By Gabi Heyes for CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine).
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is also known as acid reflux. It is a common digestive issue that can damage the tissues in the oesophagus, as stomach acid flows the wrong way. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease can erode the ring of muscle- the lower oesophageal sphincter – that usually opens and closes to allow food to pass into the stomach, and prevents food and acid from flowing back. This can give rise to many uncomfortable symptoms such as a burning sensation in the chest after eating, chest pains, regurgitation of food or sour liquid, difficulty swallowing and a sensation of a lump in the throat.
The stomach is designed to withstand hydrochloric acid, as the cells secrete lots of mucous, but the delicate tissues higher up, don’t do this. Can you imagine pouring something that is ten times more acidic than lemon juice onto a sore? Ouch! The erosion and inflammation can produce coughing, disrupt sleep patterns, damage teeth, contribute to asthma and can produce scarring in the oesophagus and even cancer in some cases.
GORD can be caused by a hiatal hernia, where a portion of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm and into the thoracic cavity, triggering heartburn, but there are other causes too: pregnancy, chronic stress, smoking, being overweight and certain medications.
What you can take to soothe irritation
L-Glutamine may repair the mucosal lining and herbs can soothe irritation, such as Slippery elm, Liquorice, Marshmallow or Meadowsweet, which are rich in ‘mucilage’ to coat the tissues.
Slippery elm can be made into a gruel, acting like an internal bandage for ulceration along the digestive tract. Add a tablespoon of the powder to a little cold alternative milk or water to make a paste, then top up with warmed milk or water, add honey to taste, and drink twice a day.
Marshmallow and liquorice are other wonderful ‘demulcents’, which feel like they’re putting out the internal fire, caused by the acid. Purchase the cut, dried roots and chop them. Do a ratio of 4 parts marshmallow to 1 part liquorice and steep the roots in cold water overnight. Gently warm through in the morning, strain, and consume frequently throughout the day to reduce discomfort.
Not everybody experiences the heartburn feeling and GORD sufferers may experience a chronic cough or even difficulty swallowing. Your GP can diagnose the condition and will also rule out if H. pylori is causing it. Helicobacter pylori is a spiral-shaped bacteria that creates a cytotoxin which inflames the mucosal layer covering the stomach and small intestine, that can lead to ulcer formation. There are many anti-bacterial herbs that can help to combat this, whilst encouraging a healthy population of gut flora.
Consume bitter foods
GORD sufferers don’t necessarily have too much acid, often quite the opposite, it is just in the wrong place, so we still need to support the gastric juices within the stomach. Food needs to be broken down effectively, so consume small amounts of bitter food, which stimulates digestion: rocket, watercress, radish, chicory, artichoke, horseradish, citrus peels, celery and dandelion root coffee. Herbs have a bitter quality too and can encourage the correct balance of secretions in the saliva, stomach and bile: Gentian, Wormwood, Barberry, Swedish bitters, Angostura bitters.
As meals can backflow, sit upright at a table when eating, as slouching relaxes the sphincter that connects the stomach and oesophagus. Chew all food thoroughly and slowly, without drinking too much fluid, and avoid common triggers: dairy, gluten, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, fried foods, mint, citrus, tomatoes and spices. Opt for slow-cooked vegetables, bone broth, grass-fed meats, olive oil, coconut oil, cooked apples, live yoghurt and kefir, if tolerated.
Aim to finish all food around 4 hours before bed, as lying down after eating can worsen GORD symptoms, as can tight-fitting clothes, chewing gum, smoking and over-exercising- stay upright!
Consider supporting Vitamin A, through consuming foods such as oily fish, liver and beta-carotene foods which convert to vitamin A, such as carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash, apricots, dark green leafy vegetables. The other fat-soluble vitamins D, E and K can be found in avocado, mushrooms, salmon, sardines, almonds, hazelnuts, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, cauliflower and a healthy dose of sunlight! The fattier foods help to repair the membranes that surround the tissues.
The internal environment is made up of billions of bacteria and we want to nurture the right forms. Traditionally we would have been outdoors hunting and gathering and generally getting micro-exposures to the soil around us. This forms the colonies that live inside us that help to fight off pathogens. Soil-based organisms are a type of probiotic that is well tolerated by GORD sufferers to re-establish the friendly bacteria in the bowel. Saccharomyces boulardii is another strain which may be useful. Not all GORD sufferers will tolerate lactic-acid probiotics, such as Acidophilus, so they may be best to avoid initially.
Naturopath and Herbalist Gabi Heyes lectures for CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine). CNM is the UK’s leading training provider in a range of natural therapies, with colleges across the UK and Ireland. To find out more about CNM courses, visit www.naturopathy-uk.com