The Surprising Cause of GERD (And How to Prevent It)
"Research shows that people with long-standing, chronic heartburn are at greater risk of developing serious complications."
Today Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD continues with her prevention series. This time she’ll be talking about a preventable chronic health issue that affects 20% of Americans — that’s over 65 million people — on a regular basis. Many call it heartburn, acid indigestion or acid reflux, but the proper term for it is GERD, which stands for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.
Today Dr. Nancy covers all things GERD, including the surprising cause of GERD in the body, which doctors have had wrong — until now. She’ll also share her top natural and effective tips for preventing the painful and uncomfortable symptoms of GERD.
- 04:15: GERD Facts
- 09:12: What is GERD?
- 09:43: Acid Reflux vs. GERD vs. Heartburn
- 15:33: Symptoms of GERD
- 18:04: Long-term effects of GERD
- 20:50: The Surprising Cause of GERD
- 22:12: Common Acid Reflux Triggers
- 31:54: Tips for Preventing GERD
- 42:08: Wrap-Up
Let’s talk about exactly what GERD is and what it is not, how to know if you have it, and how to assess your GERD risk. First let’s talk about some GERD myths and facts.
Myth: Heartburn damages your heart
If you’ve had heartburn, you know that burning feeling in your lower chest and it certainly feels like your heart. But despite being called heartburn and where it hurts, the pain has nothing to do with your heart. Heartburn happens when a muscle at the end of your esophagus — the pipe that carries food from your mouth to your stomach — doesn’t close properly. Stomach acid creeps back up that pipe, causing irritation.
Fact: Chewing gum can help prevent acid reflux
When you chew gum, your mouth makes more saliva. That acts as a buffer to acid. You also swallow more when you chew gum, and that pushes acid down.
Fact: Cats and Dogs Can Suffer from Acid Reflux
In fact, gastroesophageal reflux is fairly common in dogs and cats — especially in puppies and kittens!
Fact: There are healthy foods that can actually contribute to GERD
Specifically, pineapples are super healthy, and can often help with digestion, but they have a PH of 3.2, which means they have a fair amount of acid — which can make the symptoms of GERD worse in many people!
What is GERD?
GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter, the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach. GERD occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus, which is the tube connecting your mouth and stomach.
Acid Reflux vs. GERD vs. Heartburn
Before we get into how we fix them, let’s take a deeper dive so we all understand the difference between these conditions. All three are digestive conditions, and all are related, and all tend to cause similar symptoms — however, they usually develop in stages.
In the case of acid reflux, the person experiences backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus, which is not uncommon from time to time. In fact 60 million people report having a case of mild acid reflux each month. When this progresses, it can be diagnosed as GERD, which is considered to be more severe.
GERD is mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week, or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week.
Heartburn is also commonly called GERD. The most common symptom of GERD is frequent pains in the chest and burning sensations (hence the name “heartburn”).
It’s estimated that 60% of Americans have heartburn at least once a year, with 20–30% suffering at least once a week. More alarming, and something we need to think about, is that the prevalence of weekly heartburn and other symptoms of acid reflux rose nearly 50% over the last decade. What’s going on here?
While it might not be the biggest deal to have acid reflux symptoms from time to time, research shows that people with long-standing, chronic heartburn are at greater risk of developing serious complications, including narrowing of the esophagus, or esophagitis — an inflammation of the esophagus, and even cancer of the esophagus. So, you really want to pay close attention to the frequency we are experiencing GERD.
Symptoms of GERD
The most common acid reflux and GERD symptoms include:
- Bitter taste in the mouth, and some people taste regurgitated food or sour liquid at the back of their mouths/throats
- Dry mouth
- Bad breath
- Regurgitation of acidic foods
- Bloating after meals and during bouts of symptoms
- Belching, gassiness, burping, and flatulence after meals
- Hiccups that are difficult to stop
- Difficulty swallowing
- Discomfort when bending over or lying down
- Hoarseness upon waking or throughout the day
Long-term effects of GERD
If you are experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis — meaning more than once or twice a month — you really need to make some changes to address your GERD issue. This is not just because it’s uncomfortable, but because left untreated, GERD can have very serious, long-term health consequences, including:
- Scarring of tissue in the lower esophagus that can result from narrowing of the esophagus
- Something called “Barrett’s esophagus”, a serious complication of GERD, that affects 10% of serious Gerd sufferers. In this condition, cells of your esophagus become like the cells of your intestines. I won’t get into the details, but it makes you susceptible to cancer of the esophagus (though rare) which is the next potential long-term health consequence of Gerd.
- And lastly it can also lead to sleep-related problems and chronic, painful coughing.
As we discussed previously, we are seeing a huge increase in the amount of people diagnosed with GERD in the US — the number has increased by 50% over the last 10 years — and the cause is going to shock you -
The Surprising Cause of GERD
Contrary to popular belief — and contrary to what many pharmaceutical companies still are saying in advertisements, symptoms of GERD are not caused by too much acid in the stomach. In fact, it is actually the exact opposite! It is now believed by many that low stomach acid often causes symptoms.
Acid reflux is caused by acid rising up to the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat and stomach. Acid enters the esophagus because of a leaky valve, and there are a variety of reasons this happens. The esophageal valve that connects the esophagus and stomach is unable to shut properly and gastric juices end up sneaking up the pipe. Then without proper levels of acid in the stomach, digestion is altered, often causing unpleasant symptoms.
Common Acid Reflux Triggers
While everyone’s gut is different, and we all have different acid reflux triggers, there are some repeat offenders that seem to contribute to many cases of acid reflux or GERD, including:
Studies have found that high levels of inflammation are linked to the development of GERD because they cause tissue damage and dysfunction in the esophagus. Inflammation left untreated is also a factor in the development of esophageal cancer, so if you have GERD, then getting your inflammation down is a big deal. You know our mantra:
Less Inflammation In + More Inflammation Out = A Healthier You
And it also equals Healthier Digestion, so let’s make sure you are taking all the steps possible to minimize chronic inflammation in your body. The good news is that inflammation is reversible, treatable, and preventable. Here’s what you need to do… avoid processed foods, follow Dr. Nancy’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet Plan, remove harmful chemicals and toxins from your life, get regular exercise, and by supplement daily with Smarter Curcumin, the powerful and healing inflammation compound found in turmeric.
Hiatal hernias can cause the unpleasant symptoms of acid reflux. The diaphragm helps separate the stomach from the chest. A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach protrudes above the diaphragm, allowing acid to escape. These hernias are associated with most, but not all, cases of GERD.
More and more evidence seems to point to the link between the poor digestion of carbohydrates and GERD. In fact, many doctors now believe that we target some incorrect trigger foods when treating GERD nutritionally and that more focus should be on eliminating excess carbohydrates.
How this happens is a somewhat complex process, but there is a book called Heartburn Cured, by Dr. Norm Robillard, which does a great job explaining how acid reflux and GERD are probably exacerbated by too much gas throughout the intestines, resulting from bacterial overgrowth and malabsorption of carbohydrates. The root of this gas may ultimately trace back to the low stomach acid of those suffering from acid reflux — it’s a really interesting theory that makes a lot of sense!
Many people, as they age, lack the appropriate amount of stomach acid needed to digest their food fully. While there are many reasons for this, it’s most often a side effect of taking antacids regularly and/or malnutrition, or a part of the natural aging process.
When a woman is pregnant, the fetus can put extra pressure on the esophageal valve, causing the release of acid and symptoms of acid reflux.
Being overweight or obese can also put extra pressure on the valves and sphincter that allow release of acid, which explains why obesity is often associated with acid reflux and GERD. In fact, study after study demonstrates that as body mass index rose, so did GERD symptoms.
Eating large meals, and eating too close to bedtime are also commonly associated with GERD. An overly full stomach places excessive pressure on the diaphragm, causing acid to travel upward, especially when you are laying down.
Smoking impairs muscle reflexes and increases production of acid — in addition, quitting smoking is associated with significant improvement of GERD/acid reflux symptoms.
Low magnesium levels may lead to improper functioning of the sphincter that prevents acid from escaping. We’ve been learning more and more about the seemingly endless amount of benefits of magnesium — it helps with everything from digestive health, to bone health, to easing anxiety and depression. But we are also learning that a deficiency in magnesium usually means a deficiency in other essential minerals too, including zinc and boron. Which leads to our first tip for preventing GERD.
Tips for Preventing GERD
Increase Magnesium Intake
You can begin to increase your intake of magnesium through natural foods. Magnesium is especially found in foods like almonds, spinach, cashews, black beans, edamame, nut butters, avocados, and leafy green vegetables — but to make sure you get enough magnesium and other essentials, you can supplement with the Smarter Multi, with just the right amount of magnesium you need each day, sourced from organic food sources exclusively. In fact all the minerals in smarter multi that can be sourced from organic food sources are!
Take Probiotics and Eat Fermented Foods Regularly
Probiotics, the healthy bacteria that is essential for keeping your gut microbiome ecosystem in balance and functioning correctly, are important for addressing harmful bacteria in the stomach and intestines. Specifically, probiotics are essential for
- Increasing the numbers of healthy bacteria that live in the gut while also decreasing the unhealthy bacteria
- Decreasing your body’s own production of inflammation-producing compounds, improving immune system health, and lowering inflammation in the gut and throughout the body — which in turn, reduces several debilitation symptoms associated with GERD
We always recommend food first — meaning, you should look for natural whole food sources of probiotics before you supplement. Great probiotic foods include: Kimchi, fermented vegetables, kombucha, miso, and certain, unpasteurized sauerkrauts.
You can even make your own kimchi and fermented vegetables — it’s super easy to do, and really once you make them at home, you’ll never go back to store-bought brands.
Try to eat or drink some probiotics every single day, but it can be difficult to get the amount you need just from food, so you can also use a great probiotic supplement such as Smarter Gut Health.
Feed Your Gut Flora with Prebiotics
While we are on the subject of probiotics, remember, probiotics in your gut are actual living organisms — like any living organism, they need to be taken care of in order to function properly, and that means you need to feed them!
Probiotics feed on complex carbohydrates and high-fiber foods commonly called prebiotics. This process encourages beneficial bacteria to multiply in the gut; they also ensure the bacteria are more resilient during changing environmental conditions, including changes in stomach acid pH
So what are the best sources of prebiotics?
- Whole grains
- Leafy greens
Oh, and raw is always better — when possible feed your probiotics raw foods, not cooked.
Ginger is widely known for its inflammation-reducing properties as well, especially when it comes to reducing inflammation resulting from low stomach acid. It’s long been considered a natural treatment for acid reflux and other gastrointestinal disorders.
You can slice, grate, or steep fresh ginger into tea and foods. Try tossing a bit of fresh ginger into your smoothies every day.
Drink apple cider vinegar
We now know that GERD actually occurs because of low stomach acid, not too much stomach acid as originally thought. So, drinking a little diluted, organic, raw apple cider vinegar each day increases your stomach acid levels because its acidic properties introduce more acid into the digestive tract; in turn, this creates a better digestive environment in the stomach which minimizes acid reflux.
Raw apple cider vinegar has been associated with reducing symptoms from acid reflux, diabetes, and even high blood sugar — so it’s not just a one-trick pony!
Here’s one way to use apple cider vinegar. Just dilute a small amount, maybe 2 tbsp, with water and drink it before your meal or first thing in the morning. It’s really that simple.
Don’t take over-the-counter drugs for GERD
Now it’s important to point out that easing acid reflux or GERD symptoms temporarily with medications or over-the-counter drugs, like TUMS or Rolaids, is not a cure, its a Band-Aid at best — it’s only a way to offer some short-term relief as symptoms are suppressed, but not corrected. Ironically, these medications may cause new or worsened symptoms, depending on how your body reacts to them — so, our recommendation is to steer clear of these popular OTC fixes.
Ok, let’s review — GERD, Heartburn, and Acid Reflux are commonly used interchangeably. All three are digestive conditions and all are related and tend to cause similar symptoms; however, they usually develop in stages with GERD being the most significant of these conditions.
There are a number of conditions that increase the odds of experiencing GERD, including chronic inflammation, being pregnant, being overweight, carbohydrate malabsorption, smoking, and being deficient in magnesium.In addition to supplementing with magnesium from a quality multi formula and taking curcumin. We also recommend you help prevent heartburn, acid indigestion, and GERD by eating more fresh ginger, eating probiotic foods, following Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory diet plan, and drinking 2 tbsp of diluted, raw, organic apple cider vinegar before meals.