion — and you’ll be amazed as indigestion typically resolves over 1-2 months. (See Indigestion for how to do this. You’ll be glad you did!)
For Daytime Reflux
- Lose weight: If overweight, even losing 5-10 pounds can help considerably.
- Improve your digestion
- Add plant-based digestive enzymes with meals.
- Improve stomach acid. One way is to make a salad dressing with 2 tbsp of vinegar, or drink 4-6 oz of a diet cola (don't use ice — just refrigerator cold). Cola is as acidic as stomach acid (pH 2). If OK’d by your holistic physician, you can take Betaine HCL, two per meal (you can find them at most health food stores).
- Avoid ice drinks with your meals. Your body’s digestive enzymes work best at 98.6 degrees.
- If certain foods still cause indigestion, don't eat them. Your body may be trying to tell you it's junk food and doesn't want it.
- Treat indigestion symptoms
The following supplements are an excellent combination:
- Antacids that are also heart protective: Do not use plain calcium antacids. Taking calcium by itself may increase heart attack risk 31%. Use an antacid chew that also contains magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K to protect your heart and health (see Immediate Heartburn Relief by EuroPharma).
- Licorce: Licorce helps heal your stomach.
For Night-Time Reflux
Though it's a bad idea to keep your stomach acid "turned off" during the day (you need it to digest food), you don’t need stomach acid at bedtime while sleeping. So here are a few tips:
- Bicarbonate of soda: Take 1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda (e.g., Arm and Hammer) in 4 oz of water at bedtime to neutralize the acid in your stomach (not for children under 16 years old).
- Don't eat within two hours before bedtime. This will ensure your stomach is empty when you sleep.
- Sleep with your upper body elevated. Raise your upper body at least 6-8 inches when in bed (just raising your head with pillows won’t work). One way to do this is to place a 6-8” brick or phone book under the legs of the bed (just the two legs by the end of the bed where your head is). Another wonderful solution is to use a pillow wedge (you can find one online at Hammacher Schlemmer).
- Acid blockers. If other remedies don't work, try a mild acid blocker like cimetidine (Tagamet) 200 mg, which is less addictive, at bedtime.