Millions seek natural remedies for acid reflux

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HOUSTON - About 70 million Americans suffer from acid reflux. Many of them are trying to find a natural way to relieve their pain.

You may have experienced the heartburn, indigestion, nausea -- and the holiday season diet of high fat food and alcohol can make it worse. 

It can be aggravated by things like high-fat foods, chocolate and alcohol, which are often part of the diet this holiday season.

Relief often comes with costly prescriptions, but chronic use can cause dangerous side effects. That's why more and more people are looking for natural remedies.

In 2007, Kelli Minson was jarred awake by her husband, Dr. Matthew Minson.

"Matt woke me up really, really early in the morning to ask me to take him to the hospital and he said he couldn't breathe," she told our sister station KPRC in Houston.

Matt explained, "(The feeling) was rapidly progressing, so I went into the study and wrote a quick note should paramedics arrive and I wasn't able to communicate with them."

He was diagnosed in the emergency room.

Matt said, "(The doctor) came back and said, 'You've got reflux, a progressive case of reflux, and I was surprised."

He has what's called Silent Reflux. There are often no symptoms until it's too late.

Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease, or GERD, is very common.

Food or liquid in the stomach leaks back up into the esophagus, causing irritation or heartburn.

Matt was given a prescription and asked to sleep head elevated.

He said, " If I would go into a recumbent position or lie down flat, I'd start to feel this fullness in my throat and start to experience the same sort of problem I had initially. Once you've gone through that and know what you're dealing with, you're like, 'Here it comes again.'"

When they couldn't find anything readily available, Kelli invented The Gravity1st Elevated Sleep Systems™ mattress.  It fits on top of a regular mattress and has a seven inch incline. The cost ranges from $249 to $379.

Kelli explained, "We tried really, really hard to get the cost of the largest mattress we make within the range of a one-month supply of medication that was out of pocket, and I think we came within about $25, so we're pretty pleased about that."

Matt said, "Probably within a week, I was dramatically sleeping better."

UTHealth gastroenterologist Dr. Drew Dupont practices at the Digestive Disease Center at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. He said sleeping with the head elevated has been shown to decrease the acid level in the esophagus.

"It definitely works. It doesn't really prevent reflux, but it increases the emptying from the esophagus. So you still may get the reflux, but it clears out faster, so you get less of the problems at night," said Dupont.

Dupont said if you're having problems with acid reflux more than twice a week, you'll want to see a doctor.

"Over time, the lining of your esophagus changes. You kind of adapt, but it's a condition called Barrett's Esophagus and there's a very, very small risk of developing cancer of the esophagus if you have this condition," Dupont added.

Long-term prescription drugs have been associated with bone loss and fractures. That's why so many sufferers are looking for alternatives.

Evamor Naturally Alkaline Artesian Water has a pH level of 8.8, which is 80 times higher than most bottled waters.

"We're seeing a lot of interest," said Damon Michaels, the company's vice president of marketing. "It's growing by leaps and bounds."

He explained that while marketing the performance water as fresh tasting and pure, they also heard from consumers that it helped alleviate acid reflux.

"The high pH in the water itself helps permanently deactivate or permanently turn off that pepsin and that's where you get relief," said Michaels.

Wendy Nielsen, wife for former Houston Oilers quarterback Giff Nielsen, added, "Water is so important. You need to drink a lot of water and it needs to be high pH."

Wendy has also adopted what's known as the low-acid Alkaline Diet.

She explained, "Just every single part of my health has improved as a result of the way I eat and the way I sleep and I need to exercise, of course. It's not magic. But as I drink lots of this pure water and as I eat things that are much healthier, I feel better. I feel lighter. I have more energy."

She and her daughter-in-law, Taylor, co-author a blog called pHabulife.

"Drinking really, really, good water was really important and just having really, healthy, whole, organic food, just nothing really processed, nothing too sugary, just helped me feel the energy that I needed," said Taylor.

A typical Alkaline Diet lunch is homemade pasta sauce, whole wheat pasta and lots of salad with low acid dressing, even crepes for dessert.

"It's good, common sense: organic, whole, local," said Wendy.

She used to suffer from a chronic cough, which can be a symptom of GERD.

"It was debilitating," said Wendy.  "It got to where I'd have to look for exits everywhere because I'd start choking. My goal was to manage it and to make it better. Within three months, I was feeling so much better that I started to make it a way of life."

Dupont agreed that for many GERD sufferers, changes in diet can sometimes help.

He said, "The theory is if you can decrease the acid level, you decrease the activity of this enzyme and so symptomatically, you may be better with the decrease of acid level and this enzyme as well. The jury's still out on these kinds of things, but it certainly can't hurt."

He said despite lifestyle changes, 10 to 15 percent of patients still need long term treatment.

Dupont said that by the time patients make an appointment to see him.

 "It's gotten to point where they've failed the 'water test,' so we usually have to try other things," he said.

Dupont said there are new medications, even surgical options currently being developed.

But, if you're experiencing vomiting, weight loss, bleeding or have suffered from chronic reflux for at least five years, you'll need an endoscopy to make sure there is no long term damage.

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