Research & Education

GERD and Treatment Alternatives

One of the most indelible memories I have growing up is of my father starting out each and every day with a cup of black coffee and an unfiltered Pall Mall. At some point during the morning he would supplement this diet with a fistful of Tums in order to combat his constant companion GERD.

Sixty percent of the adult population will experience some type of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD within a 12 month period and 20 to 30 percent will have weekly symptoms.  

Diet and Lifestyle

While doctors believe that some people suffer from GERD due to a hiatal hernia (many otherwise healthy people age 50 and over have a small one) in most cases heartburn can be relieved through diet and lifestyle changes both of which also contribute to GERD. Certain foods and beverages including chocolate peppermint fried or fatty foods coffee and alcoholic beverages may trigger reflux and heartburn. Studies show that cigarette smoking (if dad only knew) relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach. When the LES is weak or relaxes inappropriately it allows the acidic partially digested contents of the stomach to flow up into the esophagus. Obesity and pregnancy can also play a role in GERD symptoms.

Complications of GERD include ulcers and strictures of the esophagus Barrett's esophagus cough and asthma throat and laryngeal inflammation inflammation and infection of the lungs and collection of fluid in the sinuses and middle ear.

The downside of standard treatments

The usual traditional treatments of proton pump inhibitors like most medications taken over long periods of time are fraught with problems including development of osteoporosis infectious states and mineral malabsorption to name a few.

Additionally there is the risk of a rebound effect in which acid hypersecretion occurs in those who attempt to withdraw from the medications.

What are the alternatives?

An interesting form of therapy that I never considered as a treatment option for GERD is acupuncture. According to research studies acupuncture was shown to alleviate the symptoms of GERD with minimal side effects. In one such study acupuncture was actually shown to be remarkably more effective in some individuals than the standard medication.

Equally remarkable is that the use of placebos has been shown to be very effective in treating this condition.

In young children and infants there seems to be a strong correlation between dairy allergies and GERD. For these types of children elimination of dairy (especially milk) appears to completely eliminate the condition according to a research study.  In another study of young children the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri was also shown to improve the symptoms of regurgitation while accelerating gastric emptying in infants as well.

Melatonin may be a good alternative to medication as its antioxidative properties appear to help protect the gastrointestinal mucosa while possibly inhibiting the secretion of endogenously produced HCL. An interesting related fact is that 400 times more melatonin is found in the GI tract than in the pineal gland where the hormone is produced in the brain.

High gastrointestinal acidity is often associated with an increased risk of developing ulcers. Ginger has a wonderful and consistent reputation for being a gastroprotective agent while also demonstrating H. pylori inhibitory properties.

With a combination of weight loss dietary restrictions/modifications and a more natural approach to this problem GERD a particularly ubiquitous condition can in many cases be successfully treated without the use of troublesome medications.

by Michael Fuhrman D.C.