GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is becoming one of the most common problems in modern society. It is estimated to have increased 50% in the last decade alone. The most commonly prescribed drug for GERD was the third largest selling drug in 2011 at $6.2 billion.
The explosive increase in GERD strongly suggests that it is being driven by environmental factors rather than genetics. The dominant environmental factor is diet. A very high percentage of GERD patients associate worsening of their symptoms directly with eating certain foods. Given this nutritional connection, it only seems natural to investigate the use of nutrition to resolve GERD symptoms.
A study was undertaken in 350 persons with GERD. They were randomized to receive either one of the commonly used drugs for GERD or a supplement of nutrients. All systems were recorded in a diary over 40 days and the percentage of change was also recorded. The drug treatment group reported similar results to many previous studies testing the effect of these drugs with many patients reporting some relief, but complete relief being obtained in only between a half to two thirds of users.
At the end of the 40 days, the improvements strongly favored the nutritional supplement group.
There were no subjects in the nutrient supplement group that had any adverse effects. Nutrients heal without offsetting harm so that was to be expected; however, the researchers are used to commenting on that “outcome” as most of what they research are drugs which all carry some risk.
The risks with the drugs used for GERD are significant. Normal secretion of acid in the stomach is imperative for digestion and absorption of nutrients from food, and for the lower digestive tract to function properly. Without it, nutrients such as calcium, B12 and several others are poorly absorbed from food. Combine this with the fact that the foods that commonly cause GERD are typically low in these nutrients as well, and it will result in deficiency.
There is a growing association between long-term use of drugs for GERD and osteoporosis and metabolic bone disease. This is speculated to result from poor calcium absorption but may also be related to poor absorption of other nutrients such as vitamin D and K, both needed for bone metabolism. Anemia and peripheral neuropathy, both disorders associated with low vitamin B12 status have also been associated with long-term GERD medication.
The nutrients used in the study included vitamins B6, folic acid, B12, betaine, amino acids methionine and tryptophan and melatonin. It is ironic that some of them are the very nutritents that become deficient with long-term GERD drug use. Perhaps the incomplete and poor long-term response to these drugs in some people actually relates to their reducing the very nutrients that are needed to naturally control digestive balance in the stomach in the first place.
de Souza Pereira . Regression of gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms using dietary supplementation with melatonin, vitamins and amino acids: comparison with omeprazole. J Pineal Res. 2006 Oct;41(3):195-200..