Millions of people suffer from acid reflux or heartburn for years without receiving an effective solution from mainstream medicine. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the more serious form of acid reflux, is quite common in the United States, where 10% to 20% of the population have the condition.
Conventional wisdom would say that acid reflux/heartburn is caused by too much stomach acid, but research shows the rate of heartburn and GERD increases with age, while stomach acid levels generally decreases with age. The Journal of American Geriatrics Society found that over 30% of people over 60 years old experience little to no acid secretion. Another study found that 40% of postmenopausal women produce no basal gastric acid. In fact, there are thousands of studies supporting the fact that suppressing stomach acid does not treat the problem; it only treats the symptoms.
In truth, the prevailing scientific theory is that GERD is caused by a dysfunction of the lower esophageal valve that separates the lower end of the esophagus and the stomach. This valve dysfunction is caused by intra-abdominal pressure. So if we are looking for the underlying cause and solution, instead of giving out risky ineffective drugs, wouldn’t it make sense to look at what is causing this pressure in the abdomen?
In functional medicine, it's my goal to investigate the underlying causes of chronic issues such as acid reflux and GERD. It isn't enough to simply diagnose a disease and match it with a corresponding drug. As with most health conditions, acid reflux and GERD have complex underlying mechanisms and multifaceted components to consider.
Our Western diet, food intolerances, medications, chronic infections, environmental toxins and chronic stress all contribute to digestive inflammation and low stomach acid. One of stomach acid's many roles is to keep bacteria levels balanced, so low stomach acid can contribute to a condition called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), which in turn can lead to poor food digestion due to decreased enzyme secretion. Diagnostic testing must be run to see if SIBO is an underlying factor in your case
This confluence of underlying factors increases intra-abdominal pressure, so you can see how long term use of acid-suppressing medications would only perpetuate this vicious cycle. In fact, research has shown that acid-suppressing medication can lead to gastric bacterial overgrowth. A comprehensive functional medicine health history and diagnostic testing can uncover the underlying culprit for individual cases.
After you've discovered and removed the source of your problem, there are some effective natural solutions for good digestive health: