Hiatal Hernia and Acid Reﬂux Disease
A person is said to have a hiatal hernia when part of the stomach protrudes, or her- niates, through the opening of the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. While almost half of all Americans over the age of forty have this disorder, many of these people experience few, if any, symptoms. Hiatal hernias are generally not considered dan- gerous unless they produce persistent or severe symptoms.
The food you eat starts its digestive journey in the mouth and then slides down the esophagus, a long tube that leads to the stomach. Because food is meant to travel through the digestive system in one direction only, the base of the esophagus is out- ﬁtted with a ring of muscles that acts as a sentry. At the stomach entrance, the mus- cles relax and allow the food to pass into the stomach, where acids start to break it down into a digestible stew. Once you’re ﬁnished eating and the esophagus is empty, the muscular rings and valves tighten. This action keeps the food and the acids from backing up out of the stomach and reﬂuxing into the esophageal tube.
Hiatal hernias can keep this system from working properly. When part of the stom- ach slides out of place (herniates), the ability of the muscular rings to keep food and acid in the stomach may be inhibited. In a phenomenon known as acid reﬂux, food and acid splash up into the esophagus, causing heartburn, chest pains, and belching. A person with severe symptoms may regurgitate stomach acid into the throat and the mouth. Sometimes the acid reﬂux leads to angina-like chest pains and spasms; the symptoms may be so intense that they are mistaken for a heart attack. Over long peri- ods of time, the constant irritation of the esophagus can lead to inﬂammation, scar- ring, ulceration, hemorrhaging, and even esophageal cancer.
As with almost all digestive disorders, poor diet plays a large role in the unpleas- ant symptoms of hiatal hernias. Anything that contributes to an overly full stomach— eating too much, or eating foods that are not easily digested—encourages the stomach’s contents to back up. In many cases, food allergies make the condition worse. Stress can trigger severe gastric upset as well. Anything that traumatizes the stomach muscles, such as injury, surgery, or pregnancy, can lead to hiatal hernias, as can the general weakening of muscles most people associate with aging. Finally, some peo- ple inherit a genetic tendency to this condition.
Bodywork therapies can be utilized to improve the structural problem that occurs with this condition. This involves manipulating the soft tissue, as well as the stom- ach itself, in a downward direction. This is described further in this chapter.
Acid reﬂux can also be caused by being overweight, from stomach infections, and from the effects of stress.
No matter what the cause, hiatal hernias respond well to dietary, herbal, and stress- reduction therapies. If you have this disorder, you’ll also want to get regular check- ups to monitor the health of your esophagus.
• Symptoms are usually worse after eating.
• Heartburn that’s worse when bend- ing over or lying down
• Pains and muscle spasms in the chest
• Acid reﬂux
• Poor diet
• Food allergies
• Weakness of stomach muscles
• Trauma to the stomach area
• Inherited tendency
Eat basic, unreﬁned foods that have not been stripped of their natural ﬁber. Whole grains, raw vegetables, and raw nuts and seeds are all good choices.
Avoid overeating by planning several light meals throughout the day.
The following tests help assess possible reasons for hiatal hernia and acid reﬂux:
Hormone testing (progesterone for women)—saliva, blood, or urine Digestive function and microbe/parasite/candida testing—stool analysis Food and environmental allergies/sensitivities—blood, electrodermal
Drink plenty of water. To maintain good digestive health, you need to drink a glass of clean water every two waking hours. In addition, have a large glass or two when- ever you feel symptoms coming on. The water will dilute and neutralize the rising stomach acids.
The powers of cabbage juice to soothe the digestive tract are extraordinary. Drink a glass every day.
Add ﬂaxseeds or ﬂaxseed oil to your meals every day.
Food to Avoid
Avoid overeating. Don’t eat on the run; take time to enjoy your meals and to savor each bite. Stop eating before you feel full.
Do not eat just before bedtime. Allow two to three hours for your stomach to empty. Stay away from foods that are hard to digest. Saturated, hydrogenated, and partially hydrogenated fats linger in the stomach and often lead to acid reﬂux. The most fre-
quent culprits are fried and greasy foods, red meat, and heavy sauces.
Food allergies are linked to hiatal hernias, so see the Food Allergies section and follow the elimination diet given there. If a food causes you trouble, eliminate it from your diet. You may ﬁnd that your symptoms improve signiﬁcantly or even disappear.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, and spicy or minty foods. They irritate the stom- ach and can aggravate your symptoms.
DGL is a spe- cial type of licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) extract used by holistic doctors to relieve acid reﬂux and ulcer pain.
DGL stimulates cell growth of the mucous layer that lines the stomach and the intestines.
It also improves blood ﬂow and reduces muscle spasms. A study involving one hun- dred people com- pared the effects of DGL to those of the pharmaceutical antacid drug Taga- met and found that both were equally effective for healing ulcers.
If you have a hiatal hernia, a three-day juice fast with green drinks and vegetable juices will help alkalinize your system; include healing herbal teas as well. Do not drink cit- rus fruit juices during this time, as they will only acidify and irritate your stomach lining.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Hiatal Hernia and Acid Reflux
Super Prescription #1 Licorice root (DGL)
Chew one to two 400 mg tablets (or take in powder form) twenty minutes before each meal. DGL is a special type of licorice extract that soothes and heals the stom- ach and the esophagus. It does not cause high blood pressure.
Super Prescription #2 Aloe vera juice
Take 1 to 2 tablespoons three times daily or as directed on the container. Aloe vera promotes healing and soothes the digestive tract.
Super Prescription #3 Homeopathic Nux Vomica
Take a 30C potency two to three times daily. This homeopathic is speciﬁc for heart- burn and reﬂux.
Super Prescription #4 Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva)
Take 1 teaspoon, 300 mg of the capsules, or 3 ml of the tincture three times daily. This herb is used to soothe and reduce inﬂammation of the lining of the esopha- gus and the stomach.
Super Prescription #5 Digestive enzymes
Take 1 to 2 capsules of a full-spectrum blend with each meal. Enzymes help you to digest foods more effectively so that they are less likely to cause irritation. Note: Some people may need to use a formula that contains no protease, as this protein digestive enzyme may irritate the stomach for some individuals.
Super Prescription #6 Marshmallow root (Althea ofﬁcinalis)
Take 300 mg of the capsule or 3 ml of tincture three times daily. Marshmallow root soothes and reduces inﬂammation of the lining of the esophagus and the stomach.
Super Prescription #7 Probiotic
Take a product containing at least 4 billion active organisms daily. It contains friendly bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and biﬁdus, which improve digestive function.
Gentian Root (Gentiana lutea) improves overall digestive function. Take 300 mg or
10 to 20 drops ﬁve to ﬁfteen minutes before meals.
A super green food supplement, such as chlorella. spirulina, or a mixture of super green foods in a drink, helps to neutralize acidity. Take as directed on the container.
calcium and 250 mg of magnesium twice daily. Magnesium helps to relax tightened muscles of the esophagus and the stomach.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. For relief of acute acid reﬂux, take a 30C potency every ﬁfteen minutes up to four doses. For chronic acid reﬂux, take a 6x, 12x, 6C, 12C, or 30C dose twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive results. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consultation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Arsenicum Album is for a burning sensation in the esophagus or the stomach that is alleviated by drinking milk or frequently sipping on warm water and sitting up. The person feels anxious and restless.
Carbo Vegetabilis will help people whose sluggish digestion leads to ﬂatulence, belching, and bloating in the upper abdomen. People who beneﬁt from this remedy are often pale and cold. Despite their chilliness, they feel better with cool air and drinks.
Lycopodium (Lycopodium clavatum) is also for gas and bloating, but in this case the symptoms are usually brought on by anxiety and lack of conﬁdence. The person feels worse when wearing tight clothes and better when sipping warm drinks. There may be a sour taste in the mouth. Symptoms are often worse in the late afternoon and the evening.
Natrum Carbonicum is for people who have trouble digesting most foods, espe- cially milk.
Nux Vomica is for people with heartburn and reﬂux that occurs from stress, spicy foods, and alcohol. They are generally chilly, irritable, and oversensitive to stimuli (noise, light). Constipation is often a problem as well.
Pulsatilla (Pulsatilla pratensis) is helpful if you feel worse after eating rich and fatty foods. Symptoms are worse in a warm room and better with fresh air. You also tend to feel tearful when ill, and you greatly desire comfort.
Phosphorous helps when you have a burning pain in the stomach that feels better from cold drinks. However, soon after drinking, you feel nauseous and may vomit.
Sulphur is for burning pain and belching, accompanied by diarrhea. The person tends to be very warm and gets relief from ice cold drinks.
• Strengthen your upper digestive tract and reduce tension by working Peri- cardium 6.
• Stomach 36 gives general support to the entire body while improving your
ability to absorb nutrients.
• Lung 1 reduces stress.
• Conception vessel 12 reduces heartburn.
Work the areas corresponding to the stomach, the diaphragm, and the adrenal glands. To reduce stress, also work the solar plexus.
Other Bodywork Recommendations
A chiropractor, an osteopath, or a naturopath can perform a gentle manipulation of your stomach with a downward pull. This helps reduce the stomach protrusion and soft tissues that have gone too far up through the diaphragm. Noticeable improvements can be noted within a few treatments.
Also, acupuncture can be quite effective in managing the symptoms. See a quali- ﬁed practitioner.
Add any of the following oils to a warm bath, or dilute them in a carrier oil and use them in a gentle massage of your abdomen or lower back.
If your digestive system is slow to break down the food in your stomach, black pep- per will stimulate the process.
Chamomile and ginger oils will help soothe stomach pain.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
Any stress-reduction technique will help calm your stomach, so feel free to use any of the strategies listed in the Exercise and Stress Reduction chapter. You may ﬁnd that yoga is especially helpful, as it not only reduces stress but also builds up the abdom- inal muscles. Regular exercise and Pilates are excellent as well.
Bach Flower Remedies
See the chart on pages 648–650 to ﬁnd the remedy that best suits your personality and tendencies. Once you’ve chosen a remedy, place 10 drops of the liquid under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
If you are a quick, efﬁcient person who is easily angered by those who move more slowly, take Impatiens.
Rock Water is for opinionated people who keep tight control over their needs and desires.
If you’re an ambitious person and tend to judge others rather harshly, take Vine. Perfectionists who don’t like to compromise will be helped by Beech.
White Chestnut will quiet obsessive thoughts.
If you feel turmoil due to not forgiving others and have a tendency to feel sorry for yourself, then Willow would be appropriate for you.
• If you are obese, your symptoms will greatly improve if you lose weight. The dietary suggestions here may help, but see the Obesity entry if you need fur- ther advice.
• Do not wear clothes that ﬁt tightly around your midsection. Constrictive cloth- ing can push the stomach even farther out of place.
• Smoking aggravates heartburn, so if you smoke, quit. If you don’t, you must still avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
• Do not bend over, lie down, or put any great strain on your body within a few hours after eating. Organize your activities so that you can perform them when your stomach is empty.