Today I want to tell you a story. It’s actually the reason I eventually became a Naturopath.
When I was a teenager, I was terribly unhealthy. I was a heavy smoker, I liked to drink, I ate crap and lived on coke. It’s not really a surprise to learn 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 gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). I had acid in my oesophagus and mouth all of 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 20kg in 6 months. But I was far from healthy.
My GP 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. 18 months 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 that I had 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.
She 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 I was in. It was eye-opening. We worked together for a few months to restore my gut function and come off all medication. It was tough, but so worth it.
So why am I telling you this?
Recently I have been working with a number of patients who have a variety of health issues, but one common denominator – gut issues and reflux that have been treated with a PPI, sometimes for over 20 years.
This means that their body has not been producing its own gastric acid for as long as they have been on medication (yes – a PPI shuts down ALL of your gastric acid secretion). This means you won’t digest and absorb nutrients from your food and are likely to be deficient in a number of vitamins and minerals, but especially vitamin B12, zinc and iron. And 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 you health and reduce your risk of developing numerous diseases.
So what causes reflux in the first place I hear you ask?
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 – 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 including 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 coke all contribute to reflux
But…low stomach acid…it just doesn’t make sense?
I like to describe it like this to my patients: Imagine you eat your dinner and you don’t have enough stomach acid to break the food down properly. It will stay 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.
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 because she was the first to inspire me to learn about my own body, to question standard medical advice and medications, to find a better way and to eventually go on to become a Naturopath myself.
If it was you, I sincerely thank you.