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Worried You Have GERD?

Frequent heartburn may mean you have GERD. Learn more about GERD, what causes it, and natural treatments that can bring relief.

If you suffer from frequent heartburn - twice a week or more - you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This condition occurs in people whose lower esophageal sphincter doesn't close properly, allowing stomach acid to backflow into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest and neck areas. It can also cause nausea, coughing, belching, the feeling of a ball in the throat, a bitter taste and respiratory problems, including aggravation of asthma. Diet, stress, smoking and pregnancy can all trigger or worsen symptoms.

If you think you have GERD, see a doctor to rule out other concerns, such as angina, which has similar symptoms. Discuss any medications you are taking: some can trigger reflux. If you are started on an acid-suppressing medication, try to view this as temporary relief while you work on the root concerns, as the long-term side effects are concerning. If you want to naturally treat GERD try the following: 

  1. Keep a food and beverage journal. It can help you identify, track and later avoid triggers.
  2. Eat small, frequent meals.
  3. Wear loose clothing and maintain a healthy weight. Both can prevent stomach constriction and help reduce GERD.
  4. Avoid lying down after eating.
  5. Try a 3-week elimination of common food sensitivities like gluten and dairy.
  6. Practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises.
  7. Sip chamomile tea or chew DGL licorice tablets. Both can help soothe inflamed tissue in the esophagus.
  8. Try sleeping on your left side. This may help move acid away from the entrance of the esophagus. Raising the head of the bed by a few inches can also help.


Heartburn Drugs May Interfere with Your Microbiome

The drugs in question are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), including Prilosec and Nexium. A study from the Mayo Clinic found that taking the drugs frequently or for long periods may affect the balance of bacteria in your digestive system (known collectively as your microbiome), which in turn may increase the risk of infection, particularly with the bacterium Clostridium difficile, which causes severe and often debilitating diarrhea. In addition to this risk, PPI's have been linked to vitamin deficiencies, bone fractures and increased risk of pneumonia. The study authors didn't advise that people who take the heartburn drugs should give them up, but they did caution that PPIs should be used at their lowest effective dose and that patients who take them should periodically consider attempts to discontinue them. PPIs are frequently recommended for gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) characterized by heartburn that occurs twice a week or more. The study was a small one, with only 9 participants who took 20 or 40 milligrams of the drug daily for 28 days and provided stool samples for examination, allowing researchers to document changes in the bacterial balance of their microbiomes. The investigators noted that a larger study is warranted to further investigate the effect of the drugs on the microbiome. In addition to drugs such as PPI's, you can address GERD by eating smaller portions, losing weight, avoiding lying down for two hours after eating, and abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes and foods that commonly trigger heartburn.