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What causes GERD Acid Reflux?

What causes GERD acid reflux?
Too much stomach acid?  Too little?
These are commonly held beliefs about the cause of acid reflux, and  they are WRONG!

what causes GERD acid refluxGERD acid reflux is the most classic presentation of acid reflux. It usually includes: some kind of burning sensation, pressure or discomfort in the upper abdomen, chest and/or throat.

But the presenting symptoms of acid reflux can differ between individuals. Before we can answer what causes acid reflux, let’s see if you are likely to have GERD.

GERD prevalenceDid you know that GERD acid reflux affects about 1 in 4 adults in North America!
That’s 25% of all adults!  

Are YOU one of the 25%?!

Do YOU Have GERD Symptoms?

Common Symptoms of GERD Acid Reflux (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

  • heartburn – burning sensation, rising up from ribs towards chest or throat
  • feeling of pressure/discomfort in upper abdomen or chest
  • regurgitation of stomach contents into the pharynx or mouth
  • frequent belching, worse after meals or drinking fluid on an empty stomach
  • halitosis
  • above symptoms worse after eating or lying down, and/or relieved by antacids

WAIT…If you answered “no”, you still may have a DIFFERENT type of acid reflux!

Do You Have LPR Symptoms?

Common Symptoms of LPR (Laryngopharyngeal Reflux)

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar?

  • chronic irritating cough, worse at night
  • frequent belching, worse after meals or drinking fluid on an empty stomach
  • halitosis
  • chronic laryngitis (hoarseness)
  • chronic unexplained sore throat
  • dental erosions
  • chronic sinusitis, post-nasal drip, frequent need/desire to clear throat
  • sensation of lump in throat, difficulty swallowing
  • above symptoms may occur any time of day & may or may not be relieved by antacids

Do you have GERD or LPR?

If you answered YES to several symptoms from the first list, you may be suffering from GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).

Alternatively, if you are missing the “classic GERD symptoms”, but have some of the symptoms from the second list,  you may have LPR (Laryngopharyngeal Reflux).

These two conditions are both caused by acid reflux. A seemingly benign condition, chronic acid reflux can lead to serious complications. Seeking treatment for acid reflux is a good idea.

If you think you may be suffering from LPR – learn more about “Silent” or Airway Reflux here.
For the complete 411 on GERD, read on!

What Is GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

To better understand what causes GERD acid reflux, we need to explain what GERD is. What’s the difference between “normal” reflux and GERD acid reflux?

Everyone has acid reflux.

digestion-whole-health-3OK. I’m not trying to be sensationalist! It’s true.

We all experience some degree of material “coming back up” from the stomach into the esophagus. This is called GER – Gastro-esophageal Reflux. (Notice it’s missing the “D” – for “Disease”!)

While we all have some amount of GER, we also have some pretty neat-o built in “anti-reflux mechanisms”. That is to say, our body has a system for how to deal with reflux.

Stuff like saliva, swallowing, sphincters (valves in the esophagus) and secretions (alkaline or acid-neutralizing juices) in the mouth and esophagus, can normalize things & neutralize acid in the esophagus within about 5 minutes of a GER episode.

COOL!!!  Aren’t our bodies intelligently designed?!

When GER occurs more frequently, and overcomes your body’s natural defence mechanisms, symptoms arise like: heartburn, pain or discomfort, burping, regurgitation of food, etc.

If you have these symptoms persistently, you will likely be diagnosed with GERD.

 

So….what causes GERD acid reflux??

The discomfort you have, is due to the regurgitation of food that’s been in the acidic environment of the stomach.

When acid touches the lining of the esophagus it can cause an uncomfortable or burning sensation. And over time, you may develop chronic irritation and inflammation in the lining of the esophagus.

A seemingly benign condition, chronic GERD acid reflux can more seriously lead to esophageal erosions/ulcers and even esophageal cancer, if left untreated.

This explains why we experience symptoms from GERD.  But it still hasn’t completely answered:  what causes GERD acid reflux?

What Causes GERD Acid Reflux?

The cause of GERD acid reflux is more complex, and stems from poor function of the body’s natural anti-reflux mechanisms.

In particular, poor function of the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) is a major contributor.

The LES normally shuts tightly to prevent reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus and beyond.

There are a number of reasons why the LES and other anti-reflux mechanisms fail.  Identifying which components of your anti-reflux mechanisms are implicated is a KEY part of the assessment I do with patients, and also helps me to provide more targeted recommendations.

A comprehensive approach to natural treatment for acid reflux  includes:  dietary and lifestyle measures along with any recommended medications or supplements.

The goal is not just to treat symptoms of acid reflux. But also, to attempt to:

  • Resolve the CAUSE of GERD
  • Address the inflammation and tissue damage
  • Prevent GERD from progressing into a more serious condition – like Barrett’s Esophagitis or Esophageal Cancer

 

GERD Acid Reflux Treatment

To effectively treat it, we must first understand what causes it.
Now that we’ve established what causes GERD acid reflux, let’s explore treatment options.

But first, a quick review:

Remember how I said that to effectively treat GERD, we need to understand what causes GERD acid reflux?

Did I say that the stomach is like a witches brew?  A cauldron bubbling over with too much stomach acid?  

No!  I told you that was FALSE.  

And, that what causes GERD acid reflux, is in fact, when something that was in the stomach (normally acidic) finds it’s way back up into the esophagus.
Where it’s NOT supposed to be.

So.  What causes GERD acid reflux is NOT the over-production of stomach acid. But rather, the backwards movement of material from the stomach into the esophagus.  And this backwards movement is caused by a failure of our natural anti-reflux mechanisms.

The treatment for GERD acid reflux can be broken down into three main categories:

  • Conventional Treatment
  • Natural Cures For GERD & LPR
  • Home Remedies For Acid Reflux

Conventional Treatment: PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors) & Antacids

proton pump inhibitors for GERD & LPRAntacids are the third most commonly purchased OTC (over the counter) medication – after pain medications and relief from colds/coughs/allergies.

They offer temporary relief by coating the esophagus with a buffer to the acid, or by neutralizing stomach acid.
Do they address the cause?  No.

A word about PPI drugs – Proton Pump Inhibitors.

Prescription acid blockers, like PPIs (proton pump inhibitors), take this a step further – because they BLOCK production of stomach acid. As a result, PPIs fail to address the cause of GERD, and may be associated with adverse effects:

  • acute adverse effects (diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, headaches)
  • long-term risks (increased risk of gastroenteritis, stomach or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, pneumonia, osteoporosis and/or spinal fracture, vitamin & mineral malabsorption)

Not only do PPIs fail to address what causes GERD acid reflux, but they also can do harm by suppressing stomach acid production – which serves important functions in the body (like vitamin & mineral absorption for bone, heart and kidney health, and prevention of infection).

In fact, harm from PPIs is something I see more and more often in my practice.  A patient starts off with GERD, gets prescribed a PPI, and later comes in to see me with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or some form of Dysbiosis (bacterial overgrowth in the gut).  We now have two digestive conditions to treat.

There certainly are people who benefit from PPIs and other medications, and in severe or unrelenting cases of acid reflux, it makes sense to try to prevent damage to the esophagus. Since these drugs can be avoided in MANY cases, this is desirable wherever possible.

What is the BEST treatment for GERD acid reflux & LPR?

Naturopathic Approach

OK. Admittedly I’m a bit biased! But this stems from many years of experience and seeing the amazing results my patients are able to achieve.

natural treatment for acid refluxA holistic approach to treatment sees the inextricable interconnectedness of the entire digestive system (and all body systems). A conventional medical approach zeroes in on treating symptoms through suppression (“Got heartburn? Let’s block acid production!”).

In contrast, a holistic or naturopathic approach asks: “What causes GERD acid reflux?” Then seeks to treat that cause and return the organ system to normal function. As a result, symptoms resolve.

It also upholds the precept: “First, do no harm”. In this case, suppressing acid production is seen as harm. Stomach acid, or HCl, serves MANY important functions in the body – and isn’t what causes GERD acid reflux.

Most of all, dysfunction of the LES and failure of the body’s anti-reflux mechanisms are to blame. So why not target these areas? That is exactly what a naturopathic approach does.

Now, just to be clear, I understand why antacids and acid blockers are prescribed for GERD acid reflux. They are the only tools in the kit as far as conventional medical interventions go; and if the goal is to prevent cancer, there’s a pretty compelling case for them.

Still, esophageal cancer risk is actually extremely low, and, in so many cases, these drugs can be avoided. And that’s where I LOVE to offer strategic support and guidance.

So instead of relying on antacids, I strongly encourage sufferers to seek naturopathic care – which has highly effective options for treatment that address all of the contributing factors:

  • reduce inflammation
  • tone the LES
  • support & enhance natural anti-reflux mechanisms
  • heal the esophageal mucosa/lining
  • prevent progression to esophageal ulcers or cancer

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Is there a natural cure for GERD acid reflux?

And what about home remedies for GERD acid reflux? What helps acid reflux?

Effective GERD acid reflux & LPR treatment IS possible, without the use of antacids and PPIs.

Can I guarantee that a natural cure will work for everyone? No.

But most people have very significant improvements in their digestive function and dramatic reduction or elimination of their symptoms. These results come largely as a result of lifestyle and dietary modifications. Additionally, naturopathic medicine offers options for preventing complications of GERD & LPR or progression to esophageal (or laryngeal) cancer.

Effective GERD acid reflux treatment, additionally employs targeted recommendations of: strain specific probiotics, specially formulated multi-nutrient supplements, support for the nervous system, and herbs that can effectively manage symptoms while you work towards normalizing function.

Heartburn Home Remedies

As for acid reflux home remedies or what is good for heartburn, people often ask about things like apple cider vinegar and baking soda.
Get the full scoop on whether or not these natural treatment for acid reflux are safe and effective here.

What are the foods to avoid with GERD acid reflux?

When asked how to treat heartburn or GERD, one of the most common questions I get asked is:  “What foods cause acid reflux?

Again, my focus is to address what causes GERD acid reflux. And we can do that pretty effectively using DIET.
Learn all about Foods To Avoid For Acid Reflux HERE.

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