A Healthy GI Tract is Your Road to Better Health: the Facts on GERD and IBS

© 2014 Dr. Sharon Norling

Are you afraid to go out to dinner? When your friends call and say, “Let’s go out for Mexican, barbeque or pizza,” do you turn down the invitation knowing this dinner could be your worst nightmare? Does your stomach feel like it’s on fire? Do you need to be close to a bathroom when you eat?

If so, you just might have acid reflux or irritable bowel syndrome. The good news is that most digestive disorders are not diseases at all, but conditions which can be completely cured by finding the underlying causes of symptoms and removing the triggers.

GERD

Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which the esophagus becomes irritated or inflamed. The esophagus is the tube stretching from the throat to the stomach. When food is swallowed, it travels down the esophagus to the stomach. Symptoms include the following:

  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation of bitter acid into the throat
  • Hoarseness (especially in the morning)
  • Feeling of tightness in the throat, as if a piece of food is stuck there
  • Wheezing

GERD affects nearly one third of the adult population in the United States to some degree at least once a month. Almost 10 percent of adults experience GERD weekly or daily. Even infants and children can have GERD.

Factors that exacerbate the symptoms:

  • Lifestyle – Use of alcohol or cigarettes, obesity, poor posture.
  • Medications – Including calcium channel blockers.
  • Diet – Fatty and fried foods, chocolate, garlic and onions, drinks with caffeine, acidic foods such as citrus fruits and tomatoes, spicy foods.
  • Eating habits – Eating large meals; eating too close to bedtime.
  • Other medical conditions – Hiatal hernia, pregnancy, diabetes.

While these are contributing factors, the real question is, “What is the underlying cause of GERD?”

  • Food Allergies
  • Infections
  • Diet: Low fiber, high sugar, poor nutrients
  • Medications
  • Stress
  • Genetics
  • Toxins

Hidden delayed immunoglobulin G (IgG) food allergies are often the cause of GERD. The number of children with food allergies has risen 18 percent in the past decade according to a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. These food allergies can be identified by a simple blood test for sensitivities to 90 different foods. Once the food allergies have been determined and patients eliminate these foods from their diet, the esophagus and stomach begin to heal.

Natural anti-inflammatory products containing glutamine, turmeric, ginger and other nutrients help the GI tract heal from the inflammation. People are often surprised that allergies to their favorite foods may be the culprit! They are also surprised at how quickly they began to feel better and when the heartburn, joint pain and itching goes away. They are surprised they can comfortably stop taking Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) even if they have used them for years!

Often when a patient sees a physician for GERD, the first therapy is an antacid or a PPI. These medications (over the counter or prescription) work by decreasing the acid in the stomach. Stomach acid is there for a reason — to digest the food you eat. If the acid is not there, the food rots and gas is created, which in turn irritates the esophagus.

Then when the food enters the small bowel without having been adequately digested, it is not ready to release the nutrients to be absorbed through the wall of the small intestine. The result is nutrient deficiencies.

Additionally, the acid serves to kill off the bacteria, viruses and parasites we ingest on a daily basis. A small bowel bacterial overgrowth (SBBO) can then occur and contribute to the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The use of antacids has multiple side effects and should not be used during pregnancy or by nursing mothers. Many have interactions with other drugs. If necessary these should be used only for a short time until the underlying cause of GERD can be found and treated. The antacids and PPI should then be tapered off under a physician’s supervision.

The potential risks for users of antacids and PPIs according to JAMA, in 2004 are:

Increased risk for infection

  • Bacterial overgrowth
  • C. difficle and Salmonella
  • Pneumonia

Malabsorption

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • B12
  • Nutrients

Osteoporosis
Increased risk for food allergies
Stomach polyps
Acute nephritis (kidney inflammation)

The side effects of all PPIs include constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, insomnia, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting. Following are some specific side effects for common PPIs.

Tagamet

Major side effects include confusion and hallucinations (usually in elderly or critically ill patients), enlargement of the breasts, impotence (usually seen in patients on high doses for prolonged periods) and decreased white blood cell counts. Other side effects include irregular heartbeat, rash, visual changes, allergic reactions and hepatitis.

Pepcid

Major side effects include agitation, anemia, confusion, depression, easy bruising or bleeding, hallucinations, hair loss, irregular heartbeat, rash, visual changes, nervousness, muscle pain, weakness, leg cramps, water retention and yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice).

Zantac

Major side effects are rare. They include agitation, anemia, confusion, depression, easy bruising or bleeding, hallucinations, hair loss, irregular heartbeat, rash, visual changes and yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Nexium

Nervousness, abnormal heartbeat, muscle pain, weakness, leg cramps and water retention.

IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders doctors see. Irritable bowel syndrome is not contagious, inherited or cancerous. It’s a functional disorder, meaning that the bowel doesn’t work, or function, correctly. IBS often disrupts daily living activities.

Since 70 percent of the immune system is located in the GI tract, it is essential we keep our intestines healthy. When our GI tract is impaired we get sick more often and we may not be prepared for significant immune challenges.

This is a problem many people aren’t comfortable talking about because the signs and symptoms may be embarrassing. These include abdominal cramping, bloating and gas, and diarrhea and/or constipation.

As many as one in five American adults has IBS, which begins before the age of 35 for 50 percent of people. Overall, about twice as many women have IBS. Twenty-five percent of people with GI infections will develop post-infectious IBS.

“The causes of IBS include food allergies and infection including small bowel bacterial overgrowth (SBBO). 78 percent of IBS patients test positive for SBBO. 78 percent of fibromyalgia and 77 percent of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients have SBBO,” according to research published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2000. The cause of SBBO is slow transit time, low stomach acid or PPIs, maldigestion and lactose intolerance. Half of people over age 60 and 80 percent of people over age 80 have low stomach acid. Stress can also exacerbate IBS. Stress can lower levels of serotonin, a calming happy neurotransmitter produced in the intestines. We used to think brain chemicals were only produced in the brain. Today through good research we know they are also produced in the GI tract. Low levels of serotonin can cause constipation.

IBS and GI disturbances are often caused by or result in bacterial overgrowth as a result of the imbalance of the “good” and the “bad” bacteria (see article in this issue, Balancing Your Bacteria — a Key to Health). Probiotics help to restore the balance of “good” bacteria. Some people today find probiotics to be a new way of treating bowel bacteria. It is interesting to note that more than 100 years ago, Metchikoff received the Nobel Prize in 1908 for his work on the importance of probiotics. This news is hardly new!

High-quality manufacturing of “good’ bacteria and all supplements is a must in healing. ConsumerLabs, an independent lab (www.consumerlab.com), recently tested 25 probiotic products. Eight products claimed a specific number of organisms per serving. Thirteen claimed only a number of organisms at the time of manufacture, not the same number at serving. Eight out of the 25 products contained less than 1 percent of the claimed number of live bacteria or of the expected minimum of 1 billion.

Probiotics are not the same thing as prebiotics. Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of beneficial microorganisms already in people’s colons.

Taking antispasmodic or antidiarrhea medications does not help IBS. They only mask the symptoms. Successful treatment of GI dysfunction includes:

Remove

  • Food allergies
  • Infection

Replace

  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Digestive enzymes

Reinoculate

  • Lactobacilli
  • Bifidobacteria
  • Saccharomyes if using antibiotics

Repair

  • Glutamine, fiber, botanicals, foods
  • Essential Fatty Acids

Rebalance

  • Balance hormones and neurotransmitters
  • Improve diet and lifestyle

Remember, your health starts in your gut!

  • Test for IgG food allergies and eliminate those foods.
  • Heal the GI by decreasing inflammation.
  • Test as indicated for H. pylori.
  • Get a comprehensive stool analysis (absorption, digestion, inflammatory markers, bacteria, Candida and parasites).
  • Test for intestinal permeability (leaky gut).
  • See a physician who can test for and recommend the five steps to treat GERD and IBS: Remove, Replace, Reinoculate, Repair and Rebalance.

Written By: Dr. Sharon Norling, MBA