Health & Wellness

How to Get Rid of GERD (+ 6 Natural Remedies!)

If you’ve been battling with reflux for a long time, or if you’ve recently been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you may be wondering how to get rid of GERD. And that’s only understandable. After all, GERD causes irritation and discomfort—and it can even lead to more serious conditions down the line. But in order to learn how to get rid of GERD, you must first understand how and why it’s occurring.

You may have heard that low stomach acid is actually the primary cause of GERD. But what you may not know is that stress is the actual leading cause of low stomach acid. That’s right—believe it or not, stress is more closely tied to GERD than even your diet! Read on to discover how they’re linked and get my top six natural remedies for GERD so you can start feeling better fast.

 

What Is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease. That’s a mouthful, right?

GERD occurs because acid is chronically regurgitating into the esophagus, resulting in damage to the esophageal tissue and causing irritation over time. This regurgitation eventually causes inflammation of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. But before it reaches the point of GERD, it starts with something you’re probably familiar with: heartburn.

Most likely, you have experienced heartburn at some point in your life. Maybe you ate a large meal and felt a burning sensation behind your breastbone. Or perhaps you experienced the usual heartburn symptoms while pregnant, when that adorable little ball of joy pressed against your stomach, propelling acid upward.

It’s not abnormal to notice small situation-based reflux symptoms occasionally. If you can determine the cause, such as that large meal or pregnancy, then you can simply avoid those situations (or wait them out, such as with pregnancy) and simultaneously avoid the symptom.

However, for 60 million people in America (and possibly more), GERD symptoms are chronic and the use of acid-blocking medications is on the rise. Many practitioners are seeing the detrimental impact on health after many years of chronic use of these medications. [1]

 

Stomach Acid and GERD

Stomach acid is critical to your digestion. It kicks off the breakdown of your food so you can absorb nutrients. In order to protect your body from the drastic impact of acid on other tissues outside of the stomach (which has a lining equipped to handle low pH), the stomach has a door to seal itself off from the esophagus to avoid regurgitation.

The esophagus (the “food pipe”) connects to the stomach by a flap (called the esophageal sphincter), which acts like a trap door. If that door does not seal properly, the contents of the stomach can leak back upward into the esophagus.

You may have been told that GERD is strictly caused by too much acid in your stomach and that the solution is to suppress acid via medications and avoid certain foods that trigger acid release.

Doctors often advise postural changes (such as raising the head bed of your bed when sleeping) to keep the acid from flowing upward, as well as diet and lifestyle changes to reduce stomach acid secretion (eating less spicy food, for example).

While all of these suggestions may relieve the severity of the symptom, they don’t address what I find to be the most common cause of GERD: low stomach acid secretion. And by suppressing acid secretion further with medications, you can put your body at significant risk for side effects due to malabsorption.

How to get rid of GERD - Dr. Pingel

Causes of GERD

In the general medical community, acid reflux is usually assumed to be linked to overproduction or spilling of stomach acid upward into the esophagus. And in some cases, this may be correct.

For example, if there is a structural abnormality like a hiatal hernia (which physically pushes up on the stomach, causing the “trap door” to remain open and spill acid upward), or a medical condition that results in increased secretion of HCl (hydrochloric acid). However, I find excess secretion of HCl to be true in only a small number of cases.

The focus of much of my clinical time is on how low stomach acid is at the root of most GERD cases. Finding the cause of this digestive slowing is the key to a long-term solution. The big question is why did the “door” malfunction in the first place?

Low stomach acid, or hypochlorhydria, results in a variety of symptoms. The most common symptom is feeling “full” or bloated 30 minutes or more after eating. In a normal functioning digestive system, acid is triggered to start breaking food down the minute it lands in your stomach—so that “fullness” should reduce significantly over the next hour after a meal.

If that food is still “sitting there,” then it is quite possible that your stomach acid is not breaking down food appropriately. If working properly, stomach acid is also involved in breaking down proteins into useful amino acids. It’s also believed to be directly involved in the processes of breaking down vitamin B12 and folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and copper.

Without vitamin B12, you cannot metabolize food into energy, maintain red blood cells or produce DNA and RNA effectively, nor can you maintain nerve cells. This all results in fatigue, numbness, tingling, anemia, and poor memory. [2] Lack of iron absorption leads to the same symptomology. Amino acids are involved in multiple systems and are critical for your health, including balancing your mood.

Stomach acid is also involved in maintaining your proper bacterial flora by killing off bacteria that are not helpful to your system. This natural mechanism helps us avoid bacterial infections and low stomach acid is a large contributor to bacterial imbalances, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and pneumonia.

So, before you grab that little purple pill to combat your GERD, consider the impact suppressing acid will have on the rest of your health. The side effects from antacids include dementia, osteoporosis, B12 deficiency, kidney disease, depression, neurological symptoms, chronic infections such as Clostridum difficile (C. diff) and community-acquired pneumonia, muscle pains, and heart rhythm complications. All of these side effects result in more medication use and therefore even further potential complications. [3, 4, 5] 

How Stress Causes GERD

Of course, the number one cause of low stomach acid is the use of antacid medication, particularly proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). If you are blocking acid secretion with these medications, then your digestion cannot function as it was intended to and side effects will occur.

In my experience, outside of the use of these medications, stress is at the top of the list of hypochlorydia causes. Stress can cause heartburn and regurgitation due to its impact on your nervous system.

Stomach acid is released by the parasympathetic system (PNS), which also signals the esophageal sphincter (that trap door) to close. The PNS is also called the “rest and digest” system—and with good reason. When your body is under stress, it switches focus from the PNS to the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is responsible for managing acute stress.

When your body focuses on your SNS, digestive processes slow. This results in less acid secretion, regardless of food intake.

The art of preparing and slowly enjoying a meal is actually a trigger for proper stomach acid release. Eating in a hurry when under stress does not have the same favorable impact on your digestion. This decreased acid secretion causes your food to remain in your stomach longer. This causes your stomach to stretch, which can impact the efficacy of the “trap door” and may cause regurgitation into your esophagus.

Certain medical conditions also correlate with low stomach acid secretion, including, but not limited to autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and Addison’s disease.

In addition, many commonly used medications also suppress the release of stomach acid, including many antidepressants, anti-anxiety sedatives, osteoporosis medications, a number of antibiotics, NSAIDs (Advil, Motrin), opioid narcotics, blood pressure medications, and anti-nausea medications. Considering these are very commonly prescribed medications, it isn’t surprising that acid-suppressing medications are so commonly prescribed?

Symptoms of GERD

Despite what most people think, GERD does not always cause heartburn. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that it can also cause symptoms such as chronic allergies, acute and chronic cough, or irritation/mucus in your throat. So, what you think may be an allergy or a virus may actually be a digestive issue!

You may notice some other symptoms that have been treated as a nerve, psychiatric, rheumatological, or endocrine condition is actually related to your gut health. In fact, thyroid conditions, diabetes, and hormonal imbalances can all be affected by digestive issues—or even caused by a digestive condition.

Some of the primary symptoms of GERD include:

  • Reduced vitamin and mineral absorption, such as iron and B12 (which are highly dependent on stomach acid),
  • Poor protein digestion
  • SIBO, due to lack of sterilization
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Bloating
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Flatulence and burping
  • Nausea and upset stomach
  • Burning in the stomach or esophagus
  • Chronic or persisting cough
  • Excessive mucus or allergic symptoms

Other GERD symptoms may include:

  • Weak fingernails
  • Dilated capillaries on your nose
  • Undigested food in your stool.

As a result of low stomach acid, secondary symptoms develop from the lack of proper absorption of vitamins and minerals as well as an overgrowth of bacteria. These may include depression, insomnia, poor energy, migraines, skin conditions (such as eczema, psoriasis, hives, acne, and rosacea), asthma, food allergies and intolerances, hair loss, SIBO, and cancer development.  Many of these “symptoms” are also health conditions that often require medications that also slow down digestion, so the vicious cycle continues.

How to Get Rid of GERD

When I’m working with patients to eliminate GERD symptoms, I have to consider the entire health picture. This is not simply an acid secretion issue: There is a reason why the digestive process is impacted.

First, it is important to rule out a structural abnormality or other medical conditions that can result in high acid production. Then, I examine the patient from a holistic viewpoint that considers low acid secretion due to stress, diet, digestion, nutritional deficiencies, medications, other medical conditions, etc.

This situation is rarely only about the stomach. I have to consider the liver, inflammation present in the gut, bacterial flora, and the stimulation of the SNS and PNS as part of the entire picture.

For those on medications that suppress acid (such as PPIs), it is important to work with your doctor on lifestyle and dietary changes to support reduction and elimination of these medications, if possible (remember, if you have structural abnormalities, your GERD may require these medications more regularly).

The diet and supplements suggested here can help jump-start your system to health. But it is also important to continue follow-up with your doctor to make sure that medications are reduced correctly. Don’t simply stop taking them. The goal is to make you comfortable while you address the root cause and heal your digestive system.

Lifestyle and Dietary Changes

There’s not necessarily a list of foods that help GERD. That said, eating a plant-based diet is always a healthy choice. It helps improve overall health by reducing inflammation and providing the body with the nutrients it needs to avoid disease development.

While there may not be specific foods to improve GERD, there are certain foods that can trigger reflux. These foods tend to cause irritation to the esophagus. Foods to avoid while you seek the root cause of your reflux include: [6]

  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Citrus fruits
  • Mint
  • Tomatoes and tomato products
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Sodas and other carbonated beverages
  • Fried foods
  • Spicy foods

If you are overweight, taking steps to lose weight may also help improve GERD symptoms, as it takes physical pressure off the esophageal sphincter. [7]

In addition to eating a plant-based diet, limiting sugar, and cutting out processed foods, you may want to try introducing some daily exercise into your routine. Some exercises that you might want to consider include walking, biking, and swimming. Exercise can stimulate digestion as well as provide you with better energy, relieve stress, assist in healthy weight management, and improve your mood.

6 Natural Remedies for GERD Symptoms

If you’re trying to figure out how to get rid of GERD symptoms, here are a few natural remedies for GERD that you may also want to try.

  1. Digestive enzymes

One of the key steps I use when treating GERD due to low stomach acid is adding digestive enzyme supplements. Digestive enzymes provide acid and assist the food in moving through the digestive system. Either use apple cider vinegar or choose high-quality digestive enzymes with added betaine or HCL, if tolerated. I recommend working with your doctor or healthcare provider to figure out the best supplements for you.

In many cases, a capsule with enzymes containing betaine HCL and ox bile works even better than the dietary apple cider vinegar. But I like ACV because it’s an easy thing to incorporate into your routine. You can get creative, too. I often make salad dressings out of apple cider vinegar, lemon, and olive oil. I love the rosy cheeks I get after consuming ACV. I glow as if my body is happy to be getting what it needs for proper digestion. Who needs blush? Simply add ACV to your routine!

  1. Aloe vera juice

Research has shown that aloe vera can help to soothe and eliminate GERD symptoms by reducing inflammation in the digestive tract. [8] Drink 1/4 cup aloe vera juice three times daily, between meals to help repair the digestive tract.

  1. Glutamine

One of the most essential components to healing the inflamed gut is an amino acid called glutamine, which is an anti-inflammatory and promotes regeneration of digestive cells to repair damage. [9]

For intestinal repair, take glutamine in small amounts, typically 3–4 grams per dose, one to two times daily. All products formulated to repair the gut barrier will include glutamine in their formulation. Many of the products will add in herbs that have an anti-inflammatory component as well, such as slippery elm, marshmallow root, deglycyrrhized licorice (DGL), MSM, curcumin, and aloe vera.

  1. Probiotics

Research has shown that probiotics can help improve gut health in individuals suffering from GERD. [10] As with other supplements, consult with your healthcare provider before taking probiotics for GERD. Not all probiotics are created equal.

I recommend probiotics that contain clinically proven Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains or Saccharomyces boulardii a yeast-based probiotic. In general, I recommend using a high-quality probiotic from a reputable company that contains at least 10 billion to 25 billion CFUs (colony-forming units). That said, depending on your condition, more CFUs might be recommended.

  1. Relaxation

To get out of the stressful “fight or flight” mode that so many of us live in and help improve GERD symptoms, consider trying some relaxation techniques. Yoga and breathing exercises have been proven to help improve GERD symptoms. [11, 12].

  1. Digestive bitters

Try adding some digestive bitters, or bitter herbs, such as dandelion, burdock, milk thistle, gentian, chamomile, motherwort, and others into your diet. Bitters help stimulate digestion and help the body absorb nutrients. They are available in supplement form for easy use.

It’s best to take bitters before a meal. You could even add some, such as dandelion, to a salad before your main meal. Chamomile can also be consumed as a tea. [13]

At mealtime, be grateful for the time to nourish your body. Smell it, take your time, and breathe. Forget your worries for 30 minutes and enjoy the moment. In the long run, this small 30 minutes of your day could make the difference between health and disease.

Key Takeaways

  • GERD is most often the result of low stomach acid.
  • By improving your stress and supporting acid secretion, you can improve your symptoms.
  • Medications are a common cause of low stomach acid.
  • GERD due to low stomach acid can cause further disease development.
  • Consider making dietary and lifestyle changes to improve your health and relieve GERD symptoms.
  • Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before making any dietary or lifestyle changes or taking any new supplements.

 

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