Symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux, or GERD (GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease) are among the most common problems of the digestive tract. Researchers estimate that they affect 20% – 25% of Americans or even more.
You might experience a burning sensation in your chest, chest pain, the feeling of a lump in your throat, a chronic cough, or other symptoms too. Symptoms are often worse when you lie down, or after you’ve eaten a large meal.
The simplest self-care measures you can implement to minimize reflux-related problems include:
- finish your last meal at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime
- raise the head of your bed 4-6 inches
- avoid alcohol
- lose weight
When self-care falls short
When these simple measures don’t eliminate the problem, the allopathic medical approach is often a prescription for a Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI). These drugs, such as Prilosec, Nexium, or Prevacid, reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces, which relieves symptoms in many people.
From a functional diagnostic medicine perspective, though, this approach makes sense only up to a point. Taking PPI’s, though they’re relatively safe as prescription medicines go, can have long-term negative consequences. They interfere with your body’s innate process for digesting food, and can contribute to other digestive tract problems or to nutrient malabsorption. Among the risks is an increased chance of fracture, since strong bones depend on optimal absorption of minerals.
Moreover, just because you’ve alleviated the symptoms doesn’t mean you’ve addressed the underlying cause of the problem. Improving health means figuring out why your body can’t properly regulate its own activities, and finding a way to restore balance.
Getting to the root of the problem
The symptoms of heartburn, reflux, and GERD can have several different causes, or a combination of causes. To understand your situation, you may need to consider some of the following:
- Inadequate production of saliva needed to kick-start the digestive process
- Rushed eating, not chewing your food and relaxing at meals
- Too little stomach acid (yes, paradoxically, inadequate or poorly timed acid production means you can’t digest what’s in your stomach, possibly leading to reflux)
- Weakening of the sphincter valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach
- Poor control of the smooth muscles of the digestive tract that move the food along the system
- Overgrowth of bacteria in the stomach or small intestine
- Intolerance to specific foods
- Hiatal hernia – when the stomach bulges up into the chest cavity
A systematic program of diagnosis and testing can help you uncover which of these is contributing to your problems and find a targeted way to move toward improved health.