Do you suffer from agonizing heartburn or reflux that feels like a fire is happening in the middle of your chest? Keeping you up at night, disturbing your enjoyment of food and causing you to lose your appetite? If you do, you are amongst many in this sea of digestive upset. Luckily, I have answers! GERD (Gastro-esophageal reflux disease) is a common condition that I see continuously in my practice. Often times, it is so common that many people come in for other concerns and have learned to just “live with” the GERD, some being on medications for 15 plus years. Let me explain how we can treat this naturopathically and concerns we have if it is left untreated.

GERD is due to the insufficient closing of the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus. There are many reasons this may occur including one common reason – a decrease in stomach acid production. Yes you heard me correctly– LOW STOMACH ACID! If we have low stomach acid, the food comes into the stomach and is not broken down as readily as it normally would. This causes “wear and tear” on the sphincter, eventually causing damage to the sphincter! Now, we can’t just fix this by giving stomach acid – this will just exacerbate the symptoms because the sphincter is not closing properly. Instead, naturopathically we use what we call demulcent herbs like licorice, marshmallow and slippery elm to heal the mucous membranes of the stomach and eosophagus and eventually to heal that sphincter. Once this has healed then we treat the root of the problem- the low stomach acid. In my clinical experience working with clients over the years, this takes time- I meet with individuals over a 3-12 month process to assess where the healing has come to and progressively we see the symptoms decrease to most people forgetting that they even had the problem!

Sometimes H. pylori, a bacteria that causes damage to the sphincter can be the root of the problem. Antibiotics can be prescribed by your MD to kill off this bacteria or a combination of naturopathic herbs can be used to do this. Once the bacteria is eradicated, I use a combination of demulcent herbs to help heal the tissues that have been damaged, otherwise the natural stomach acid that is being produced to digest your food will continue to cause damage to the sphincter. This is often when antacid medications are given by medical doctors. This will help as well, but they are also decreasing stomach acid. If stomach acid is decreased, this in turn can potentially inhibit digestion, which can lead to potential malabsorption of important nutrients such as B12, iron, and amino acids. The amino acids in particular are needed to make important neurotransmitters like serotonin which help with other common concerns I see in practice like anxiety and depression. This is an example of where naturopathic medicine can combine with conventional medicine to help support and heal a condition. The antibiotics are great for killing off the infection and then a follow-up of demulcent herbs will work excellent at resolving the issue (along with probiotic to help rebuild the gut after the antibiotics as well!).

Another aspect of reflux is looking at possible food allergies or intolerances that could be causing inflammation in the stomach or intestine. At our clinic, we do various tests to help identify food allergies/intolerances. Once a person eliminates these foods, this helps decrease the possibility of increased inflammation and overall “wear and tear” on the integrity of the stomach and intestine.

Do you have a fire in your chest? Do you want help naturally to getting to the bottom of your reflux? Naturopathic medicine can help- naturally and effectively!

 

I need to add here- I hope you learned some things from this blog. I love my job- I’m so excited to offer people natural choices for their healthcare! And even more excited to see people getting better- one step at a time! I look forward to working with you on your health!

Jennifer Bunzenmeyer Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

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