Acid Reflux and GERD

Acid Reflux and GERD: How I Successfully Managed Them For Years

As a creator and a small business owner, we spend years building up our business, taking on every role inside the company to make it work. Long hours, late nights, and constant hustles can have long-term impacts on our health. One of the most frequently talked about medical conditions I hear from people like us are acid reflux, and even GERD. While certain meditations can be very effective in managing these uncomfortable symptoms, I wish there were more articles sharing experiences from people who have suffered from these conditions and have found longer-term remedies.

Why I wrote this

I received an official diagnosis of GERD in June 2016 after a severe episode of acid reflux on my 33rd birthday. It was years of discomfort, lack of information, and knowledge that led to this long-term impact. Luckily for me, not only was I able to overcome the frequency and severity of acid reflux episodes but also got off of regular medications. Whether I’m eating at home or going out, I know how to manage potential symptoms with a calm approach. The process was way less trivial than I had thought and took many trials and errors to figure out how to manage my initial conditions, and slowly discover the root cause and remedies over time. I also learned invaluable lessons as a creator and an entrepreneur in taking care of my overall health. Eating healthy (including knowing my trigger foods), sleeping well, and developing more balanced habits for running my business.

It has become abundantly clear that our health, including digestive health, is so essential to our business success.

WARNING: This is by no means official medical advice. Please do not assume that your discomfort is necessarily related to acid reflux or GERD if you have not received a proper diagnosis from your doctor. These conditions are often undiagnosed and misdiagnosed, but speaking with your healthcare providers first is still very important.

Acid Reflux vs. GERD

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and acid reflux are often used interchangeably, but they refer to related but slightly different conditions.

  1. Acid Reflux:
    • Definition: Acid reflux is a condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth and stomach. This backwash (reflux) can irritate the lining of your esophagus.
    • Frequency: Occasional acid reflux is common and does not necessarily mean one has GERD. People might experience it after eating a large meal, spicy food, or lying down too soon after eating.
    • Symptoms: The most common symptom is heartburn, a burning discomfort felt behind the breastbone. Other symptoms may include a sour taste in the mouth, regurgitation of food, or a feeling of food being stuck in the throat.
  2. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD):
    • Definition: GERD is a more serious, chronic form of acid reflux. It occurs when acid reflux happens frequently, leading to inflammation and irritation of the esophageal lining.
    • Frequency: GERD is diagnosed when acid reflux occurs more than twice a week or causes inflammation in the esophagus. Long-term damage to the esophagus can lead to complications like esophageal stricture or Barrett’s esophagus.
    • Symptoms: GERD shares symptoms with acid reflux, such as persistent heartburn, but may also include more severe symptoms like difficulty swallowing

Here are some key differences to note:

  • Frequency and Severity: Occasional acid reflux doesn’t mean you have GERD. GERD is diagnosed when the symptoms of acid reflux are more frequent and severe.
  • Long-term Consequences: While occasional acid reflux is generally not a cause for concern, GERD can lead to more serious health problems if left untreated, including esophageal damage and increased risk for esophageal cancer.

My journey

It took years for me to receive an official diagnosis of GERD (in 2016).

It became obvious upon the diagnosis that I had mild to more severe symptoms of acid reflux prior, which I had ignored for a long time, simply because I didn’t know what it was. In a way, I was too comfortable living with discomfort.

Stomach and digestive pain was never thought to be an illness in my family. I suspected it was due to stress, not eating well, and overworking in college (as an international student). After that, I was launching a career in a high-pressure tech consulting, and advertising agency environment for a decade before starting my own business in January 2016.

The story of how I finally received an official diagnosis was rather unpleasant. At the time, I was traveling to see my mom who lived in Beijing. To support her artistic endeavor, I decided to go on a trip with her to a rural part of China. After a late-night dinner party with her colleagues eating all sorts of seafood, red meat, a few drinks, and desserts – we went to play at an arcade. While I felt fine going to sleep that night, I woke up an hour later with the feeling that my heart was going to pump out of my chest. Worse yet, I felt something stuck in my throat and I had trouble breathing.

My heart rate went over the roof, my palms sweating and eventually, I reached a point of a panic attack for the first time in my life (at the age of 33). The ambulance came, tested my vitals, and decided I didn’t have a life-threatening condition. To play it safe, I was sent to a local ER. Stayed overnight and was discharged the next morning without a diagnosis or meditation.

Now that’s a real problem! I didn’t know it was acid reflux then and I had to live the next two weeks without remedy. I couldn’t comfortably eat anything solid. Even keeping water down was a challenge. My heart rate would drastically go up whenever I was eating or drinking anything. It was a dark period of my life until weeks later when I returned to my primary care physician in Chestnut Hill, MA, I was then diagnosed with GERD and finally put on the right medicine, at the right frequency to manage my symptoms.

After GERD diagnosis, recovery begins

Omeprazole – the common remedy that helps

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The medication, omeprazole, is pretty basic and it worked. It was such a relief. All I had to do was to take it 20-30 minutes before any meal, and it seemed to help a lot.

Sleeping was a challenge for me for months. I woke up in the middle of the night nearly every day. Pacing up and down the hallway until my heart rate felt normal. Later I learned that it was ok to take medication before sleep. Please consult your physician before increasing or changing your doses.

The next six months were critical to me. Acid Reflux had altered my social life and made me feel really self-conscious. In short, I couldn’t eat at restaurants normally as I did before. After I eat a meal, even if it’s small, I have to get up within 15-20 minutes to move around for a while. Pacing through the restaurants was awkward, so I typically had to step outside. In retrospect, I realized I should just explain to my friends and family what I was going through. Seeing them was important so I appreciated their understanding of my need to get up regularly.

One time at a steak house for a dear friend’s birthday, my acid reflux became so bad that I had to excuse myself for a while before returning to the table. For those of you who have experienced acid reflux, the worst feeling isn’t just about the sour stomach, but the inability to breathe normally which can be very hard to manage.

Famotidine – a necessary alternative that acts a lot faster

As a result of my steak house experience, I had to seek out medicine that works faster than Omeprazole, which takes 20-30 minutes to kick in and is best taken before a meal. That is when I discovered famotidine, a supplement medicine recommended by my physician.

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Omeprazole and Famotidine are both medications used to treat conditions caused by excess stomach acid, but they belong to different drug classes and work in different ways (ChatGPT summary):

  • Mechanism of Action: Omeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) that directly inhibits the acid production mechanism, while famotidine is an H2 blocker that prevents the activation of acid production.
  • Onset and Duration: Omeprazole may take longer to begin working compared to an H2 blocker like famotidine, but it usually provides longer relief.
  • Side Effects and Risks: Long-term use of omeprazole has been associated with more serious risks compared to famotidine, including vitamin and mineral deficiencies and an increased risk of certain infections and kidney disease. Famotidine is generally considered safer for long-term use but might be less effective for severe acid-related conditions.
  • Use Cases: Famotidine might be preferred for quick relief or short-term treatment, whereas omeprazole is often used for chronic conditions due to its longer duration of action.

Both medications can be effective for treating acid-related conditions, and the choice between them may depend on the specific condition being treated, the severity of symptoms, patient history, and the need for short-term versus long-term treatment. Always consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best treatment option for your specific situation.

For me, famotidine worked so well that I was able to manage my condition with just 1-2 pills a day as needed, instead of taking omeprazole before each meal. Your individual needs may be different.

Natural remedies as supplements

By now you should know that I’m not recommending going on natural remedies when you have severe conditions. After taking omeprazole and famotidine for a few months, I was on a mission to reduce my acid reflux frequency and severity as much as possible.

Gut Aid from Plant Therapy

This little roll-on aromatherapy was and still is a friend when I’m feeling blue from mild digestive discomfort. I like to use it as needed throughout the day, but also at night when I’m feeling bloated. This is an affordable remedy from a lovely brand.

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Gaia reflux relief

Gaia Herbs Reflux Relief is a good-tasting tablet with marshmallow root, chamomile, aloe, licorice, and high mallow. These tablets are helpful with occasional heartburn and indigestion. They are slightly pricier but the bottle can last a while if you don’t need to take it frequently.

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Over time, I was able to replace medication with natural remedies from time to time. Not always. But I knew I was making progress and developing better habits, such as remembering to walk after I eat each and every time. It not only helped reflux symptoms but also lowered my blood sugar. Two birds, one stone!

Going on an elimination diet (Whole30)

Frankly, I never paid attention to my digestive health and nutrition much until my breaking point with GERD and acid reflux. At the age of 33, I knew I had to prioritize my health starting with understanding my body better, a lot better.

In the process of managing my condition, I noticed certain trigger foods that would flare up acid reflux. It wasn’t always easy to pinpoint because my experience was inconsistent. Some days I’d be ok with dairy or gluten or legume, and some days I’d suffer from pain, bloating, and rapid heart rate immediately after the meal.

That’s when I discovered Whole30 and knew I had to give it a try.

“The Whole30 Program is laid out in two phases: 30 days of elimination, and 10 days of reintroduction. For the first 30 days, you’ll be eating meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables and fruit; and natural, healthy fats. The list of foods you’ll eliminate may seem intimidating, but you’ve got 150 recipes here to see you through—and it’s only 30 days. Below is a summary of Whole30 elimination. (Please refer to The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom for a comprehensive overview of the Whole30 Program, FAQs, recommendations, and troubleshooting.)”

Whole30 wasn’t easy to do at the beginning because it required meal prep, not so much eating out. However, knowing it only lasted 30 days made the experiment tolerable. By eliminating so many ingredients from my diet, I noticed a significant shift in my body and my brain chemistry. Although weight was not the focus, I did manage to lose quite a bit of weight, especially in the first two weeks. After I completed the 30-day program, I FAILED to reintroduce food back into my diet. I found myself starting to eat everything all at once, instead of reintroducing only one food group at a time for 3 days and noting down how I felt.

During the 30-day period, I felt light in my body and gained new perspectives. Later I learned that 30-day is somewhat arbitrary, and some people may need longer than 30 days to benefit from the program. As for me, I became even more curious and encouraged to see how food is going to transform my health.

Twist and Turn: Discovering gluten-sensitivity

In the next few years, I lived and ate healthily and my diet consisted of lots of veggies, whole wheat products, and regular exercise. But my weight continues to rise from 120 lbs to over 130 lbs (and 135 lbs at my peak). This puzzled me. You really can’t pick apart how I eat and live, and I assumed that it was due to aging (now in my mid-30s) that weight gain is natural and part of my life. I also managed to reduce my acid reflux episodes to only once or twice a month. To someone who once lived with GERD, I had a lot to celebrate and be proud of already.

But I could feel and see the lump around my waist. My face looked inflamed at times with breakouts and discoloration that weren’t familiar to me. I also had regular shoulder pain, backache, and worse yet, small patches of eczema-looking skin conditions throughout the year. I stopped wearing shoes exposing any skin for years because I was so sun sensitive, that the top of my feet would be covered with bumps and almost blistering-looking patches.

If I recall correctly, I had lived with a much milder condition even in my younger years. And they became the norm in my 30s. Could these conditions be linked to my diet, and acid reflux? I hate to diagnose myself but my doctor had run out of ideas after sending me for a few blood tests, including celiac which came back negative, as well as over 40+ food allergy tests that were also negative.

That’s when I met Sean, a friend of a friend, who shared a similar experience until he decided to. goon a gluten-free diet for over 80 days and saw tremendous results. Weight loss was the most significant to him. Standing at 6’4”, he lost nearly 100 lbs just by removing gluten from his diet.

It wasn’t the 100 lbs that caught my eye, but 80 days?! Nobody told me that it would take longer than 30 days, ever! I then realized that popular marketing messages weren’t doing me any favor in believing that my body would be transformed after just 30 days.

Just like that, a finger-snap decision, I was determined to try gluten-free for at least 80 days with huge help from my mom who helped prepare my meals 3 times a day, with 100% gluten-free products including soy sauce that is also gluten-free.

Within 30 days, I noticed a change in my body and lost that gut below my waistline. Then after 60 days, I lost 10 lbs without ever feeling hungry.

Everyone close to me at the time noticed a significant change in my body and skin. My chronic neck, shower, and back pain were barely noticeable. Months after I published this video (and now over 22K views), US News interviewed me for a piece they had written about the gluten-free diet.

What now? Here’s what I always carry in my purse

As I’m writing this at the very end of 2023, years into my gluten-free journey (that’s right, I’m still gluten-free 95% of the time), I always carry a few things in my purse.

I carry a small Ziplock bag of key medications. For longer travels and potentially severe conditions, I carry a few tablets of famotidine. Before I need to take that, I’d be sure to take the following first.

Gluten Cutter

If you are gluten sensitive/intolerant, these are available at your local drug store (in the US), Gluten Cutter is a clear winner in many similar alternatives. I carry the pills with me wherever I go and will take one if I suspect the meal may contain gluten, including gluten-containing soy sauce at Asian restaurants. In case you are curious, I no longer eat regular pizza slices, but there are people I know who’d take this pill and eat any amount of gluten normally as advertised! But it’s a personal decision for me to remain conservative in gluten consumption.

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TUMS gas relief and antacid (and simethicone)

These mighty chewies are very effective and often go to work in seconds. I would take 1-2 when I feel bloated or have an upset stomach during or after a meal. These meds come in different forms too. If you prefer small pills that aren’t chewies, try simethicone straight up in the form of these tiny pills.

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Conclusion: where to go from here

This article started with my GERD and acid reflux journey to discovering my gluten intolerance. However, your situation and results will be dependent on your unique makeup. It’s very important to NOT assume that you have GERD, acid reflux, gluten intolerance, or celiac just by reading this, a proper diagnosis is necessary. Otherwise, you may be masking a different or potentially more severe medical condition.

However, if you have been diagnosed with similar conditions like mine, then it’s worth experimenting with diets and remedies that can potentially make you feel better long term.

Patience is a big part of my journey. Whether it’s a diet elimination diet, or removing a single ingredient, every step took longer than I expected, and my expectations were largely based on popular diets and marketing messages. Remember that you have your own timeline which may be longer than average.

Separating weight, skin, and digestive issues was another learning. We generally like to believe that the better we look, the better we feel, but the correlation isn’t always there. A couple of years after I started my gluten-free journey and lost 10 lbs (which was very noticeable on my frame standing at 5’4” and 130 lbs), my weight did bounce back from 120 lbs (lowest since gluten-free) to now 130 lbs average. This once upset me a little thinking that I looked better at a lower weight, I have to also acknowledge that I’m feeling great since all the adjustments made in the past years. Letting go of our expectations for looking and feeling top-shape, or perhaps giving new definitions of what they mean to us demands a new era of understanding and adaptation.

What are your thoughts? I hope you find bits and pieces helpful and look forward to learning from you too.

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