GERD, Acid Reflux, and Heartburn Damage: Natural Treatments
7 minute read
Heartburn happens to most people, typically from eating too fast or eating spicy foods. This occasional heartburn while uncomfortable is not a problem. However, when it occurs frequently each month, you are likely suffering from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
When this condition develops, your problems go beyond discomfort, and you are at risk for serious health issues and esophageal damage. In fact, the problems can even be life-threatening. Here is what you need to know and what you can do about it.
What Is Acid Reflux?
Your stomach produces acid to help the digestion process, but sometimes this acid can flow back up the digestive tract into your esophagus. Because the lining of your esophageal wall is thin, this acid burns, causing the pain commonly known as heartburn.
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Your esophagus runs right next to your heart, which is why it earned its misleading name. Acid flows backwards as a result of a relaxed lower esophageal sphincter, which can happen because of sitting position, too much acid production, too little acid production, and a weakened sphincter.
The occasional backflow of gastric acid is uncomfortable but in short doses is not dangerous. Over time, repeated exposure to this acid can damage your esophagus.
The walls of your stomach are able to withstand the harshness of the acid, but esophageal tissue is more delicate and sensitive.
Esophagitis is the inflammation of the lining that happens with repeated acid reflux or GERD. Not only do you end up with escalated discomfort, but without treatment, the condition can turn serious.
You increase your risk of dangerous breathing and bleeding conditions as well as cancer.
Why You Can’t Ignore GERD
When esophagitis continues for too long without treatment, scar tissue develops along the delicate lining, causing your esophagus to narrow. This stricture makes it difficult and painful to swallow.
In some cases large pieces of food can become lodged, causing you to choke. In addition to this, many people avoid eating and drinking because of the pain and can lose weight too quickly as well as become malnourished.
Too much exposure to stomach acid also causes the development of sores or ulcers along the esophagus. These can be dangerous and need to be treated immediately.
Symptoms of an esophageal ulcer include spitting up blood, or blood in your stool. Ulcers and esophageal damage that is not treated can increase your risk of esophageal cancer.
Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor diet will only increase the chances of cancer developing.
Constant acid reflux over time will cause changes in your cells, making them precancerous. This condition is known as Barrett’s esophagus, and once you have this, your chances of cancer increase.
The real danger of Barrett’s esophagus is that no symptoms present themselves, and diagnosis can only be done via an endoscopy. It is recommended that if you experience frequent acid reflux over a year, you should have an endoscopy done to evaluate any damage.
Finally the damage of GERD can extend beyond heartburn and your lower esophagus. With frequent bouts of reflux, your upper throat can also be damaged by acid reaching all the way to your nasal airway.
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The condition known as LPR (laryngopharyngeal reflux) or “silent reflux,” can occur in the absence of heartburn, so it goes undetected. The symptoms to watch out for so you can prevent serious damage to your throat include:
♦ Hoarseness and loss of voice
♦ Episodes of choking
♦ Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
♦ Chronic clearing of the throat
♦ Post-nasal drip
Digestive Enzymes: What You Can Do to Prevent GERD
It is important to treat GERD immediately to prevent serious damage to your esophagus. While conventional options include heartburn medications, antacids, and PPIs (proton pump inhibitors), there may be more effective solutions.
These drugs typically correct pH balance in the short term, and they can come with their own host of unpleasant side effects. By ensuring your digestive enzymes count stays intact, you can treat GERD more naturally and prevent esophagitis.
Digestive enzymes play a role in regulating digestive processes as well as a supportive role for your gut bacteria. As we age, production of digestive enzymes begins to slow, which increases your chances of acid reflux and other gastrointestinal issues.
Specifically, a lack of digestive enzymes allows for bacterial overgrowth in the gut which triggers inflammation and a reduction in stomach acid that causes GERD symptoms.
To prevent harmful bacterial overgrowth, you can start taking natural digestive enzyme supplements to help maintain balance and order within your gut. Surprisingly, the bacteria cause less stomach acid to be produced.
Many believe that too much acid is the cause for backflow into the esophagus, but a lack of stomach acid causes the problem. Because less is produced, the digestive processes slow, which means stomach contents do not empty quickly and can flow backwards.
Digestive enzymes not only help keep bacterial balances in check, but they enhance stomach emptying. A slow-emptying stomach can cause acid and stomach contents to build up and flow backwards. If there are not enough enzymes in your digestive tract, the process slows considerably and emptying of contents will be delayed.
Taking acid-blocking medications complicates this, which is why natural options are preferred.
The Bottom Line
GERD is a potentially serious condition that needs immediate attention. The excessive exposure of acid to delicate systems in your body, such as the esophagus increases your risk of cancer.
Acid reflux and GERD can be caused by a number of factors, but digestive enzymes can help restore balance and optimal functioning to the digestive tract. As helpful as stomach acid is to digestion, it does more harm than good anywhere else.
In addition to promoting digestive flow and protecting the esophagus, digestive enzymes help keep inflammation under control and support the function of your friendly gut bacteria. In doing so, you can be assured of efficient digestion, optimal nutrient absorption, and a healthy gut.
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