Reflux and the Medication Mask

Are you taking medication for reflux? Then you need to read this blog. It details my personal experience with gastric reflux and the reason behind why I became a naturopath.

As a teenager, I was terribly unhealthy. I was a heavy smoker, I liked to drink, I ate crap and lived on Coca-Cola. It’s really no surprise that I was grossly overweight and suffered from depression and anxiety at the time.

At age 19, I moved to Bendigo to start university. I took this opportunity to quit smoking, start eating better and look after my health—or so I thought. I became largely vegetarian and existed on VEGEMITE on toast and steamed vegetables with rice and soy sauce.

I lost a LOT of weight in a very short space of time and ended up with severe gastric reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). I had acid in my oesophagus and mouth all the time, was in constant pain, always on the verge of throwing up and couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t lie flat. I continued to lose weight and ended up dropping over 20 kg in six months. But I was far from healthy.

My general practitioner prescribed Nexium, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), and some time later added another medication to the mix. I was also drinking Mylanta and chewing on Gaviscon like it was going out of fashion and, unsurprisingly, I was always bloated and never felt well. A year and a half later I was so badly constipated that my GP wanted to give me yet another medication, and it was at this point that I decided I’d had enough.

I realised medications weren’t fixing the problem; they were masking it. And they were creating more problems thanks to side effects.

So, I sought out a Naturopath.

This naturopath explained how the digestive system works, what really causes reflux (tip – it’s not usually excess stomach acid) and why I was in the state that I was. It was eye opening! Over several months we worked together to get me off all the medication and restore my gut function. It was tough but so worth it.

What causes reflux in the first place? 

Let me tell you what caused it for me.

  • Low stomach acid – I was deficient in protein, zinc and vitamin B3, all of which are required to make gastric acid.
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) – My previously low-fibre, high-rubbish diet resulted in dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria) overgrowing in my lower bowel and into my small intestine.
  • Smoking, alcohol and coffee – These all relax the oesophageal sphincter (think of it like a lid on your stomach that stops acid from coming back up).
  • Stress – I left home at 15 and was struggling with anxiety and depression. Remember, your body perceives ALL stress in the same way, whether you are running away from a bear or just sitting in traffic getting frustrated, and shuts down unnecessary bodily functions, such as digestion.
  • Poor dietary choices – These included a high saturated-fat intake, low fibre and/or protein (tip – you can’t live on VEGEMITE, toast, rice and vegetables), eating too much overall and drinking things like Coca-Cola – and all these contribute to reflux.

But low stomach acid? It just doesn’t make sense.

I like to describe it to my patients like this: Imagine you eat your dinner and you don’t have enough stomach acid to break the food down properly. The result is it stays in the stomach fermenting and it is the pressure from the excess gas that causes the contents of your stomach to be regurgitated into your oesophagus, resulting in burning and pain.

Why am I telling you this?

Recently I’ve been working with a number of patients who have a variety of health issues but there’s one common denominator – gut issues and reflux that have been treated with a PPI, in some cases for over 20 years. For these people it means their body has not been producing its own gastric acid for as long as they have been on the medication (yes, a PPI shuts down ALL your gastric acid secretion).

In these circumstances, the body won’t digest and absorb nutrients from your food and is likely to be deficient in several vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12, zinc and iron. It is these nutrient deficiencies that can lead to other health issues.

Nexium (and other PPIs) are now linked to various diseases and are not recommended in the long term. However, many people are not aware of this and are not being told about it by their GP, nor are they being taken off the medication.

If you are taking a PPI, I beg of you, please see a naturopath and get your gut in order. It is the single best thing you can do for your health and to reduce your risk of developing numerous diseases.

I can’t remember the name of the naturopath I saw but if I ever had the chance to see her again, I would give her a massive hug. She was the first practitioner to inspire me to learn about my body, question standard medical advice and medications, find a better way of living and eventually go on to become a naturopath myself. If it was you, I sincerely thank you.

If you can relate to any of the issues or information discussed here and would like further guidance, please seek professional assistance. Our naturopaths would love to help you so feel free to book an appointment.

Written by Denise Berry BHSc