Last updated: March 26, 2014

Fitness & Health - Acid Reflux
GERD - Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (heart burn)

Acid Reflux - My story

Early in 2007, at age 46, I was diagnosed with having GERD - gastrointestinal reflux disease, after experiencing symptoms for the prior year. Like 60% of adults in their mid-life, some stomach acid was migrating up into my throat and was creating burning/painful sensations ('heart burn'). Most everyone goes through the same process - first they can't sleep from the pain, which comes on strongest at night, next they think there must be something wrong with their heart (in my case I have annual cardio exams and this was ruled out quickly), then their nerves 'kick up' because they become over-sensitive to the heart burn sensation (there are more nerves in and around the GI tract than anywhere else in the body - hence the opportunity for trouble), and finally they develop other GI problems such as over-sensitivity to a range of foods. In my case I eventually got so sick (and weak from lack of absorption) that I literally could not get out of bed at times - and I felt like crap almost all of the time.

Like nearly everyone else that stumbles into this problem, I was put on a proper acid reflux diet as well as proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medication which does a very effective job of reducing stomach acid to levels low enough to allow the burned tissues to heal, and the rest of the GI tract to also calm down and get back to business. But in my case I was quite allergic to the PPI meds and also had another issue that was not properly diagnosed - I had finished an antibiotic regime in the fall of 2006 for a digestive infection contracted while biking in Europe and it had killed off my normal GI tract bacteria and my whole system was out of whack.

I went thru 3 different types of PPI meds until I found one that I could semi-tolerate (Prevacid and Nexium were off limits, but Pantaloc was tolerable for a short period) and then I switched to old-fashions Zantac (an H2 blocker - the prior acid reflux prescription of choice for GERD) which I do not seem to react to. But the real resolution to my problem came when I started to take over-the-counter digestive enzymes and probiotics (taken just before each meal). Once I had been on these for a few weeks my whole GI tract started to calm down and all of my food sensitivities started to disappear. It took a long time for me to feel 100% again - I still have occasional GERD 'heart burn' when I eat the 'wrong' foods (too much fatty food - which creates a lot of stomach acid, or spicy food, or red wine).

After almost 9 months after the onset of my GERD symptoms I was pretty much fully back to normal on all levels - all I do now is eat a bit more carefully (just an excuse to eat healthy food all the time) and keep a lower stress level (yes, stress is likely a part of the problem too as I have lived a very dynamic and high energy life/career).

It is worth noting that I had a serious intestinal infection (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yersinia) in the late 1980s when I was in my 20s that took a few years to diagnose and treat properly. I ended up with many of the same acid reflux symptoms back then as well as a long term sensitivity to certain foods, coffee, and red wine that took years to over come. Once you have an infection like that you remain susceptible to future occurrences and in my case when I got sick at age 45, I got really sick, and again, it took almost a full year for me to fully bounce back. My mother is also a Celiac sufferer (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coeliac_disease) which gives me a predisposition to GI tract sensitivities. Blame my acid reflux partly on genetics and partly on lifestyle choices.


Acid Reflux - Symptoms

From acid damage (erosion to the lining) of your lower esophagus and LES  [Lower Esophageal Sphincter – the valve that opens and closes between your throat/esophagus and your stomach]

As per above – from more acute damage to the area and a higher degree of sensitivity to acid and acidic foods as a result

This is from heightened nerve sensitivity in the area of the LES – also due to the close proximity of the LES to your heart and the major nerves in the area, and the fact that there are more nerves in this area than any other part of your body

This is a bit of a chicken and egg issue as GERD and digestive problems often go hand in hand – which came first?

From acid vapours getting into your lungs

From acid attacking your vocal chords

Again, from acid


Acid Reflux – Causes

These drugs inhibit the body’s ability to produce the protective lining of the stomach which keeps stomach acid from burning holes in the lining

Look into ‘adrenal gland fatigue’ if you want to explore what many naturopathic professionals have to say about long term high stress levels and health/wellness – there may be something to their points – even if mainstream GPs and specialists tend to discount hormone imbalances as a cause of acid reflux and depression/low energy levels.

When you suffer from digestive pain and you are not properly absorbing nutrients from your food, and your hormone balance is also possibly thrown off, you will feel tired, depressed, and may also suffer from mental dullness – yes, you will truly feel like middle-age has arrived


Acid Reflux - Diagnosis

You don’t want to get esophageal cancer as it is not very treatable, and unfortunately, acid reflux can lead to cancer if it is not resolved in a timely manner. Don’t panic though – only a small percentage of acid reflux suffers get Barrett’s Esophagus, and only a small percentage of those eventually develop cancer.

These are more advanced tests that would only be recommended if your GP or specialist requests them (although I have had a heart scan done as part of a preventive screening process).


Acid Reflux – Treatment


#1 – Stop acid from migrating up out of your stomach:

#2 – Stop excess acid production by getting on an acid reflux diet:

#3 – Start eating foods that help your body heal the damage:

#4 – Start supplementing your food:

#5 – Take drugs if you have to, only if you have to, for only as long as you have to:

 

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