Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reflux explained

In the 2.5 years Ellie has struggled with reflux (among many other digestive symptoms) I've been uniquely perplexed by this symptom. Many nights I wonder - why reflux tonight, and not another night? What was different about today's food?

Western medicine has a very mixed-up understanding of reflux, believing it is caused by too much acidity in the stomach. This explains why we had Ellie on acid-reducing medication for months when she was younger. But it never did any good. And I've talked with lots of other parents with similar stories. I remember a good friend telling me about his little boy who had horrible reflux and was put on medication. "How's the medicine working?" the doctor asked a few weeks later. "Well," my friend cheerfully replied, "at least the vomit smells like bubble gum now!"

It's mind boggling how off-base modern medicine is about reflux. Reflux is actually caused by low stomach acidity. When Ellie is having reflux we give her a drink that's water mixed with Apple Cider Vinegar. The vinegar quickly increases the acidity of her stomach and helps her body digest her food. The reflux goes away. But that's about as far as my knowledge went.

Yesterday I was reading the book "Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Sypmtoms When My Lab Tests Are Normal" (which has to be the world's worst book title) and I found a section that is by far the best explanation I've ever read about the mechanisms behind reflux. Ironic that I was reading a book for my own health to find an answer to Ellie's problems, but, as always, I find our health is intricately connected. Here's what the author wrote:
Hypothyroidism can lead to hypochlorhydria, a condition in which the stomach produces too little stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid (HCl). For someone with acid reflux, this may sound like a good thing, but in fact hypochlorhydria often causes that problem. When food is not digested thoroughly by sufficient stomach acid, it putrefies, ferments, and becomes rancid in the stomach. The small intestine naturally tries to refuse entry to this rotting mess, so it backs up into the esophagus, irritating the delicate tissue and causing heartburn. Also, because the food is not sufficiently acidic (although it's certainly acidic enough to burn your esophagus), it does not stimulate the gallbladder to secrete bile to emulsify fats, nor does it signal the pancreas to secrete digestive enzymes for further digestion. The poorly digested, rotting food moves through the intestines, eventually causing inflammation, infection, and intestinal permeability. Whenever a pattern of phypochlorhydira is observed, a thyroid disorder should be ruled out, and any time thyroid malfunction is observed, hypochlorhydria must be considered. In either case, supplemental hydrochloric acid should be used until the patterns resolve.
 Many don't realize it, but the gallbladder is an important digestive organ because it secretes bile to emulsify fats so the body can easily assimilate them. When fats are sufficiently emulsified by bile they transport minerals, and they don't go rancid in the GI tract, which would cause inflammation and infection. Hypothyroidism has been shown to impair gallbladder function, causing the organ to become distended and contract sluggishly, thus not releasing enough bile. A sluggish gallbladder also causes the liver's detoxification pathways to become sluggish and backed up, so that the organ cannot effectively detoxify hormones, toxins and other metabolites. It is important to support hypothyroidism and cleanse the liver and gallbladder to restore gallbladder function. 
Given our historical problems with Ellie's digestion and the fact that she is currently taking both digestive enzymes (to supplement what her pancrease isn't doing) and bile salts (to supplement what her gallbladder isn't doing) I find this explanation absolutely fascinating. And it doesn't matter that Ellie hasn't been diagnosed with Hashimoto's (though my doctor told me recently that there's an 80% chance she inherited it from me) because we've already observed the symptoms of this messed up digestive pattern.

It breaks my heart to think of  a "rotting mess" inside Ellie's stomach. Gross. I feel like the little Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike to prevent the whole thing from bursting. Supplementing with digestive enzymes isn't the answer. Supplementing with bile salts isn't the answer. Even GAPS wasn't the answer to heal Ellie's gut. I keep trying and trying and she's not healing. I feel like I must be missing something.

I think back to the quote from Elaine Gotsshal in Breaking the Viscious Cycle, which is "that which the body cannot digest does harm." But I feel like Ellie's diet is far too restricted already. Even though I think there are foods currently in her diet that she could benefit from me pulling back out, I just can't bring myself to do it. It's been too long and she's been through so much. I don't want to take any more foods away from her - I want to add foods!

We have some testing coming up that will hopefully give us a clearer understanding of what's gone wrong in Ellie's gut. Hopefully that will shed some light on our next steps.


  1. Have you looked into Bedrok (Body Ecology Diet Recovering Our Kids) Children Wellness program by Donna Gates? That maybe the answer you need. Tons of info on the
    Good luck!!

  2. Hi Wendy,

    We are familiar with the Body Ecology Diet and actually practice it to some extent. I like to think of our diet as Paleo plus some select and limited grains. I didn't realize Donna Gates had adapted it for kids - will definitely do some reading on it. Thanks!