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What is GERD? How is it Treated?

Approximately 7 million Americans suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms (GERD).  We treat GERD as if it was a case of too much stomach acid, when in reality, 90% of sufferers do not have enough acid. Using medications that further reduce stomach acid doesn’t make sense and may cause serious problems. 

Stomach acid has 4 major jobs. 

  • Breaking down proteins in our diet to be digested
  • Activation of pepsin, an enzyme necessary for protein digestion
  • Signaling the stomach to dump its contents into the small intestine and telling the pancreas to secrete enzymes
  • Inhibiting the growth of bacteria that come in on our food, preventing infection

So how does not enough stomach acid cause reflux? It may be a case of “acid in the wrong place” rather than too much acid. The esophagus wasn’t designed to withstand contact with acid from the stomach, so when we don’t have enough stomach acid, food sits in the stomach for too long and ferments instead of digesting and moving into the small intestine. As bacteria work on the food in the stomach, it bubbles up like lava into the esophagus and causes heartburn symptoms. 

How do we treat GERD? 

  • Chew your food well. It is the first step in digestion and absorption of nutrients. When we don’t chew until our solids become liquid, we skip this important first step of digestion. Try chewing your food at least 30 times before swallowing and notice the difference in consistency. 
  • Avoid common symptom triggers such as caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, citrus fruits, tomatoes and onions. If these foods don’t trigger symptoms, go ahead and eat them.   
  • Don’t eat within several hours of going to bed. Excessive calorie intake has more to do with the severity of GERD symptoms, and high fat content has more to do with the frequency of symptoms. Eat smaller, more frequent meals, and stay away from high fat, high calorie meals.
  • Try supplements. Using a supplement containing digestive enzymes and betaine HCl can help by restoring a more normal environment of digestive enzymes and acidity. Take it with meals and it may significantly decrease symptoms. This is intended to be a short term measure to help get you back on the track of digesting and mobilizing food out of the stomach on your own.

Shutting off stomach acid can contribute to malabsorption of nutrients from food and can eventually lead to infections, bone fractures and overgrowth of bad bacteria.  That’s why the medications used to decrease stomach acid have a limit on how long it is safe to use them. Many Americans use these drugs for far longer than is recommended. If you suffer from GERD, you may have some choices. Ask a CarePro Advance Health pharmacist if you’re interested in exploring these options.