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Breathing Difficulties and Gut Disorders

Dr. Matthew Marturano By Dr. Matthew Marturano, Naturopathic Physician
Friday, February 1, 2013
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Most people don't associate breathing difficulty with digestive disorders. However, new studies show a number of seemingly unrelated symptoms, including breathing difficulties, can arise from gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. In fact, they may be the only symptoms of what's known as "silent GERD."

GERD is a more serious version of gastroesophageal reflux (GER), a common form of heartburn or acid reflux. GER causes a burning feeling in the chest or throat and sour acid taste in the mouth. GERD can also exacerbate symptoms in people suffering from asthma, chronic cough and pulmonary fibrosis.

GER is the result of the lower esophageal sphincter or LES opening spontaneously or not closing properly, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. GER occurring more than twice a week is diagnosed as GERD, which can lead to more serious health problems. Some factors that may contribute to GERD include obesity, pregnancy and smoking.

The symptoms of silent GERD include:

  • Chronic hoarseness due to acid reflux damage to the voice box.
  • Throat problems such as soreness, a lump which won't go away, frequent hiccups, a nagging cough, trouble swallowing or a frequent need to clear the throat, caused by acid reflux into the pharynx.
  • Tooth decay due to erosion from stomach acid.
  • Respiratory problems such as wheezing or difficulty catching the breath, caused by airway irritation from acid reflux.

Diet and Nutrition
GERD can be addressed through some basic lifestyle changes: losing weight (if appropriate), eating smaller meals more often, cutting back on alcohol, quitting smoking and not eating three or four hours before bedtime.

Certain foods may cause or exacerbate acid reflux, such as:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Citrus
  • High fat or fried foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Garlic and onions
  • Tomato sauce
  • Chocolate
  • Mint flavorings

Herbal Remedies
Some herbal remedies thought to help prevent acid reflux are licorice, slippery elm, marshmallow and turmeric. Licorice tea or capsules taken after a meal can reduce extra acid production. Slippery elm mucilage, taken with water, forms a protective coating within the throat, mouth and stomach. Marshmallow acts in a similar manner to slippery elm but forms an even thicker, gel-type coating. Turmeric is used to treat heartburn and upset stomach through its anti-inflammatory properties.

Dietary Supplements
Two dietary supplements stand out as being helpful to preventing GERD. First, calcium helps tighten up the LES, preventing the occurrence of GERD when taken after meals and before bedtime. It's best to drop 250 mg of calcium citrate powder in a glass of water, let it dissolve and drink. Swallowing calcium tablets won't work since the calcium won't be instantly dissolved.

The second dietary supplement for GERD is digestive enzymes. Enzymes speed up digestion and thus decrease the amount of distension of the stomach after a meal. A great way to combine the elements of both of these supplements is to mix a powdered enzyme into the calcium powder and water mixture.

Heartburn and indigestion should always be evaluated by a physician, as they may be symptoms of a more serious, underlying problem, such as an ulcer, gallbladder disease or even the onset of a heart attack. Breathing problems may be related to asthma, or other pulmonary problems; however, silent GERD should also be considered. Once a diagnosis of GERD is made, a few simple lifestyle and dietary changes may be all that's needed to remedy the problem.

Keep yourself discomfort free and have a great weekend!


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