I’ve seen the devastating effect of an inflamed oesophagus. My sister at 24 had bad indigestion. She went to the doctor and he eventually diagnosed her with the life threatening autoimmune disease CREST.
CREST is an acronym for 5 autoimmune diseases (calcinosis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, esophageal dysmotility, sclerodactyly, and telangiectasia). But the one I’d like to talk about is esophagitis, which will automatically lead to the topic of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and indigestion, and the food we eat that can affect this condition.
Esophagitis is any inflammation or irritation of the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that sends food from your mouth to your stomach. Common causes include acid reflux, side effects of certain medications, and bacterial or viral infections. Reflux is when the stomach contents and acids back up into the esophagus. (1)
This then leads to Barrett’s oesophagus and eventually cancer of the esophagus. My sister, over a twenty-year period, experienced this and eventually passed away from an 8cm tumour in her esophagus.
You might wonder how one sister was devastated by disease and the other has been relatively healthy. My sister was the first born and my mother was the oldest daughter of a farmer in Iowa, USA. Just after my mum was born she was exposed to the insecticide arsenate of lead (arsenic and lead), and then by the time she was 4, she was exposed to yearly sprayings of DDT. (Not by her father but all the other farmers around their property). My mum couldn’t eat in the first three months of her pregnancy with my sister and so she used her fat cells to survive, no doubt releasing heavy metals and DDT and bathing my sister in it. Both my mum and my sister passed from cancer too young.
[It is this that propels me to inform people about the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) and the fact that it has become a desiccant (drying agent before harvest) not only on wheat, but other grains and legumes. It is also sprayed around foods in our daily diet and – for the smokers – tobacco can also be sprayed with this possible cancer-forming herbicide, antibiotic and chelating agent. I don’t want to see what happened to my family happen to other families due to ignorance of not knowing; being informed is crucial to protecting ourselves and our families from things we don’t know are happening, but which may be harming our ability to be healthy.]
My sister knew that there were certain foods that inflamed her condition and other foods that she could consume without any issues. It was not until her last 5 years of life that many more foods became a problem.
Lisa (my sister) was diagnosed in the early 1980’s. Not much was known about her condition other than she was offered antacids, which she refused. Instead she took note of what foods caused the issue and then removed them from her diet. But as her condition worsened this just got harder and harder, until she was administered a PEG (a tube directly into the stomach from the skin) into which she pumped foods, bypassing the oesophagus completely.
Indigestion is not just an inconvenience but rather the body telling you something is wrong. If you ignore it or mask the symptoms, it doesn’t mean you’ve healed yourself – all you’ve done is hidden the red light on the dashboard, not fixed the underlying cause.
Medicine takes a mechanistic view of many diseases – basically considering the symptoms and how it can alleviate them. As time passes, this is not always the best approach.
GERD (and/or GER) has the following symptoms:
- Frequent heartburn, a burning feeling in your chest or throat
- Regurgitating food or stomach contents
- Sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Feeling like there’s a lump in your throat
- Damaged teeth from stomach acid
- Chest pain
- Bad breath
- Vomiting (2).
How GERD/GER is Treated
It is believed that acid and/or bile produced by the stomach and liver respectively regurgitates into the oesophagus, causing inflammation and irritation of the lining and giving a feeling of heartburn or indigestion. The remedy is either an antacid or protein pump inhibitor (PPI). These medications reduce the pH of the stomach by neutralising and/or reducing the hydron chloride (HCl) that the stomach produces. PPIs have been known to increase clostridium difficile in the colon causing colitis (3) (difficile meaning difficult to get rid of once you have it).
The stomach is the most acidic part of your body. It produces HCl for many reasons; firstly, to begin the digestive process, especially for proteins but secondly it is there to create an environment that kills bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that are not welcome in the body’s digestive tract. Stomach acid is a protective mechanism as well as a digestant.
Taking acid-reducing medication long term increases the chance of infection, osteoporosis, vitamin and mineral deficiencies including calcium, folic acid, iron, zinc, B12 and the biochemical reactions that rely on these nutrients may be altered due to a deficiency. (4)
So by using PPIs and antacids you will be reducing the pH of the gut and in turn changing the microbiome of your gut and setting up a cascade of events that can affect digestion, immunity, hormone regulation and brain function.
Antacids go back as far as 3500 years ago when the salt sodium carbonate and peppermint with milk was used to ease indigestion; Alka Seltzer is made from bicaronate of soda, another name for sodium carbonate.
By 1829 magnesium hydroxate was used, but by 1920 it was found that excess use caused death.
In 1977 cimetidine was found to antagonise histamine receptors in the stomach, which would in turn stop acid production. Histamine regulates acid secretion by increasing the amount released. But as time moved on it was found that more than histamine stimulated stomach acid on or off, including stress, bacteria and other hormones and neurotransmitters. For example, when you are stressed (whether it’s because of work or because you’re being chased by a black bear in the woods!), the stomach acid does not need to be active as the last thing you need at that moment is digestion. All your energy goes to your arms and legs and heart in order for you to flee and survive.
Also in the 1970’s PPIs were found to work no matter whether there was an outside stimulus (work stress, black bear) or an internal stimulus (histamine, acetylcholine, gastrin, somatostatin). They work on the final step of acid production in the stomach (blocking the H+/K+ ATPase enzyme). While antacids are taken when indigestion happens, PPIs can be taken before food is consumed. But, like any medication, there are ramifications.
GERD/GER and Lifestyle
One thing we do know is that lifestyle and the food we consume can change the direction of GERD/GER and indigestion. After all, your gut has food pass through it many times a day. So it seems like common sense to look at what is going in your gut; probably more sensible than trying to adjust a pH within the stomach.
Breads, pasta, cakes, muffins and foods with gluten may cause some people discomfort and indigestion.
I’ve found people who change their diet to a real food diet and take gluten-containing foods and wheat products and foods out of the diet seem to have great success with their symptoms. If the symptoms continue to persist then a no grain, no dairy and no legume or eggs protocol can help. After the symptoms have eased then the slow introduction of foods back into the diet can be very telling and quite the education by your own body. And, I’m not just making this stuff up – we now have research to back up this information (5). Once infection like H. Pylori has been ruled out, then going on a strict gluten free diet can help.
Coeliac disease often presents with indigestion. Many people are told that if they do not have coeliac disease then they don’t have to give up gluten. But there is no standard diagnostic test for non coeliac gluten sensitivity, a more common malady that can present symptoms as varied as indigestion, headaches, migraines, stiff and sore joints, mood swings and much more. The best way to know whether or not you have an issue with gluten is to go on a strict wheat and gluten free diet for 6 weeks and see what happens to your symptoms. Try our 6 Weeks No Wheat Program to assist you in sticking to the restriction for the time needed for you to see the benefits.
So the question is – is it the gluten or the glyphosate and modern agriculture that is causing the problem and if I eat organic ancient grains like emmer and einkorn wheat will I still get indigestion? That’s for you to try. Firstly eliminate and then trial foods. Your body gives you many signals and indigestion comes through loud and clear.
If you have read my book and my articles, my aim is to know the ingredients that are in my food. I also want to know the ingredients that are in any medications or supplements I may take. PPIs are in the form of enteric coated granules (slow release). Here is a list of the ingredients:
Glyceryl monostearate, hydroxypropyl cellulose, hypromellose, magnesium stearate, methacrylic acid copolymer C, polysorbate, sugar spheres, talc, and triethyl citrate, and also inactive granules. The inactive granules are composed of the following ingredients: citric acid, crospovidone, dextrose, hydroxypropyl cellulose, iron oxide and xantham gum.
I could dissect each one of these ingredients but it would be a very long-winded article. But briefly, xantham gum and citric acid are both made from GMO micro-organisms. And polysorbate is usually derived from corn which could be Bt corn (GMO).
One day when I get a spare week, I’ll go through each of the ingredients and understand exactly where, what and how they are made and what effect they have on the human body and the environment.