Acid Reflux / GERD
Do you feel as though the 4th of July fireworks are going off between your stomach, chest, and throat? How about a volcano belching up its fiery effluent into your throat or mouth? These are common symptoms of acid reflux.
60 million of us (20%!) experience this every month, and half of those every day. If you have it more than twice a week, we call it GERDi.
What’s Happening to Me?
There’s an 8 – 10 inch long 1 inch wide tube that goes from the back of your throat down to your stomach, and all you eat and drink goes down this tube. It’s called the Esophagus.
At the bottom of the tube is a muscle bundle named LESii that’s supposed to squeeze closed the tube when what you’ve eaten gets to the stomach. This prevents the acid used to digest your food in the stomach from flowing back up the tube.
If LES doesn’t squeeze properly then you get the heartburn of acid reflux.
Why Doesn’t It Close?
This is a good question, and the answer varies a lot. Obesity is a big cause followed by smoking and caffeine, eating late, hormone shifts, and even some medications you take. And for some people different foods may bring on symptoms.
But one consistent factor I see in my practice is cultural: the continual stimulation of our fight-or-flight response. Fight-or-flight demands that we be ‘on:’ to be fast, to be funny, to be on time, to be best, to be more and even more and be it now!
Fight-or-flight has tremendous value in dealing with real threats to survival, but when it’s always on, it becomes a threat in itself. At worst, life is a nightmare of impossibility, a recipe for anxiety, despair, and depression. Often you feel guilty and hopeless and worthless at not being able to meet all the demands.
There Must be Meds for This
And so there are: Nexium, Prilosec, PrevAcid, Zantac, and many(!) others. Just one dose will give you relief from your current acid reflux attack.
So, Why Not?
Most of these meds are PPIsiii which means that they work by preventing your stomach from producing the acid needed for digestion. This can have some serious side effects.
The FDAiv says that long-term high doses of PPIs can cause increased risk of bone fractures and infection. Studies show that long-term PPI use may reduce absorbing important nutrients from your food, and may reduce the effectiveness of other medications. That is, you may become malnourished and resistant to your other meds.
The point is that while PPIs may help with a single attack of acid reflux, they are not solving the problem: getting LES to do more. In fact you may sometimes do just as well, and with less risk, to eat some candied ginger when an attack comes on.
Rest-and-Digest, Countering Fight-or-Flight
We have a natural balance to fight-or-flight. It’s called the rest-and-digest response. It balances the excesses of fight-or-flight to allow you to be a normal, balanced individual. Rest-and-digest is grounded in stimulation of the very long Vagus nerve which wanders from your brain to your heart, lungs, stomach, and intestines.
Getting LES to Do More
There are many ways to activate rest-and-digest: For example, a surgeon can implant a VNSv device, like a pacemaker. The VNS electrodes wrap around part of your delicate Vagus nerve which receives electrical shocks to get it going.
And there is a procedure called CSMvi. The CSM practitioner presses on the carotid artery in your neck reducing the flow of blood to your brain until either the Vagus nerve gets active or until the machines say you’re about to suffer severe brain damage.
There are as well many daunting non-surgical methods. These include holding your breath as long as you can do, dunking your face in ice water, energetic coughing, standing on your head, and using your stomach muscles as though forcing a bowel movement.
Safe and Gentle Alternatives
You might try this: find a place where you won’t be interrupted and STOP. Close your eyes, and empty your mind for 30 seconds. If a thought comes to you, just let it go. Do this three times a day, each time re-entering your busy life slowly.
In my practice, I use precise, gentle muscle movements to work with nerve roots in your neck to stimulate the Vagus nerve. The results of these treatments have been remarkable: one patient slept well for the first time in months as well as, like others, finally having relief from acid reflux. Yet others experienced also a general reduction in anxiety.
The human mind, spirit, and body can combine to be a formidable force for self-regulation and healing if only one knows the language to engage that inner healer. For this disorder that language seems to be one involving no drugs, no cutting, no needles, and no cracking.
̶ Bob Keller