The root cause of GERD, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, is likely not the acid reflux we’ve all come to blame over the last 80 years. In a small but important new study, researchers found that inflammation is the actual culprit behind so much digestive distress.
While this finding is huge, maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised. After all, inflammation is at the root of most diseases.
The Real Cause of GERD
GERD is an extremely common disorder of the esophagus that affects 20 percent of adult Americans. In severe cases, it can lead to bleeding ulcers in the esophagus, and it can be associated with a dangerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which can lead to esophageal cancer.
For decades, researchers and doctors believed stomach acid traveled north to cause chemical burns in the esophagus, but the new finding suggests the damage in GERD patients actually occurs through an inflammatory response prompted by the secretion of proteins called cytokines.
In the study, scientists found that when treatment with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) stopped, most patients developed changes in the esophagus that led to inflammation — not chemical burns you’d expect to immediately see from low stomach acid. (1)
Dangers of Standard GERD Treatments
GERD, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems like Barrett’s esophagus, an increased risk of esophageal cancer, worsening asthma, ulcers in the esophagus and scarring. Still, there are ways to curb acid reflux symptoms without resorting to drugs. (2)
Although authors of the latest study say patients should still use acid-suppressing medications for the near future, until new drugs focus on inflammation instead of holding back acid, it’s important to note that standard treatment with proton pump inhibitors doesn’t come without risks.
A 2013 study published in the journal Circulation found PPIs could actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease over time, including a weakened heart and high blood pressure. That’s because PPIs seem to constrict blood vessels. (4)
Pharmacist and author Suzy Cohen, RPh, warns that PPIs increase the pH in your stomach, blocking some of your body’s natural ability to absorb key nutrients. Magnesium and B vitamins are often a target of “drug mugging” GERD drugs. (5)
Natural Ways to Deal With GERD
1. Eliminate Foods that Fuel Inflammation
What researchers believe is that an overactive immune system results in the body being flooded with defense cells and hormones that damage tissues. Dietary and environmental toxins may build up in the body, turning the immune system on and keeping it highly reactive.
Foods that promote inflammation are:
- Corn and soybean oils
- Pasteurized dairy
- Refined carbohydrates
- Conventional meat
- Trans fats
2. Consume Foods that Fight Inflammation
To help ease inflammation in your body, adopt a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods. Some inflammation-easing superstars include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Wild-caught salmon
- Bone broth
Final Thoughts on the Potential New Cause of GERD
Adopting diet and lifestyle changes such as eating anti-inflammatory foods and quitting smoking can go a long way in easing GERD symptoms. You may want to also get tested to make sure an H. pylori infection isn’t triggering your symptoms.
Luckily, many people have success treating GERD through a healthier diet. Be sure to avoid inflammatory foods and adopt a diet rich in inflammation-quelling foods to see if natural treatments work for you. Although PPI drugs do work well for people with GERD, they do come with potential side effects, including an increased risk of heart disease and digestive infections.
Source: dr axe