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What is reflux?

Your stomach is an organ between your oesophagus and small intestine and this is where the digestion of protein begins. Here food mixes with stomach acid, which is produced by cells lining the stomach. Other cells in the stomach produce bicarbonate, an alkali, to buffer the stomach acid, so that it does not become too acidic.

These cells also produce mucus, which forms a protective layer that prevents gastric acid from damaging the stomach. As well as breaking down proteins, the highly acidic environment in the stomach inhibits microorganisms, preventing infection.

The angle formed as the oesophagus enters the stomach creates a valve, known as the lower oesophageal  sphincter, that prevents stomach acid from passing back up, burning and inflaming the sensitive oesophageal tissue. Gastric reflux is caused by a failure of this sphincter.

Causes

There are several causes of reflux. The stomach can push up against the  sphincter as in a hiatus hernia or obesity. The stomach can also drop and press on the abdomen, disturbing its normal mixing function and acid production. The sphincter itself may be weak. The stomach can make too much acid due to high calcium levels in the blood or excess gastrin (an enzyme) production.

Some medicines are associated with reflux, such as: progesterone, prednisolone, theophylline, dopamine, Valium, some calcium channel blockers and non-steroid anti inflammatory drugs. Some foods are also implicated, such as chocolate, citrus and tomato. Smoking, alcohol and coffee are also known for excess acid production. Finally, poor gastric digestion may be another possible cause. Foods that are not properly broken down may ferment, producing gas. This may increase gastric pressure, pushing up against the heart and the oesophageal sphincter.

Treatment

For mild reflux, the medical treatment is antacids, which neutralise gastric acid. A newer family of drug, known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), are now also widely used. These drugs decrease the acidity of the gastric acid. These drugs are not designed for long term use as the acidity of the gastric acid is important for disinfecting the stomach and intestines and the breakdown of foods, releasing nutrients.

Natural aids

If you are using PPIs in the long term, supplementing with magnesium and calcium is a good idea, because these minerals will be less efficiently absorbed. Henry Osieki, Australia’s nutrition guru, recommends the following supplements:

  1. Increase the consumption of foods rich in silicon (fibre rich foods), magnesium and vitamin A;
  2. Cabbage juice, for any ulcers that may be present in the oesophagus;
  3. Avoid fatty foods, chocolate, alcohol, coffee and smoking.

Henry also recommends raising the level of the bed head several inches, so that gravity assists the prevention of acid passing into the oesophagus during sleep.

My basic treatment for reflux is:

  1.  Basica, an alkaline mineral formula, 1 teaspoon, 4 x daily;
  2. Nat.Phos 6C, a tissue salt made by Schuessler, 1 tablet, 4 x daily; and sometimes
  3. Slippery Elm Powder. Pour 2 cups hot water over 2 tablespoons of the powdered bark and steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Drink 10 minutes before meals.

There are other ideas to consider as well.

Burning pain in the upper abdomen may also be a symptom of Helicobacter  Pylori, a bug that can infect the stomach. If you experience this symptom, have it diagnosed rather than trying to treat it yourself. Abdominal pain, particularly in a child, needs a medical diagnosis.