Acid reflux is one of the most common forms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, and will affect between 25-40 percent of Americans of all ages at some point. Approximately 20 percent of all American adults experience acid reflux on a weekly basis. While most of the time acid reflux is just an annoying, uncomfortable, temporary condition, long-term side effects can result in much more serious health conditions.
At the root cause of all forms of GERD is a dysfunction in the ring-like muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach. When food passes through this ring, the muscle is supposed to contract, preventing any food or stomach acids from getting back up into the esophagus. However, when this ring isn’t working properly, some acids are able to leak back into the esophagus, and can cause an array of issues. Contrary to popular belief, acid reflux symptoms are not caused by too much stomach acid. In fact, there is a growing amount of evidence that too little stomach acid is actually one of the leading causes of stomach dysfunction, and as a result, acid reflux.
Symptoms of acid reflux vary widely. Most people with acid reflux experience heartburn, the uncomfortable burning sensation in the stomach, chest, and back of the throat. Heartburn might also present with a bitter, sometimes sour taste in the mouth. Others experience symptoms such as dry mouth, hoarseness, or bad breath. Regurgitation of food, vomiting, nausea, or difficulty swallowing shows more severe signs of advanced acid reflux. Bloody vomit or black stools indicates internal bleeding somewhere in the digestive track, and could indicate tearing in the esophageal lining as a result of acid reflux. These more severe signs of acid reflux need to be addressed with a medical professional, as they may lead to more complications.
Long-lasting acid reflux can result in scarring of the lining of the esophagus, and lead to things such as a chronic cough or sleep problems. More importantly, untreated acid reflux can develop into a syndrome called Barrett’s esophagus, which is when the cells of the esophagus actually transform to become more like the cells of the intestines. Once this tissue has changed, there is an increased likelihood to develop a form of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 16,000 Americans lost their lives in 2017 from esophageal cancer.
Conventional treatments for acid reflux typically turn to three types of medication – antacids, H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors. However, like many other health conditions, there are natural ways to approach acid reflux. Changing the diet to eliminate processed foods and GMOs is a great start. Next, incorporating foods that will help heal the digestive track is important. These include things like fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, organic meat, and probiotic rich foods such as yogurt, kimchi, or kefir. Also, digestive health can be improved by exercising, giving up smoking, avoiding overeating, and, of course, getting adjusted regularly.
Yours in Health, Dr. Alex
Project Wellness Company, Madison WI