What Acid Reflux Can Teach Us About Good Medicine

Acid reflux is a common symptom affecting millions of Americans. It’s easily treatable and something modern medicine should really be nailing by now, but unfortunately that’s not often the case. However a good diagnostician trained in root cause resolution can easily present you with options to eliminate acid reflux the right way.

If you’re experiencing acid reflux, most doctors will diagnose you with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and treat you with a pharmaceutical called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) which is designed to lower your stomach acid. This works for some people by eliminating the burning sensation, but it doesn't stop the contents of the stomach from traveling into your esophagus.

It’s important to treat GERD properly, because longterm exposure of stomach acid to the cells of your esophagus can cause the cells to change. Your body does this, because the esophagus isn’t made to handle acidic fluids—so it changes the cells to be more stomach like. These changes are referred to as Barrett’s Esophagus and although it’s the body’s attempt at an adaptation to correct the problem, it's a serious complication of GERD that increases the risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Treating GERD with PPIs also has some unintended side effects. We actually need adequate amounts of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) to digest our food, make vitamins and minerals available for absorption, and prevent bacterial infections of the digestive tract. Low stomach acid disrupts these natural processes. These side effects are so concerning, there are a host of studies exploring the link between longterm use of PPIs and vitamin B12 deficiency as well as increased risk of osteoporosis and hip fractures in the elderly.

We need only to look to basic science and digestive physiology to understand that an approach which further disrupts digestive function to treat GERD is ultimately not going to be successful. And therein lies the key to identifying and resolving the root cause of GERD. As one of it’s digestive duties, adequate hydrochloric acid signals the muscle between the esophagus and stomach (called the esophageal sphincter) to close when you’re finished swallowing. So although it may be counterintuitive, one of the causes of GERD may actually be low stomach acid which can be assessed through a string or Heidelberg test to measure the pH of your stomach acid or by graduated hydrochloric acid supplementation supervised by your physician.

A physician who will look at your GERD not as a symptom to be suppressed, but an important factor in your digestive and overall health can help you correct it though through diet, supplementation, and lifestyle modifications.

Optimizing your diet, screening for food allergies and sensitivities (alcohol, citrus, chocolate, and peppermint should all be looked at as possible irritants to the esophageal sphincter), managing stress, normalizing stomach acid pH, and abdominal exercises paired with botanical medicines and supplements specific to your case should all be part of your evaluation and treatment.

When it comes to treating GERD properly it's definitely not a one-size-fits-all, one pill scenario. However, once you look at the problem through the science of physiology and the wisdom of the body it’s incredibly easy to diagnose and treat the root cause.