Help, I Have GERD!
A Tale of Two Sphincters

According to, “The global Antacids market was 6120 million US$ in 2018 and is expected to be 6460 million US$ by the end of 2025, growing at a CAGR of 0.7% between 2019 and 2025.”

An impressive number, especially when you consider that all these sales are meant to reduce or eliminate a key substance that reaches the small intestine, helps you digest your food, and supplies you with the nutrients of that food. That substance is stomach acid (also known medically as gastric acid), which is defined as “digestive secretions of the stomach glands consisting chiefly of hydrochloric acid and mucin and the enzymes pepsin and rennin and lipase.”

Why I Became Interested in This Subject

A close friend called me for help and advice for an uncomfortable condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), where “stomach acid that touches the lining of your esophagus can cause heartburn, also called acid.”

This became of immediate interest to me since I’ve always known that acid touching the esophagus may eventually cause esophageal cancer. Similar conditions such as acid indigestion (resulting from food fermenting in the stomach due to lack of proper HCL levels), acid reflux, acid regurgitation, heartburn, and reflux, may all cause the same problem by pushing stomach acid upwards and into the esophagus. Over time this can erode the tender esophageal tissue, leaving the esophagus raw and unprotected making the sufferer more susceptible to esophageal cancer. Even so, we don’t want to neutralize our precious stomach acid with antacids!

I will therefore dedicate the rest of this blog post to explaining the core cause of not only GERD but also the other acid conditions I mention above. I will also discuss natural solutions to alleviate the symptoms and help the pain subside. Unfortunately, you may need to deal with this condition over the long term with natural methods, as I explain below. (Surgery is also an option, but it can lead to secondary problems.)

The Tale of Two Sphincters: Clarifying the Cause

Let’s discover what these two sphincters are and what happens when they get weak and make our life miserable. But first, what exactly is a sphincter? It’s a circular muscle that expands and retracts much like a rubber band. The anus is a perfect example, but the human body actually has 60 types of sphincters.

We’re going to look at two particular sphincters in this blog post. First, the lower esophageal sphincter (or cardiac sphincter), which resides at the top of the stomach and keeps the acids and other contents from pushing up into the esophagus. Second, the pyloric sphincter (or pylorus). Located at the bottom of the stomach, the pyloric sphincter connects to the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine. Both of these muscles are critical to proper digestive health and the elimination of misdirected acid issues.

Now let’s picture these two ruffled rubber-band like muscles. One of them sits at the upper part of the stomach. It’s supposed to open and let food into the stomach, then close up to keep the stomach acid in. If it’s too weak, it won’t close tightly, and the acid may escape upwards and into the esophagus. The other one sits at the bottom end of the stomach. It’s supposed to allow food to pass into the small intestine, but it too must close up again to prevent the food from exiting too rapidly.

Simply said, the more troublesome of the two is the upper sphincter, especially if it becomes very weak and no longer closes properly—just think of a worn-out rubber band.

Two Core Causes of GERD

What can make these muscles so weak? There are two players here: a lack of vitamin B4 and a lack of proper HCL (hydrochloric acid) levels in the stomach.

Lack of vitamin B4 results in poor nerve conductivity, which in turn can make the valve lax and cause it to open backwards. B4 is known as the antiparalysis vitamin and is critical to nerve health. The best food source of B4 is raw wheat germ.

The absence of proper HCL levels in the stomach can cause irritation as well as regurgitation up through the esophagus. Stomach acids are a combination of both HCL and fermentation acids. Without HCL to breakdown the food, the stomach must revert to muscular churning, which causes the acids to splash up toward the bottom of the esophagus.

Lifestyle and Dietary Habits That Exacerbate GERD

Working with several holistic practitioners, including my personal chiropractor Dr. Joe Givan, I learned about common lifestyle and dietary habits that can exacerbate this condition. By addressing these habits, Dr. Givan has seen that GERD can be treated with good success.

Try looking back to the time when you began to have this problem. After all, nothing wears out or gets weaker unless we’re doing something to cause the damage (and not getting a wealth of nutrients in our diet). Below is a list of the most common habits to consider:

  1. Smoking: According to Dr. Givan, nicotine is a powerful poison that inhibits the proper functioning of the nerves that help keep the sphincter closed. Nicotine has many effects on the human body: it relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, reduces salivation, increases acid secretion in the stomach, interferes with the esophageal muscles, and damages the esophageal lining.
  2. Visceral (belly) fat: This is not just a marker for heart disease. Belly fat constantly pushes the abdominal organs against the sphincter, and the pressure can eventually lessen the strength of the muscle.
  3. Asthma medications: In the article “Exercise and Acid Reflux,” Fitness and Wellness News explains that “asthma and GERD are often partners in crime. They may occur together, one exacerbating the other. Identifying triggers for both can be tricky…Treating one may help the other. However, certain asthma medications can worsen acid reflux.”
  4. Exercise: The same article from above also explains that high-impact workouts may further exacerbate an already weakened sphincter. “Stress on the abdomen, common during exercise, may cause those athletes predisposed to GERD by a leaky esophageal sphincter (a muscle that keeps stomach acid out of the esophagus) to incur reflux during intense physical activity. Exercise also reduces blood flow to the digestive tract, which causes the stomach to produce more acid in efforts to break down any food consumed. Instead, perform a low-impact workout to minimize symptoms. Avoid movement that could upset the gastrointestinal tract.” (Here’s a video demonstration of some techniques that can help strengthen this important sphincter.)
  5. Diet: It’s no surprise that your diet can play a major role in keeping your esophagus in a perpetual state of rawness and pain. Below I suggest some dietary changes that may help people with GERD.
  1. Stress: Discussing the link between stress and acid reflux, Healthline explains that nearly half of the subjects in a recent study “reported stress as the biggest factor that worsened symptoms, even when on medication.”
  2. Chocolate and caffeine: These both have similar effects to nicotine, and those with GERD should avoid them at all cost. Chocolate contains theobromine, which is similar to caffeine and further relaxes the smooth muscle in the sphincter. Additionally, theobromine in chocolate also stimulates the adrenal glands, which in turn can cause serious health issues.
  3. Constipation: Preventing strain on the abdominal muscles is essential to making sure that the sphincters don’t become stressed. Staying hydrated with good spring water and taking Collinsonia Root, a natural stool softener and liver supplement, will go a long way to helping you stay regular and not have strained bowel movements. I recommend taking three first thing in the morning (with at least 12 oz. of water) and three again in the midafternoon—both times on an empty stomach. Collinsonia Root is recommended to treat varicose veins. An overall excellent supplement.
  4. Coughing/stomach flu: Severe coughing and/or vomiting are especially problematic for those with a weakened esophagus. This is another reason to keep your immune system supported at all times, particularly when vulnerable from poor digestive function.

Worthy Solutions to Stop Esophageal Damage

IMPORTANT: In talking to some of the health practitioners I’m privileged to work with, I’ve learned that the nerves are intricately involved in the strength of the sphincters. Many times, a chiropractic adjustment of the spine will reset the nervous system, and the reflux will stop either permanently or for a long period of time. Another common adjustment to the esophagus, which sometimes forms a kink, can straighten it back out. Chiropractic adjustments and dietary changes can help you avoid antacids and deal with this disorder naturally.

There are other important lifestyle changes you can make and some remedies that will help the healing, so keep reading. Just be apprised that the secret isn’t to reduce digestive acids but rather to adjust your habits and prevent the acid from rising into the esophagus in the first place.

Here are some common foods to avoid in order to reverse symptoms of GERD, according to Healthline:

  • Alcohol
  • Citrus fruits
  • Caffeine (especially in the large quantities typical in energy drinks)
  • Coffee
  • Colas and other carbonated beverages
  • Chocolate
  • Fried and fatty foods
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Peppermint
  • Spearmint
  • Tomato sauce

Healing Remedies for Wounds and Ulcers Related to a Damaged Esophagus

Let’s remember that we need to heal and maintain the integrity of the esophagus and at the same time use the diet to reduce the chance that stomach acid will rise. If you’re already experiencing a good deal of burning and pain, you’ll need to work on healing the wounds created in the esophagus by the acid as quickly as possible to prevent a more serious outcome.

Below are remedial products that I recommend to my clients. However, without changing your diet as I discuss below, all the remedies in the world won’t stop the damage or help heal this condition.

My # 1 Recommendation: Manuka Honey

You can find many great organic honeys, but for excellent wound healing I recommend manuka honey (here are some of the best brands). It’s best taken internally as it contains the highest amount of a special type of natural peroxide associated with wound healing. The higher the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor), the more potent it is.

Honey Benefits for GERD—with No Side Effects

According to Healthline, honey has the following benefits:

  • Honey is rich in antioxidants. In fact, some types have as many antioxidants as fruits and vegetables.
  • Honey contains a natural hydrogen peroxide that is known to be effective for treating wounds.
  • Honey contains a number of antibacterial and antiviral properties.
  • Honey may prevent the damage associated with reflux because it scavenges free radicals, which can harm the cells lining the digestive tract.
  • Honey helps reduce inflammation in the esophagus.
  • Honey contributes to long-lasting relief because the texture coats the mucous membrane of the esophagus.
  • Honey is a natural remedy with no side effects, and you can use it along with other traditional treatments.

Important note: children under 1 year old should not be given honey.

Nutrient Supplement Recommendations

Again, we want to support digestive acids as much as possible. At the same time, if you’re in a reflux crisis, the first step is to put out the fire, and then heal. You must use something to neutralize the acids of fermentation along with whatever HCL and other acids might be splashing up the esophagus. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) or marshmallow root liquid, for instance, can put out the fire. At the point that HCL is in the esophagus, it isn’t doing the stomach any good anyway. The ACV will establish the right pH to the injured tissue, which is immediately healing. The healing can then continue with proper digestive enzyme and good nutritional support.

Zypan: Take 3 Zypan with meals to prevent acid indigestion. (Do not take when having a reflux episode.)

Apple cider vinegar: Mix 2–3 tablespoons in water the moment you feel the acid in your esophagus during a reflux episode.

Raw wheat germ: Take 1 tablespoon per day of organic wheat germ. After opening, keep it well-sealed and refrigerated so it does not go rancid.

Mineral-rich foods: The body manufactures HCL out of minerals, and foods grown in healthy soil are high in minerals. Standard Process offers a wide array of mineral supplements.

Gastrex: Gastrex supports digestion and stimulates cleansing of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Also supports the body’s normal tissue repair process and GI cleansing through the elimination of waste materials. Take on an empty stomach.

Personal Note: Do not purchase Standard Process or Medi-Herb from the Internet. These products are black-market and are often expired and may have been stored in hot warehouse environments which will reduce the efficacy of the supplements. Buy from an approved Standard Process source here  and simply enter your zip code.

Herbal Recommendations

Wintergreen Botanicals: As most of my regular readers know, I grow heirloom herbs and subscribe to a wonderful quarterly herbal magazine called The Herb Quarterly. The founder of Wintergreen Botanicals is Maria Noel Groves, who has written many wonderful articles for this magazine, many of which focus on treating health issues with herbs. In the spring 2020 issue, Maria addresses the many faces of GERD and suggests incorporating sour and/or bitter herbs and foods. They naturally reduce acid indigestion, support digestive enzymes, and provide beneficial plant properties that help digest foods.

Urban Moonshine Organic Herbal Apothecary: I encourage you to include bitters as a natural solution for occasional heartburn. In an article at the Urban Moonshine website, they explain that bitters are an effective natural solution for occasional heartburn: “The bitter flavor supports normal secretion of stomach acid and bile, both of which are important for proper digestive functioning.” (Emphasis mine)

HiPep (MediHerb): 2–3 tablets can work in 15 minutes to neutralize acids of fermentation but does not address the healing of the esophagus and it is therefore important to use the suggestions above when seeking a permanent healing of the esophagus.

Marshmallow Root (MediHerb): 1 teaspoon is very soothing and will quench the burning sensation instantly.

Find a chiropractor that carries Standard Process and MediHerb products in your area at the SP healthcare professional search page.

Is Changing Your Diet Really Necessary?

To be honest with you, I’ve always found it very difficult to change my diet. Rather than give my clients an ultimatum to completely change how and what they eat, I prefer simply pointing out the vital importance of probiotics and whole foods. In the case of GERD, I especially recommend eating chicken broth or a simple chicken soup daily. We all know how nourishing and gentle chicken soup can be.

Last but not least, I encourage you to avoid inflammatory foods. (Please read my blog post on inflammatory foods. It’s one of my more popular posts.)

It’s also of major importance to eat much smaller meals more frequently. Always eat upright, chewing food well and eating it slowly. Make sure to eat your last meal at least 2–3 hours before going to bed. These changes will go a long way to making sure that you’re not packing too much food in your stomach at one time, nor producing a huge amount of acid needed to digest a huge meal. (It can also help in the effort to lose weight.) A nice casual walk after the meal may also be of great benefit.

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Afterthoughts from the Traditional Cook

“Health is simply the natural expression of life in the body. Health is the normal state of function. Your body is always trying to express 100 percent of this potential through the innate life in every cell of your being. When expressed without interference, health is the result. Innate intelligence is transmitted through the communication and coordination of the nervous system, and it relies on the proper nourishment of the body through our food. Accumulation of stress in the physical systems of our bodies can create subluxations—a misalignment or fixation of the spine that causes interference and dysfunction in this communication. Poor diet limits the amount of quality material that your body can use to create new tissues and is also poor-quality fuel for your body’s functions. And our chemically laden environment adds even more toxic debris that your body has to overcome.”
—“The Two Most Important Tools for Health” by Dr. David Kolowski

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Disclaimer from Maria Atwood, CNHP: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor or health practitioner prior to following any recommendations I make in my blog posts or on my website.

Images from iStock/Tharakorn (main), bonchan (soup), dule12 (honey), Motortion (girl eating), TimoninaIryna (Achalasia). 

Maria Atwood, CNHP

Maria Atwood is a semiretired Certified Natural Health Professional and Weston A. Price Chapter Leader in Colorado Springs, CO. Visit her website at Also check out Maria’s Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD (also available as an e-learning course) and be sure to follow her Tips from the Traditional Cook blog.
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holistic healing | holistic medicine | holistic nutrition | holistic remedies

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