People suffering from GERD may experience painful acid reflux multiple times a week. Severe GERD can interfere with normal daily activities and degrade sufferers’ quality of life. We wish treating GERD were as easy as just taking a few over-the-counter medications like antacids, but it isn’t. Antacids may offer temporary relief, but they don’t address the root issue.
What is GERD?
GERD, short for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, is more than an occasional bout of indigestion or heartburn. GERD is a chronic condition that occurs when stomach acid regularly flows into your esophagus. Your esophageal sphincter is supposed to open when you swallow food and close tightly once it passes through. For GERD sufferers, the esophageal sphincter doesn’t sufficiently tighten after swallowing. This failure to close entirely allows stomach acid to back-flow into the esophagus, causing acid reflux. Chronic acid reflux caused by GERD will irritate, inflame, and even scar the lining of your esophagus.
GERD causes discomfort at best, excruciating pain at worst. Common symptoms include:
- Heartburn: Heartburn is the most common GERD complaint. It feels like a burning in your chest, often accompanied by an acidic taste in your mouth. The release of stomach acid into your esophagus can cause heartburn.
- Regurgitation: Most GERD sufferers experience regurgitation, which is when stomach acid moves up through the throat and into the mouth. The acids usually produce a bitter taste or a burning sensation in the mouth.
- Dysphagia: Dysphagia is the clinical term for difficulty swallowing. People experiencing dysphagia may feel like they have a lump in their throat or have a hard time swallowing completely. Dysphagia can be caused by esophageal scar tissue or other damage resulting from corrosive stomach acid.
- Frequent burping: Those who have GERD may experience increased belching. Because GERD creates swallowing difficulties, those suffering from the disease can end up swallowing excess air.
- Sore throat: Many people suffering from GERD also experience a sore or scratchy throat, the result of damage and irritation caused by the stomach acid of GERD sufferers.
- Difficulty Sleeping: Laying down can trigger GERD, and many people with GERD find it difficult to get comfortable enough to sleep. Many resort to sleeping in a chair or recliner instead of their own beds.
- Nausea: In addition to esophageal pain and discomfort caused by GERD, the disease can also lead to an upset stomach.
How Gut Health and Microbiome Imbalance Impacts GERD
While GERD symptoms typically manifest in the chest and throat, the disease itself begins in the gastrointestinal microbiome. A healthy gut contains a balance of good and bad bacteria, but this balance can be thrown off by medications or a less than gut-friendly diet. When the gut microbiome tilts out of balance, the stomach’s production of the acids it needs for digesting food can also become uneven.
Although acid reflux is commonly attributed to too much acid in the stomach, this assessment oversimplifies the matter. Sometimes, the problem is that there’s too little stomach acid. Insufficient stomach acid can lead to improper digestion, agitating the digestive tract and contributing to GERD.
Loosening of the esophageal sphincter that keeps stomach acids in check can be the result of lifestyle, situational experiences like illness, or genetics. Pregnant women often experience GERD. Other people only experience GERD symptoms when they over-indulge in cuisine they don’t typically eat. For many others, GERD is a persistent and chronic issue that severely impacts long-term quality of life.
Whatever the cause of their GERD, many sufferers are quick to reach for an over-the-counter antacid when symptoms flare. These remedies should be used with caution. Masking the symptoms with short-term relief can allow the root issue to worsen. You’re likely to see greater improvement by addressing your gut’s microbiome imbalance.
Consider these suggestions to restore your gut microbiome to balance and health:
- Foods to avoid: To help achieve a healthy gut microbiome, avoid fried foods and fatty foods, spicy foods, acidic fruits and foods, cheese, processed foods, and fast food.
- Beverages to avoid: Beverages can also negatively impact your gut microbiome and throw off the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. Coffee, sugary, carbonated, alcoholic, and caffeinated drinks can exacerbate GERD, as can milk and acidic juices.
- Habits to avoid: What a person eats and drinks is only part of the equation in developing a healthy gut. Habit also plays a significant role. To reduce GERD flair-ups, avoid overeating, eating too quickly, lying down too soon after eating, or wearing clothing that restricts your stomach.
Create Healthy Habits
Incorporating positive changes into your life doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Instead, work on developing healthy habits and dietary rules that foster a healthy gut microbiome:
- Foods to eat: Eat a clean diet, low in artificial sugars and acidic and fatty foods. This will help your body manage GERD by fostering a healthy gut microbiome. Instead of fast food or fried food, consume meals that include lentils, chickpeas, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables—especially the green, leafy kind.
- Beverages to drink: Liquids that promote a healthy gut and won’t make your GERD symptoms worse include water, non-caffeinated herbal teas, and coconut water. Kombucha and kefir contain beneficial probiotics your gut will be grateful for.
- Habits to practice: Start developing a routine that will minimize GERD symptoms. Eat smaller meals dispersed throughout the day and wear looser clothing. Avoid laying down within two or three hours of eating, and incorporate walks or other digestive-friendly exercises into your day.
- Take a daily probiotic: Introduce good bacteria into your gut to restore balance and strengthen your digestive tract with a daily probiotic supplement.
Medicines, Probiotics, and Medical Intervention for GERD
In severe cases, your GERD diagnosis may require medical intervention. Your physician may suggest surgery or prescription-strength proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
While these interventions can help you manage GERD, their side effects can negatively impact your gut microbiome. In addition to medicines and changes of habit, probiotics, like our Digest or our Gut Recovery, can have an enormous impact on GERD and the side effects of its medical treatments. Probiotics can be particularly useful in helping to restore the gut imbalance caused by other medications, like PPIs, which can disrupt the natural function of your gut.