Hiatus Hernia and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder

The following painful or uncomfortable symptoms can be the result of Hiatus Hernia or GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder):

  • Regurgitation Laryngitis, hoarseness
  • Angina-like pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn Belching/bloating/gas
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Abdominal distention after eating
  • Sense of fullness after eating in conjunction with a chronic cough

It is estimated that up to 50% of the population over 50 years of age has some degree of hiatus hernia. This is when the stomach is shown through an X-ray to be pulled up through the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. Normally the stomach is fully below the diaphragm. Poor dietary habits, food allergy and excessive stress are primarily responsible for weakening the diaphragm and inducing chronic stomach muscle spasms.

Muscle spasms result in shortening of the muscle. This type of muscle shortening can also cause Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD), when the muscle that connects the esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) to the upper portion of the stomach allows food and very acidic gastric juices to flow back into the esophagus causing a burning sensation. The esophagus does not have the mucous lining that normally protects the stomach from stomach acid.

The common misconception associated with these stomach problems is that the body is producing too much stomach acid. However, the prevalence of these stomach problems increases with age and it is a known physiological fact that as we age, we produce less stomach acid. 75% of people over the age of 60 have low stomach acid. The problem is not that the stomach acid is excessive, but that it is in the wrong place.

A stomach in a state of shock goes into spasm. Why would our stomach go into shock? We need to look at infants and children. If  something ingested does not agree with a baby the body immediately reacts and gets rid of it by vomiting and/or diarrhea. This is a natural and healthy protective response and can occur because their digestive systems are developing and they cannot adequately digest certain foods. For example, complex grains, excess white sugar, processed foods and meats introduced too early will not be tolerated well by an infant. If these responses were ignored with no change in diet, the body would eventually be in jeopardy from repeated vomiting and/or diarrhea. The survival solution is for the stomach muscle to only partially contract so the vomiting stops. Meanwhile, we continue to stuff it and tell it to shut up! Through life we continue to put down the hatch anything or everything we feel like, whenever we like, in any combination – foods, pseudo-foods, liquids, stimulants, chemicals, drugs. This creates the conditions for stomach problems many experience as adults.

When GERD or Hiatus Hernia is diagnosed we tell the body to shut up even more by taking medications to inhibit stomach acid production or to neutralize stomach acid. This approach does not deal with the underlying causes of the stomach problems and it takes away the effectiveness of stomach acid. Adequate stomach acid is physiologically very important to digestive health and digestive health is vital to prevent many other chronic diseases.

  1. Stomach acid is the “sparkplug” of the digestive system. It stimulates peristalsis where the stomach muscles rhythmically churn to mix the food with gastric juices and send the food to the duodenum and small intestine. Stomach acid stimulates the pancreas and gallbladde to work properly for continued efficient digestion.
  2. Minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc and Iron cannot be absorbed without adequate stomach acid.
  3. Stomach acid kills unwanted microbial pathogens found in foods.

A licensed Naturopathic Doctor can assist you with food choices and stress management promoting efficient and functional digestion for optimal health.

For more information on digestive health I encourage you to read the classic book by Jonn Matsen, N.D.Eating Alive Prevention Thru Good Digestion. It contains physiological explanations accompanied with humorous cartoons. Another excellent resource nicely illustrated is Gut Solutions by Brenda Watson, N.D. and Leonard Smith, M.D.

Call 519-376-9696 to book an appointment

Kathleen Finlay