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Oh my GORD I have reflux

Gastro Oesophageal Reflux disease (GORD) or ‘reflux’ is a very common condition which can be experienced at any age. Babies can suffer silent reflux right from birth, and many adults experience reflux up into later life. Just like all health conditions, reflux is caused by a combination of factors.

What is reflux?

Reflux or heartburn is the backwash of acid and the contents of the stomach up the oesophagus. This causes inflammation and a burning pain in the middle of the chest up to the back of the throat. Sometimes it can even cause a cough, or regurgitation of food up into the mouth. In babies, silent reflux can present as constant dribbling, coughing, wheezing and a runny nose. It can seem as if they have asthma. The condition can be aggravated by both mechanical and external factors.

First of all, let’s clear up the acid confusion. Reflux feels like burning, yes. This is because our stomach produces hydrochloric acid (as well as enzymes) to digest your food. Even though reflux feels like burning as if there’s too much acid, quite often it is not the case.

The pH of hydrochloric acid secreted into our stomach is as low as two. For comparison, water is neutral around the pH of seven. Have you noticed your mouth or throat become slightly burnt after you’ve thrown up a lot? This is how powerful your stomach acid is. It will cause burning on tissues it shouldn’t be in contact with. 

https://ib.bioninja.com.au/standard-level/topic-2-molecular-biology/24-proteins/the-ph-scale.html

How does it happen?

Understanding more about the power of stomach acid helps explain how reflux happens. If production and secretion of our acid levels are low, then we find that reflux will occur. Low stomach acid levels means digestion of our food doesn’t happen properly in the stomach. This slows the speed at which the food leaves the stomach to move through the gastrointestinal system. The food in your stomach begins to ferment, and washes back up the oesophagus causing that burning feeling. Even though it feels like the acid is high, the cause is usually low levels. It’s a bit confusing to get your head around.

Another common cause of reflux is a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. It secretes an enzyme that converts to ammonia in the stomach. This buffers the acid levels of the gut to become more neutral so they can survive. Then, you understand how the lack of acid begins the development of the condition.

What else apart from the acid?

We must also consider the first line of defence, your lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS). Your LOS is responsible for contracting and keeping the stomach contents down in the stomach where they belong. This sphincter can become lazy and relaxed in response to a different variety of triggers. Alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, stress, fatty foods and oils, garlic, menthol, tomato, just to name a few. If you consume foods you have an intolerance to, this can also aggravate this sphincter. Common food intolerance triggers are dairy and wheat, but an IgG test is the best way to identify yours.

You may not always feel the burning from the acid, and that is why reflux can be quite a sinister condition. You may be consuming too much of a trigger that is causing the tone of it to slacken. A cough only present in the morning can be caused by reflux. You can also have silent reflux which doesn’t feel like anything at all!

The danger of having constant reflux lies in the damage that the acid can cause to the oesophageal lining. The stomach has cells that secrete a protective mucus to protect it from becoming damaged by the stomach acid. The oesophagus does not have the same cells, so the mucosa is a lot more susceptible to damage and inflammation. Silent or not, chronic reflux will cause changes in these cells, which can lead to cancer in later life.

How do I fix it?

The quick solution is to stop the pain of the backwashing acid by using medications that either buffer the acid so the pH becomes closer to neutral (= less burning and pain) or by reducing the production of acid and enzymes by our body ( = less secreted into the stomach that can then back wash). While these temporarily address the burning and pain of reflux, they are short term and will not prevent reoccurrence.

Buffering the acid, or reducing the production of acid and enzymes only leads to reduced absorption of nutrients from your meals. This puts you at a high risk to develop nutritional deficiencies over time from using these medications. They can also contain aluminium as an ingredient which isn’t something you want to be ingesting.

Seeing a naturopath can help you to identify what is triggering your reflux, as well as address the functionality of your gastrointestinal system so that you can live comfortably and reflux free. There are ways we can improve the functionality of your LOS, and herbal medicines we can prescribe for symptomatic relief with no side effects to relieve pain in the meant time. Call the clinic to book an appointment

Gigi Cumbers
Naturopath & Nutritionist

Should I see a Naturopath for Acne?

Acne is something that most of us will relate to at some stage of our lives. This is because the condition can appear in a variety of ways and situations. Whilst some people may cruise through life with clear skin, acne can affect you at any age and in varying severities.

Approaching treatment can be hard, this is where a Naturopath can help you!

Pimples, spots, zits, blemishes, white heads, black heads, commodones – there are so many names and forms of skin eruptions that we often describe as acne. No matter how many or which type you have, they can often leave you feeling frustrated, upset and stressed.

What is involved?

The skin

The skin is our largest organ, and one of its main functions is elimination of wastes. If our other elimination systems experience congestion, our body often chooses to detoxify through the skin. Our other eliminatory organs include the gut, the bladder, the liver, the lymphatic system and the lungs. These systems can become congested trying to eliminate toxic things you accumulate from the environment, your diet or even byproducts of your own body! This principle of congestion can sometimes be the driver behind other skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis too.

Sebum

This is the oil your skin naturally produces. We use a lot of topical creams and washes to try and ‘balance’ oily or dry skin, and this is actually us trying to change the levels of sebum on the surface of the skin to improve the way the skin looks and feels. While topical products can give temporary results, you want to manage your body’s innate production and regulation of sebum from within, so that you aren’t so reliant on a topical solution to feel happy in your skin.

Bacteria

Hygiene does have a role to play in acne, particularly when you start to pick and squeeze any spots that are there. Bacteria is always all over our skin, but it can become concentrated on the face and aggravate acne for a few reasons: you aren’t washing your face correctly/ your hair is touching your face a lot and adding extra oils to the skin/ you are squeezing or popping infected pimples and spreading the bacteria to other areas of the skin.  While bacteria will aggravate breakouts and inflammation in the skin, taking antibiotics for an infection isn’t always the best method to treat acne. Sometimes it gives little to no relief and often provides some side effects. It’s good to ensure you explore all your options for treating acne before committing to a long term prescription. 

Digestion

Digestion plays a role in your skin health in a few ways. First of all, one of the main functions of your digestive system is elimination of waste products, so any congestion here (constipation) can contribute to break outs. If there is any inflammation of the mucous membrane in the gut lining, this can also make you more prone to skin breakouts as inflammatory mediators and bacteria from your gut can enter your bloodstream. The health of your skin will also be impacted by the health of your gut via the gut-skin axis, something that more and more evidence is emerging on. In this instance, the health of your microbiome (gut bacteria) plays a large role regulating this axis.

Diet

It’s no secret that your diet will affect your skin. Cutting out foods high in sugar and dairy often provides a reduction in the severity of acne breakouts. Foods that increase release of histamine can increase mucus production in the body, which can be the theory as to why dairy or sometimes even banana can aggravate acne. Processed foods with lots of foreign chemicals and additives can also aggravate acne as they increase the load for the liver to process.

Hormones

Hormones are usually the main driver of acne. When someone has been experiencing chronic acne since their teenage years, it’s almost always a hormonal cause. Issues involving hormone metabolism and conversion can cause an excess of androgens which will overload the liver. These excess hormones then get pushed through the skin resulting in deep, cystic and often painful acne. Hormonal acne is often seen on the cheeks and jaw line of the face, the neck, shoulders and back and can sometimes leave scarring. In this instance, testing can be done to determine the driver of this hormone imbalance and direct how to get them back on track.

Nutrition

Eating a wide variety of food will ensure your micronutrient intake is broad, and minimise risks of nutrient and mineral deficiencies. Essential nutrients for skin health include zinc, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, silica, biotin and essential fatty acids. Ensuring your macronutrient intake is well balanced is also important. Protein is needed for collagen production and ensuring you eat lots of vegetables for their fibre content is important to keep your gut healthy and regular. Carbs shouldn’t be eaten in excess to avoid spikes in blood sugar and insulin, which can aggravate acne as well.

Inflammation

Inflammation is a process in place for our body to protect and heal itself, however if it goes on too long for the wrong reasons, it will start to have detrimental effects. Systemic inflammation will aggravate all skin conditions, not just acne. This principle of inflammation relates to why dairy, sugar, processed foods etc can be bad for acne as high intake of these can contribute to inflammation in the body. Testing is important to determine the driver of inflammation, and direct a treatment plan to clear up the skin.

Stress

Stress can increase risk of breakouts as it can influence changes in your hormone levels, reduce your digestive potential, and cause extra nutrient requirements. When your body feels stress it will take resources away from non vital functions like collagen production and cell repair and channel them to the adrenal glands so we can “survive”.

How can Naturopathy help?

If you are suffering from acne, it’s likely there is a combination of these drivers/triggers involved. Testing, careful prescribing, diet and lifestyle needs to be taken into consideration when preparing a treatment plan to resolve acne. Naturopathy takes into consideration the “whole person”, as well as their environment, to understand the way a disease may take place in an individual. This is how the root of the cause is established, and then steps to heal the body are put into place.

Common tests that I may order for someone experiencing acne are:

– Standard blood pathology

– Salivary hormone testing

– IgG food intolerance testing

– Blood analysis

– Stool testing

I welcome you to BOOK A CONSULT with me so that we can work through everything and get you on a path to clear skin. If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to email me at:  gigi@betterhealthpractice.com.au

Gigi Cumbers
Naturopath & Nutritionist

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