The Paleo Diet and Acid Reflux

Last week, Chris Kresser published a new article on his site called “Is GERD an Autoimmune Disease?”. GERD, which is also known as “Acid Reflux Disease” stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease……and is literally a pain in the neck for millions of people across the world.

“Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease that occurs when stomach acid or, occasionally, bile flows back (refluxes) into your food pipe (esophagus). The backwash of acid irritates the lining of your esophagus and causes GERD signs and symptoms.” – Mayo Clinic

Worked well for me. ? Brand and generic drugs are therapeutically and chemically equivalent.

In his article, Chris goes against the mainstream and suggests that GERD is not simply a question of excessive stomach acid, like most doctors would have us believe. The blame is usually placed upon “fatty” or “greasy” foods causing an excess of acid, but Chris doesn’t agree:


Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

What if GERD is not caused by acid burning the esophagus?

In a 2009 study Souza and colleagues connected the esophagus directly to the duodenum (the upper part of the small intestine) in a group of rats, thus permitting acid to reflux freely into the esophagus. (5) To their surprise, it took 3 weeks for damage to the esophagus to occur. Commenting on the results, senior author Stuart Spechler said:

That doesn’t make sense if GERD is really the result of an acid burn, as we were all taught in medical school. Chemical injuries develop immediately. If you spill battery acid on your hand, you don’t have to wait a month to see the damage.

If acid itself caused the damage, we’d expect to see the damage start at the superficial layers of the esophageal tissue, and then progressively deepen. Instead, this study found the opposite. 3 days after the initial acid exposure, there was no surface damage – but inflammation had already begun to develop at the deepest layer of the tissue. This inflammation didn’t rise to the surface layers until about 3 weeks after the initial acid exposure.

This suggests that GERD is an autoimmune disease.

Acid refluxing into the esophagus doesn’t damage the mucosal lining. Instead, it causes the esophagus to release inflammatory cytokines that attract inflammatory cells like interleukin-8, interleukin-6, and others. It is this inflammatory process – and not the initial exposure to stomach acid – that causes the tissue damage characteristic of GERD.

Do you have GERD – or NERD?

The theory that GERD is not caused by chemical injury is supported by the fact that 70% of westerners diagnosed with GERD have no visible tissue damage.

In fact, these people don’t have GERD at all. They have NERD, or Non-Erosive Reflux Disease. Tissue biopsy of their esophagus shows inflammation developing at the base layers of the esophagus like GERD sufferers, but no damage to the surface layers as the conventional theory would predict. It’s unclear at this point why the tissue injury progresses to the superficial layers in GERD – but not NERD – sufferers, but this study suggests that the answer may be an autoimmune mechanism.”

Chris goes on to talk about some of the REAL causes of GERD, so you should definitely head on over there and read the whole article.

The Paleo Diet and Acid Reflux


ACID! Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Before I began walking down Paleo diet-Road, I was an average consumer of the S.A.D diet (Standard American Diet), which of course included lots and lots and lots of wheat. I suffered HORRIBLY with acid reflux on a daily basis. Antacids were my friends, and they went with me everywhere I went. From the middle of the bupropion day, directly after lunch, all the way through to bedtime, I was a slave to jar of little flavored calcium carbonate pills. The pain was horrible, and the sensation in my throat made me cough every few minutes to rid my esophagus of the acid. The coughing was bad enough, but if I had to belch (which I also did frequently!), it was like belching fire!

Do I have it anymore? No. When I started eating according to the Paleo template, and therefore avoiding gluten containing grains, the issue went away almost immediately, and has never returned. Sure, I lost some weight too, but I was never obese per se, so the association with obesity couldn’t really be applied to my situation at the time. I really believe that the acid reflux, along with a whole slew of other issues were tormenting me, thanks to the inclusion of gluten in my diet. When the gluten was removed, so too were all of the problems that were almost certainly autoimmune related.

If you have GERD, and you eat wheat, cutting the wheat from your diet is the easiest thing to do to eliminate the problem. All gluten containing grains are excluded from the Paleo diet, so give it a try. Check out my post on gluten, if you’re not familiar with this nasty little protein. I personally believe it’s a better solution than popping another costly pill that is doing nothing but masking your symptoms of a larger problem, while lining the pockets of the big pharmaceutical companies… about you?


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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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