By Dr. Jeffrey Eisenberg, MD

Sugar and Reflux

Americans spent 13 billion on acid reducers in 2006. GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can lead to esophageal scarring, constriction, ulceration, and cancer. Physicians prescribe these antacids to lower the acid content in the stomach so that when reflux occurs the resultant backwash into the esophagus becomes less harmful. However, there are problems associated with the chronic use and promotion of antacids.

You see, the stomach is supposed to have an acidic environment. It needs that low ph to properly digest food and absorb nutrients. Chronically low stomach acid from antacid use is associated with serious health complications since the stomach is no longer sterile; harmful bacteria are allowed to survive! Sugar intake can lead to the “leaky gut syndrome “ whereby undigested proteins and harmful bacteria leak into our circulation causing a cascading effect of inflammation, ultimately leading to autoimmune disease and a host of other maladies.

GERD is associated with dysfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This valve is supposed to be “one way”, allowing food from the esophagus to enter the stomach. So in people with a “leaky” LES what is the driving force that propels the stomach acid to go the “wrong way”, backwards into the esophagus? And shouldn't physicians direct their attention and treatment of reflux to this actual force, rather than prescribing chronic antacids to mitigate the side effects of acidic backwash?

I first became interested in this causal effect when I noticed that my reflux symptoms all but abated when I stopped consuming excess sugar. I was able to stop my antacids for the first time in over a decade! A review of the literature suggested a plausible answer: it turns out that excess sugar is fermented into hydrogen gas. This accumulation of hydrogen gas results in increased pressure in the stomach and is the propellant that drives the acid contents backwards into the esophagus. People with GERD frequently admit to excess belching.

So, GERD diminishes if one avoids excess sugar consumption. While more research is ongoing in this area, it seems wise to at least highlight the association. We, as a nation, can save billions in drug related costs and become healthier “gut wise” if we decrease our reliance and dependence on sugar!