Can I Stop Chronic Reflux Without Medications?
Can I Relieve Chronic Reflux Without Medications?
Most people have heard of heartburn or acid reflux. As a matter of fact, it is so common that up to 60% of people have had reflux in the past 12 months and up to 30% experience symptoms weekly.
Some people experience occasional acid reflux or “heartburn” after a big meal. This only happens once in awhile, and it’s usually nothing that a few tums can’t take care of. Other people experience reflux several times a week and for the truly unfortunate, reflux is an everyday experience that is managed successfully or semi-successfully with daily medications, most often a proton-pump inhibitor like Prilosec or Nexium.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
For those who suffer consistently, this is known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD. There is also another, emerging diagnosis being acknowledged. This is reflux that contains other digestive contents aside from acid like bile and pepsin.
Non-Erosive Reflux Disease (NERD)
This is also very common and is known as Non-Erosive Reflux Disease (NERD). Although the term “non-erosive” can sound less problematic, in fact, this reflux can be nearly as damaging and also contributes to airway reflux or what is known as “silent reflux.”
For those who experience frequent reflux events, whether it be GERD or NERD, the symptoms can range from nausea, burning in the chest or throat, coughing, stomach pain, hoarseness and refluxing of damaging liquids into the throat and mouth. In severe cases, reflux can damage the voice and teeth, cause problems with the inner ear and sinuses and it can also severely impact sleep. People report waking in the middle of the night, coughing and gasping for air as acid backs up into their mouth and hits their airway. This is one of the more frightening and debilitating symptoms of GERD/NERD. The lack of sleep and discomfort from the reflux damage can severely impact the quality of life. Some people have reflux so bad that they can’t even drink a glass of water without it coming right back up. The most serious consequence of unmanaged reflux is cellular changes in the esophagus called Barrett’s esophagus. This is a precursor to cancer.
Some people with uncontrolled reflux are resistant to medications and end up getting surgery. This surgery can be very effective, but it is not without side effects and potential complications. Many people also report having severe gas and bloating that does not go away.
Side Effects of Acid Reflux Medications
Over the past year or so, there has been more information coming out about the dangerous side effects of the most popular and effective acid medications, the proton-pump inhibitors. These medications include Prilosec (omeprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole magnesium), Protonix (pantoprazole) and Dexilant (dexlansoprazole). These medications drastically reduce stomach acid to negligible amounts. They can be very effective for some, but they can also come with some very severe side effects.
Side effects of proton-pump inhibitors include higher rates of depression, higher rates of kidney disease and possible dementia. These drugs also drastically reduce stomach acid and therefore can inhibit the absorption of key nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and B12. As a matter of fact, there is an increased risk of hip fractures and broken bones in those who take PPIs long-term. There is also an increased risk of pneumonia and C. Diff infections of the gastrointestinal tract. As these side effects and risks come more and more to light, many people are questioning what to do, especially those who have chronic, unrelenting reflux.
Can my reflux be relieved without medication?
Fortunately, there is a way out of this mess! There are new ideas emerging about the causes of reflux and thus, how to manage it. The old thinking was there was “just too much stomach acid”. Although it is true that reducing stomach acid can improve symptoms, it does not actually cure reflux or even stop it from occurring, it just neutralizes it so you can’t feel the damage being done. As a matter of fact, although counterintuitive, it is thought that some people may actually not have enough stomach acid. While that may sound crazy, it actually makes sense if you look into it.
Stomach acid is responsible for breaking down food but it also helps control and suppresses bacteria. The older we get, the less stomach acid we may produce and bacteria can start to grow. Proton pump inhibitors also suppress stomach acid and one of the risks of using PPIs is bacterial infections of the gut and respiratory tract. Bacteria also produce gas that can put stress on the lower esophageal sphincter, making it more prone to open up and allow stomach acid and other digestive content to enter the esophagus and airway.
There is a myriad of reasons why you may have reflux. There are very effective ways to remedy stomach acid problems, bacterial overgrowth and reflux without medication or surgery. This is all done using natural methods and by looking into the root cause of your symptoms.
If you suffer from reflux and are looking for an alternative to using dangerous acid reflux medications, functional medicine might be the solution for you. I encourage you to book an initial patient visit with me or contact with directly with questions.