Gastric upset appears to be an evil of modern day living and eating choices, so it seems natural to pass gas or to experience occasional discomfort from gas or air buildup. However, excessive belching, bloating, or gas may not be only a persistent source of embarrassment and discomfort, but is often a more mechanical problem.
WHAT IS GERD?
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter does not close properly and stomach contents leak back or reflux into the esophagus. When this refluxed stomach acid sloshes up onto the lining of the esophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the throat or chest and is familiarly known as heartburn. When this fluid is tasted in the back of the mouth, it is called acid indigestion. Heartburn that occurs occasionally may not mean GERD. When it happens more than twice weekly, this is considered GERD.
No one knows why people develop GERD. Many factors, such as the types of food you eat, how much gas your body produces, and how your body handles excess gas can influence the severity and frequency of your gas symptoms. Some common factors may include smoking, obesity, drinking alcohol, stress and pregnancy. Certain foods, such as citrus fruits, chocolate, and caffeine drinks, or those that are fatty, fried, spicy, or tomato-based may also trigger the onset of acid reflux and GERD.
It is important to note that if left untreated, GERD may lead to more serious medical problems. Recently, a Wall Street Journal article stated that the fastest growing type of cancer in the United States is Esophageal Adenocarcinoma, a cancer strongly linked to chronic heartburn and acid reflux. Chronic GERD sufferers may also develop a dangerous pre-cancerous condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus, which causes lesions and injuries to the wall of the esophagus.
DRUGS FOR DIGESTIVE DISTRESS
Medicines for stomach and upper digestive system problems are currently the largest selling sect of medicines in the country, totaling billions of dollars per year.
Over-the-counter antacids use different combinations of magnesium, calcium, and aluminum salts with hydroxide and bicarbonate salts to help neutralize the acid in the stomach. What they do is inhibit the body’s natural production of digestive enzymes. Side effects may include diarrhea or constipation. Another group of pharmaceuticals used in managing GERD are called histamine (H2) blockers. These include Tagamet HB and Pepcid AC and are designed to stop the production of stomach acid. These drugs provide short-term relief, should not be used more than several weeks at a time, and are effective for roughly only half of those who use them.
A final class of pharmaceuticals is called proton pump inhibitors, which also interfere with the normal production of stomach acid. This group includes products such as Prilosec and Prevacid. They are available by prescription, are more effective than H2 blockers, and can relieve symptoms in almost everyone who has GERD.
NATURAL APPROACHES TO DIGESTIVE DISTRESS
There are many natural products on the market to help deal with the symptoms associated with compromised digestion. They include digestive enzymes, probiotics, aloe, chlorophyll, and intestinal cleansers to name a few.
An innovative, new product, recently introduced by RX Vitamins, is designed to provide relief of intermittent heartburn due to indigestion and GERD. This nutraceutical combination, GES-5, contains alginic acid and sodium alginate, as well as slippery elm and deglycyrrhized licorice, in a pleasant tasting chewable tablet. The key here is the combination of alginic acid and sodium alginate which, when chewed, combines with saliva and gastric juices to help form a foamy froth or “alginic raft” that floats on top of the gastric contents of the stomach. This raft acts as a barrier to acid and food reflux. By preventing the digested food and acid from coming in contact with the lining of the esophagus, it prevents not only pain and discomfort, but further damage to the lining of the esophagus. Both slippery elm and deglycyrrhized licorice are demulcents that sooth inflamed esophageal tissue and promote the healing of the lining of the esophagus. Ideally, two tablets should be chewed after a meal. The alginic raft lasts approximately two hours; enough time for the stomach to complete its breakdown of the food. For best results, it is recommended to drink a glass of water after chewing the tablets.
There has been a tendency over the years to trivialize the seriousness of GERD as being just indigestion or heartburn. Ask any GERD sufferer, however, and the distress it causes is nothing to belittle. In many cases, the signs and symptoms of excess gas and occasional heartburn may not be serious. However, sometimes this condition may indicate a more serious problem, thus consultation with your physician is recommended, and be sure to ask about all available drug and natural remedies.
References available upon request.
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