An anti-inflammatory diet may help with reflux
The pain and tissue damage associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is commonly believed to be the result of stomach acid damaging the inside of the throat.
The usual medical approach is to reduce the amount of stomach acid using medications. Recent medical research has shown that the actual damage and associated pain that comes from GERD may not be caused by the topical effect of stomach acid. It may be the result of an inflammatory process going on deeper in the tissues.
The earliest description of GERD in the medical literature was in 1935. Since that time it has become one of the most common chronic conditions in the U.S.
The symptoms of GERD are believed to be the result of stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. The symptoms include pain, often described as heartburn, a bad taste in the mouth, shortness of breath, and in some cases the erosion of tooth enamel.
GERD is quite common in that 10-20 percent of the U.S. population experiences GERD on a regular basis. Long-term complications of GERD can lead to scarring of the esophagus, a precancerous condition known as Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer, thankfully quite rare.
Since it is commonly believed that GERD is the result of an overproduction of stomach acid, the traditional medical therapies have all been directed at reducing stomach acid.
Early on antacids were recommended. In 1976 new groups of medications termed H2 receptor blockers reduced stomach acid were marketed and then in 1979 a new class of medications, proton pump inhibitors, was released. All of these medications are effective at reducing the symptoms of GERD presumably by reducing the acidity of stomach acid.
Recently published medical research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, as well as the Dallas VA Medical Center, has demonstrated that the pain and damage associated with GERD may not simply be the result of stomach acid interacting with throat tissue.
This research, initially done in rats followed by test tube research and subsequently in human clinical trials, demonstrated that GERD is result of an internal inflammatory response that ultimately leads to the damage of the esophagus.
This research showed that the acid does not directly destroy the skin cells of the throat, but compels them to produce inflammatory compounds that then affect the surrounding tissue. It is the inflammatory response that creates the pain and pathologic changes in the esophagus that are the hallmark of GERD.
Interestingly, proton pump inhibitors appear to have significant anti-inflammatory properties. It is possible that the benefits from these medications are not only from the reduction stomach acid but from reducing inflammation.
This new information is quite compelling because, in my clinical experience, anti-inflammatory dietary supplements like turmeric, curcumin, boswellia, ginger and even licorice root reduce the symptoms of GERD as does an anti-inflammatory diet.
This suggests that simple and sustainable changes in lifestyle alone may have a profound benefit in the treatment of GERD.
• Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is www.alt-med.org.