Acid Reflux, and How the Diet Is the Root Cause and Can Help Alleviate It
I started thinking about acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), or heartburn (dyspepsia), because of late I’ve had numerous new clients that have this very issue. It raises the question of how common this issue really is- but when we go to the drugstore and see aisles full of tablets and liquids to help with these conditions, we know the very answer. The issue is everywhere!! Chances are love, that you reading this probably know someone that has suffered/is suffering from one of these conditions. In 2001, the antacid medications of Prilosec and Prevacid ranked second and third in the largest sums of money spent on any prescription medication, with sales exceeding $7 billion along on just those two medications!!
Sadly, most people do not do much to change their diet- instead they go right for the pills. I saw this horrible commercial lately with the almost exact wording, “Chug that coffee…Eat that burrito… then take __________ for your heartburn.” I mean really??? Can you believe that is really promoted? But then again, the reality is that companies make money by promoting drugs and pills, not promoting a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Let’s take a closer examination of the issue in the first place. Our lower esophageal sphincter (LES, but not Lower East Side :-) ) is a natural anti-reflux barrier like a gate to protect the stomach. When we eat or drink anything the LES relaxes to allow the substances to pass through, but then returns to a closed position. The issue is when the LES relaxes at inappropriate times, such as between meals. This can cause digestive acids to flow back up into the esophagus from the stomach, creating that horrible acid feeling!
How can we naturally alleviate this condition, which can really adversely affect our lives? With diet. Food alone can really help- and it can also help in a non-direct way by alleviating a major root cause of this issue: constipation. A researcher of gastrointestinal disease from Yale University believes that over 90% of GERD cases in Western populations are a direct result of constipation (S.J. Sontag, “Defining GERD,” Yale J Biol Med 72, no. 2-3 (March-June 1999): 69-80). Severe straining to evacuate hard matter from the body (which is the byproduct of a problematic diet in the first place!) forces the stomach up into the chest from the abdomen. As a result of all that straining and forceful pressure, the natural opening in the muscular diaphragm through which the esophagus passes is widened. Over time, part of the stomach is up in the chest cavity, (which by the way can also be cause by excessive abdominal fat), and when we inhale, pressure is exerted on the stomach and acid is pulled up into the esophagus.
So what is the first thing we need to do? Drink the Green Smoothie! More greens, fruits and vegetables! More dietary fiber! Our poop shouldn’t be allowed to get so hard and tough that we are straining so hard to go to the bathroom!! That is what happened when we eat lots of concentrated meat and dairy problems (to mention only one of the issues with these foods). The SAD (Standard American Diet) is a recipe for acid reflux disaster with lots of meatball sandwiches, mac and cheese, pot roast and potato dishes- you know, the typical fare that is seen as food in the Western world.
A high fat diet (again often animal products like cheese are the major culprit) can overdistend the stomach and cause heartburn. Need another reason to give up coffee? Both regular and decaf coffee are extremely acid-forming in the stomach and can contribute to LES dysfunction. Switch to herbal tea!! If you have a sensitive stomach you might be best to avoid raw onions, hot spices, straight fruit juice (which I recommend no one drinks anyways), and even radishes.
Sure we can always just go to the store and buy some pills to cover up the discomfort. But that in no way gets to the root cause. If we keep eating the way we are eating, we will consistently feel pain and have GERD! As with all pills and meds, there are side effects, such as possibly interfering with our hormones and metabolism (especially the H2 receptor antagonists).
Years of unhealthful eating may have caused GERD and LES dysfunction. Here is what we can do from a lifestyle standpoint:
– Switch to a plant-based diet, where greens, vegetables, fruit, nuts and certain non-GMO grains (like quinoa) are the basis of what you are eating every day. Low in fat, and high in fiber.
– Don’t overdistend your stomach by stuffing yourself silly. Eat slowly so you truly stop eating when you are full!
– Lose weight if you have excessive belly fat. Have the Green Smoothie for breakfast!
– Cut out coffee.
– Use antacid medications as a last resort- not casually! Work to change your diet instead of covering thing up.
I’ve seen lots of relief with numerous clients by following these simple guidelines. I hope they help you also! Here’s to a happy LES for all of us (Isn’t that a happy abbreviation, versus saying lower esophageal sphincter?? :) ).
One other thing I will leave you with is my diet for acid reflux, a true miracle worker for anyone with a sensitive stomach.
I’m leaving for Virginia Thursday to go work with a client, then back down to Atlanta. I’ll write more from there!
Sending my love!!