Now they want to cut open your throat and install a metal ring with magnets, when the best and safest natural remedies cost pennies!
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, affects at least 20% of adult men and women in the US population, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. It also occurs in children. It’s the backflow of stomach contents (usually accompanied by heartburn) into the esophagus, and can cause tissue damage which may eventually lead to cancer. This kind of cancer has been increasing rapidly and threatens to become an epidemic. There are reasons to think that current treatments for heartburn are directly leading to the cancer.
Much of the current thinking about heartburn centers around the idea that one’s lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is defective—which leads to its not shutting properly—allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus and burn the esophageal lining. So researchers have invented a procedure in which an expandable metal ring of titanium beads with magnetic cores is clipped onto the bottom of the esophagus. The ring of magnets pull inward to close the esophagus but can expand to allow food to pass downward.
The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study showing that 86% of patients with GERD who had the metal ring implanted no longer used heartburn medicine one year after the implant. Over three years, most patients showed lower acid levels in their esophagus, and patients who continued taking heartburn medication were able to lower their doses.
There were some downsides, however: six patients experienced pain, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing, and ultimately had the device removed. Two-thirds of all who received the implant reported difficulty swallowing, though this fell to 11% after one year, and 4% after three years.
The study was far from ideal. The researchers excluded everyone who was obese, and everyone who had advanced inflammation of the esophagus or a large hiatal hernia (a bulge, which is associated with GERD). In other words, they didn’t even study the very populations who need a treatment for GERD the most.
We would also note a rather telling irony: the study was not a random controlled trial (RCT), which is mainstream medicine’s idea of the “gold standard.” Even so, the results are being announced as if it were a great triumph. When it comes to natural treatments, one of conventional medicine’s main critiques is that no RCTs have been done, even though the critics know the expense is too great for non-patentable supplements!
This is not the first time surgery has been suggested as a treatment for GERD. Last year we told you that surgeons were trying to seal the valve with sutures.
Mainstream medical treatment for GERD and heartburn has up to now been to use drugs to decrease stomach acidity, either by neutralizing stomach acid (antacids) or shutting down the stomach’s ability to produce acid through proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). The study is quick to say this new surgery is a way to get patients off stomach acid drugs.
It may be they’re finally acknowledging that the popular acid blockers, the PPIs in particular, are dangerous. They have a number of highly undesirable side effects, as documented by academic research, including reduced calcium absorption (which is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures in women); reduced absorption of other critical minerals and nutrients; an increased risk of vomiting and diarrhea; an increased risk of pneumonia (because an acid-free stomach lets pathogens into our body); and an increased risk of dementia in elderly African Americans and probably in others.
An article published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery also showed that these medications increase bile reflux and that this bile reflux is particularly dangerous for the throat. Other drugs can also increase your risk for reflux and throat cancer, including pain relievers (NSAIDS) and bone medications called bisphosphonates (e.g., Fosamax), as integrative physician Dr. Frank Shallenberger points out in his publication “Stop the Stomach Torture.”
Common sense tells us that acid is in our stomachs for a reason. We need it for digestion. Moreover, acid production declines, sometimes sharply, with age, while stomach problems including GERD increase sharply with age. If stomach problems are more often associated with declining acid production, how can completely shutting off acid production improve the situation? In time, we will look back on the almost promiscuous use of acid-blocking drugs, among the drug industry’s biggest sellers, as one of modern medicine’s most colossal and inexcusable errors.
Neither the drugs nor the surgery address the question of why people have a “defective LES” in the first place. Most likely, it’s a simple case of needing more stomach acid, not less, in order to keep the valve shut. If there is enough acid in the stomach, the stomach probably signals the valve to shut. If there isn’t enough acid, this won’t happen.
As we noted last year, the lack of acid in the stomach, where it is meant to be, means that the stomach may fail to signal the pyloric valve at the top of the stomach to close when you are digesting food. Failure to close may also be linked to an overgrowth of helicobacter bugs (associated with ulcers) which do not like acid and are able to reduce your stomach acid production.
In some people, it could also be caused or exacerbated by food allergies and sensitivities, or by too much caffeine, alcohol, nicotine consumption, or other drugs, as mentioned above.
In other words, the very drugs being prescribed by conventional medicine could be offering temporary relief but at the cost of exacerbating the problem over the long term. Why do they even provide temporary relief? Because when the stomach lacks the acid and enzymes released by the acid needed for digestion, it falls back on a secondary mechanism of fermentation. This works to get the food through but creates gas and discomfort. The acid blockers probably make you feel better by temporarily stopping the fermentation.
Bottom line: promoting an invasive and unreliable surgical throat ring is not exactly a solution for a problem probably caused in the first place by acid-blocking drugs.
Alternative remedies for GERD will vary, of course, depending on each individual’s symptoms. You’ll need to see an integrative physician, but their recommendations may include:
- Supplements containing hydrochloric acid and enzymes to control GERD and restore the digestive system; melatonin to help strengthen LES function; and vitamin C and beta carotene;
- Deglycrrhizinated licorice (DGL), zinc, carnosine, chamomile, and aloe vera, which may also help ease heartburn;
- D-limonene, an extract from the orange peel. Evidence suggests it provides a barrier in the stomach and esophagus against bacterial infection and may reduce the amount of gastric juices that reflux into the esophagus;
- Testing for food allergies; and
- A healthy, low-carbohydrate diet free of processed foods, with lots of green, leafy vegetables.
An excellent book on this subject is Your Stomach: What is Really Making You Miserable and What to Do About It by Dr. Jonathan Wright, MD, published by our friends at Praktikos Books.