Investigating Acid Reflux
The ENT (Ear/Nose/Throat) doctor I saw was quite blasé about my diagnosis of gastric reflux and the prescribed treatment. Maybe she sees hundreds of patients a week with this condition, but this was all very new to me, causing me a great deal of anxiety and consternation. Less than one minute after I started describing my symptoms to her, she was prepping me for a nasal laryngoscopy (http://www.calsinus.com/otolaryngology_ent_ear_nose_and_throat/nasal_endoscopy/technology.php
) by spraying local anesthesia into my nostrils.
She didn't ask me ahead of time if I agreed to this procedure, she didn't even tell me what she was going to do (I had to look up the actual name and description of this procedure on the internet after the fact). The medical assistant came in with the equipment, and the next thing I knew, the doctor was inserting a tube through my nostril and down into my throat. It wasn't painful, it was weird and slightly uncomfortable, but the thing that bothered me the most was the fact that she hadn't even discussed this with me ahead of time. All I can say is I'm glad my husband was there the entire time to help me stay calm and focused. The entire procedure was over in less than two minutes, and in the next five minutes I had my diagnosis and prescription.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the doctor's remedy for me was a 3-month prescription for Protonix, a proton-pump inhibitor that "works" by completely shutting down the production of stomach acid. She explained that there was a kind of sore on my esophagus that was caused by the reflux of stomach acid traveling up the esophageal tube and getting into areas of the throat it didn't belong. She also mentioned that as we age (I'm 56) the esophageal valve gets lazy and doesn't always stay closed when it is supposed to, thus allowing reflux to occur more frequently. She stressed that the sore could take up to three months to heal, and that living with reflux in general could raise my chances of throat cancer. The reason for the Protonix is to keep stomach acid out of the picture until the sore heals. Protonix itself does not do anything about the floppy esophageal valve, or anything to heal the sore.
I was always under the impression that those of us on a plant-based low-fat diet would not have problems with reflux. I really thought that was primarily an ailment of those eating meat and dairy products. So I shared with my doctor that I was vegan, and my diet was very low fat. I asked her if there were other foods I should be looking at that might be contributing to the problem. And indeed there are: Coffee (including decaf), alcohol, chocolate, citrus, raw onions, raw bell peppers, sometimes cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic, hot peppers, all carbonated beverages, nuts & avocados (due to the fat). And the biggest surprise of all, mint! This is because mint relaxes the sphincter muscle between the stomach and esophagus which allows stomach acids to flow back into the esophagus.
As you can see from this list of foods, most are completely acceptable on a plant-based McDougall-style eating plan. But still, there were culprits on this list that I knew I was indulging in too frequently, and I felt that with a little detective work and discipline, I could probably narrow down my specific offenders, eliminate them, and allow my body to heal itself naturally, without taking heavy duty drugs.
In my next post I will share what I learned about the side effects of Protonix; the way our digestive tracts change as we age (and how this contributes to reflux); the plan I devised for myself to eliminate or reduce possible problem foods in my diet.