Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the muscle between your esophagus and your stomach. It's usually referred to as chronic acid reflux. It happens when your stomach contents come back up into your esophagus. A GERD nutritionist can help.

GERD & Heartburn Specialist Toronto

What is GERD (Acid Reflux)? 

GERD is a result of the muscle at the lower end of your esophagus becoming weak. This muscle or valve is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When it becomes weak, it allows stomach acid to flow back up into your esophagus. The LES is suppose to stay closed (except for when eating) to prevent this backlash of acid. However, when it is weak and stuck open chronically it can cause heartburn and other GERD symptoms. Think about how we digest food. Food is suppose to move through our esophagus towards our stomach with the help of saliva. This is only designed to be a one way trip. Once the food reaches your stomach, it comes in contact with stomach acid and digestive enzymes to help break down the food. The stomach actually has protective cells that protect its lining from hash acids like stomach acid because it is so powerful. All of this gets mixed together and is suppose to move down towards the small intestine. However, if your LES valve is stuck open and has not shut after the food has passed, than this mixture can freely flow back up instead of going down where it should. 

What are Symptoms of GERD? 

Heartburn 

Chest Pain 

Indigestion

Difficulty Swallowing 

Belching 

Bloating 

Nausea 

Wheezing 

Acne 

 

The most common symptom out of all of these is heartburn. We see it all the time. If you suffer from heartburn on a weekly basis, you likely have GERD.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

There are many things that can cause this LES valve to stay open chronically. Aging and low stomach acid are actually the two biggest. As we get older, our stomach acid production becomes less and less which causes the LES valve to become loose. This is because the LES needs acid stimulation to remain closed after food has passed. It also needs a certain balance of hormones and neurotransmitters to keep it strong. Even if the LES valve is slightly weakened, it can cause some acid to flow back up and irritate the esophagus. This is why we believe most GERD cases are a result of low stomach acid not high. 

 

Unfortunately, heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms are typically treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPI's) which reduce the amount of stomach acid made by the glands in the lining of your stomach. This does not solve the issue at all and actually makes it a lot worse. You may experience a reduction in your symptoms simply because the medication is suppressing the issue at hand. However, you will pay the price once you try to come off this medication. 

What Causes Low Stomach Acid? 

As I mentioned, aging does decrease our stomach acid leading to acid reflux, indigestion and heartburn symptoms. However, since that is unavoidable, here are the other common culprits: 

 

  • Zinc, Potassium and/or Sodium Deficiency

  • PPI use 

  • Antacids (ie. Tums, Pepto-Bismol etc.)

  • Alcohol 

  • Smoking 

  • Stress 

  • Birth Control 

  • Antibiotics 

  • Slow Metabolism/Thyroid

 

It's important to try to avoid these things not only if you have GERD but also as a preventative measure. To reduce uncomfortable symptoms in the moment, try getting some DGL or ginger capsules from either Fullscript (Canada) or Spectrum Supplements (International) in our shop. These work well for most people and are not detrimental to your health like antacids.

Why Do We Need Stomach Acid? 

Stomach acid is an important part of everyone's gut health- it's where digestion truly begins. Digestive enzymes are also important but you need enough stomach acid to turn those enzymes on. Without stomach acid, they just remain dormant and inactive. Stomach acid's main job is to break down protein but it plays a crucial role in breaking down carbohydrates and fat too. Stomach acid is our first line defence mechanism against pathogenic bacteria, parasites and yeast. If you are prone to these overgrowths, then it might be time to get your stomach acid levels checked. In our practice, we like to do the Betaine HCL test as long as H Pylori has been ruled out. This test consists of getting a high quality HCL supplement from either Fullscript (Canada) or Spectrum Supplements (International) in our shop and taking one capsule 20 minutes before dinner. You should feel a warming sensation in your chest- this would indicate you have adequate stomach acid levels and you can stop the test. If you do not feel this sensation, then go up to two capsules the next day before dinner. Keep repeating until you feel the sensation. If you get up to more than 3 capsules, you likely have extremely low stomach acid levels and should prioritize increasing stomach acid. 

How to Increase Stomach Acid Levels: 

  • Eat more Zinc (oysters, beef liver), Potassium (tropical fruits, potatoes) and Sodium (white flakey sea salt, bone broth) 

  • Take Organic Olivia digestive bitters or Apple Cider Vinegar (with the mother) before meals 

  • Relax while you eat and do not eat on the go 

  • Chew your food thoroughly (should take you longer than 10 minutes to eat a meal)

  • Avoid drinking water or any liquids around meal time 

  • Reduce overall stress (external and internal)

  • Incorporate manuka honey, ginger, pineapple, papaya and turmeric into your diet

  • Drink lemon water in the mornings 

All of these things will help resolve GERD symptoms by addressing the root cause. We do not recommend diets that restrict a bunch of high acidic foods as that is very damaging to your metabolism and does not get to the root cause. However, some of our clients do need to take a break from foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes depending on the severity of their symptoms. Some may also need to temporarily eliminate caffeine and carbonated beverages in order to avoid further irritation of their esophagus lining. This is not a long term solution by any means but will allow their gut some time to heal. In the meantime, we encourage our clients to eat an abundance of root vegetables, raw dairy, high mineral foods, low acidity fruits, animal proteins, shellfish and saturated fats. 

Now that you know acid reflux is a result of low stomach acid, let's look at how acne comes into play. Stomach acid's main roles are to 1. help break down food and 2. keep pathogens out. If you aren't able to properly break down and digest food, this can lead to nutrient deficiencies which can cause acne. Magnesium, zinc, retinol and vitamin E all play vital roles when it comes to skin health along with other nutrients. In addition, if you have large undigested food particles entering your gut, that is going to cause an immune reaction which is inflammatory. This is more commonly known as leaky gut and we see it causing acne frequently. Secondly, you are more susceptible to dysbiosis as well as parasites and candida overgrowths when you have low stomach acid. This causes acne due to the gut skin connection. The microbiome of our gut directly reflects the microbiome of our skin and acne is a result of inflammation in the body. 

 

If you are suffering from heartburn, acne or any acid reflux symptoms, work with a GERD nutritionist to fix the issue from the root! Check out our 1:1 membership for more info on how we can work together. We offer in-person appointments in Toronto, ON and online worldwide! If 1:1 isn't for you, not to worry! We have a program designed to clear your skin and get to the root of your health issues.