Acid reflux is a big problem. 44% of Americans have heartburn at least once a month. 25-35% have reflux. Acid-blocking drugs or what we call PPIs, like Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec, are the third most prescribed medications in the country. Reflux causes tremendous problems, and nobody is asking why. Why are we suffering from reflux? What is the cause? Is it something we are doing or something we are eating? Is there some other factor that’s driving this epidemic?
In Functional Medicine, we ask, “What is the root cause of the problem, and how do we correct it?” For reflux, the root cause is sometimes very straightforward. It may be what we are eating. Some common triggers of reflux include: fried foods, spicy foods, citrus foods, tomato-based foods, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and smoking. Acid reflux could be caused by other factors as well, including everything from what you are eating, to your lifestyle, to stress, to bacteria in your gut, to food sensitivities—all these things can trigger reflux.
The key to solving this problem isn’t taking an acid blocker, which can cause all sorts of problems. It may give you symptomatic relief, but there are problems with these drugs. They may cause an increase in pneumonia, in bloating, and in overgrowth of bad bugs in your gut. They might also prevent mineral absorption. You need some acid in your stomach in order to digest your food and absorb the nutrients it contains. So, reducing the acid in your stomach could lead to mineral and vitamin deficiencies. For example, a B12 deficiency is really common. If you’ve been taking an acid blocker for many years, then you can get a zinc deficiency or a B12 deficiency that can cause depression. It can cause neuropathy, memory problems, digestive issues, osteoporosis, and much more.
So, the key isn’t taking the drug—it’s finding the cause. Functional Medicine is medicine by cause not by symptom, and that is exactly what we do with reflux. There are some really simple actions you can take to see if there are any specific triggers that are causing your problem:
- Remove spicy foods, citrus foods, tomato-based foods, and fried foods from your diet.
- Get rid of possible food allergens for a short period of time, like two weeks. Gluten and dairy are the most common ones.
- Remove alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, which are known triggers, for at least a few weeks to see if your symptoms improve.
- Don’t eat three hours before bed to give yourself a chance to digest your food.
- Take a few deep breaths before you eat. You’ll notice a huge relaxation in your nervous system, and you’ll digest your food better.
- Try specific supplements, such as deglycyrrhizinated licorice or DGL, probiotics, digestive enzyme, magnesium, and/or zinc carnosine.
- Get tested. If you are still not getting better after taking these steps, then, you’ll want to do some testing, which you can do with your Functional Medicine doctor:
- Test for H. Pylori
- Check for celiac and gluten sensitivity
- Check for food sensitivities
- Check for abnormal bugs in your gut, bacterial overgrowth, yeast overgrowth, and parasites
If you would like more information regarding functional medicine or any of the treatments, therapies, or services offered at The Institute of Natural Health, please contact us at (314) 293-8123 or visit us at the theinstituteofnaturalhealth.com. Dr. TJ Williams is the Clinic Director for the Institute of Natural Health and the host of the radio program Wellness 101, which provides common-sense, science-based strategies for a healthy life. Wellness 101 airs Sundays at 3:00pm on FM NewsTalk 97.1.