Chiropractic for…Heartburn???

I had the opportunity to work with a patient yesterday who presented with neck and mid back pain that he attributed to “too much time at the computer.” In talking to and examining this gentleman, I also discovered that he had been previously diagnosed with GERD (acid reflux for which he had been on Nexium for 5 years), suspected hiatal hernia (when the stomach protrudes into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm, for which he was just left to deal with), suffered transient bouts of dizziness (resembling benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), and had previously undergone a thyroidectomy due to cancer. While I felt bad for the man I couldn’t help but to feel motivated. Here was a man who had run the gauntlet of traditional allopathic modes of treatment and has now wound up in front of me due to the quintessential chiropractic back pain. The excitement was generated due to the fact that many of these issues can be neurologically explained, and intelligently treated through the application of functional neurology.

For this post we will look closer at the issue of acid reflux aka heartburn. The current mainstream approach to treating this problem not only makes it worse, but can lead to a wide array of additional problems. When someone presents with that burning pain in their chest especially after meals, the Doctor proceeds with the seemingly slam dunk diagnosis of acid reflux and prescribes some more powerful antacids than the individual was already taking. The over the counter medications (including Maylox and Mylanta) work by neutralizing the stomach acid. When these don’t seem to do the trick, more powerful drugs (including Zantac, Prilosec, and in this man’s case Nexium, etc.) are prescribed to stop the production of the acid altogether. As you will soon see, both of these methods can be problematic, but first let’s review what goes on when you chow on some grub.

After chewing your food and swallowing, it is sent down your esophagus and into your stomach. Separating your stomach from your esophagus is a door like structure called your cardiac sphincter. This structure opens to let food in and closes while stomach acid is secreted and break down occurs. Stomach acid is absolutely necessary in order to continue the breakdown of your food into smaller parts, which can then be further handled and dismantled by pancreatic enzymes secreted in the small intestines. It is in the small intestines that you absorb most of your vital nutrients. However, these steps must occur in order and for the most part, one cannot make up for a previous skipped step. Meaning, if you do not secrete proper stomach acid, your food will miss a crucial step during digestion that enables you to absorb and take advantage of the life sustaining nutrients which you consume it for in the first place. This can also lead to larger, intact proteins that can embed in and damage the intestinal wall, opening the door for gut permeability and a leaky gut. This mechanism was described in .

Another critical aspect of the relevant physiology is the nervous system’s control of the various mechanisms of digestion. As mentioned in previous posts, much of your body’s organ function is due to the proper balance between the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PSNS) nervous systems. (See: to review) A basic way to remember the two is sympathetic = “fight or flight” and parasympathetic = “rest and digest.” Being that the PSNS is responsible for digestion, it prompts the secretion of stomach acid and digestive enzymes necessary for proper breakdown as well as the smooth muscle contractions that take place to gently propel food down your digestive tract.

The issue comes into play here when there is an imbalance between your PSNS and SNS. When the SNS is dominant (and thus PSNS inhibited) it leads to dysfunction of the cardiac sphincter. This leads to the sphincter being open and stomach contents (bathed in acid) are permitted to come in contact with and irritate the esophagus. And now you have your burning chest pain.

Sick care mode of attack: be lazy and treat the symptom.

We have burning due to stomach acid irritating the esophagus, so let’s neutralize or outright turn off the production of stomach acid. Pain goes away (as long as you continue to take the medicine) and you are seemingly good to go. Never mind the fact that you are no longer producing the necessary stomach acid to properly digest your food, leading to malnutrition and a potential leaky gut. Never mind that by turning off the production of stomach acid (a function of the PSNS) you are further inhibiting the PSNS as a whole and thus creating further imbalance in favor of your SNS. Other issues that go along with an overactive SNS: high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, decreased blood flow and subsequent function of ALL your organs. This is due to the fact that the SNS is your “fight or flight” mechanism. If you are in an emergency and need to escape or throw down, the body redirects the majority of blood flow to your skeletal muscles in order move swift and strong, and as a consequence, your organs are neglected.

True health care mode of attack: take time to identify the cause, correct the imbalance and prevent the problem from reoccurring.

Through the application of function neurology recognition of SNS and PSNS imbalance can identified and corrected. Many times an overactive SNS is due to one side or hemisphere of your brain functioning at a lower level than the other side. This side of reduced cortical function or “hemisphericity” can be identified and treated accordingly though manual methods, including the adjustment. There are countless reasons that this imbalance can occur, but rest assured it can be checked and corrected.

The other frequent linkage made to heartburn is stress. When you are stressed the balance of your nervous system tends to shift more to the SNS. This would make sense as your body interprets stress as a fight situation and thus the “fight or flight” SNS kicks in. This can lead to sphincter dysfunction, but not excess acid production. Remember, stomach acid production is a function of your “rest and digest” PSNS. Being stressed out and activation of the SNS actually inhibits the digestive process, which includes the production and secretion of the hydrochloric acid in your stomach. So by adding an external source of stomach acid inhibition, you actually further perpetuate the imbalance in favor of the SNS through feedback mechanisms. Remember, it’s all connected. Do you see how the lazy sick care method of masking symptoms can actually cause even more harm?

As I stated in this and an earlier post, this comprehensive, holistic approach provides such a sense of optimism. It takes more time to conduct a thorough history and examination, but to accurately diagnosis the cause and eliminate symptoms by way of addressing that primary cause of the body’s dysfunction in the first place should be the preferred, primary mode of healthcare delivery in this and any other country. And while it is unfortunately not yet the mainstream, it is one that is already available to you all through chiropractic in combination with fields like that of functional neurology. So break the cycle of symptom masking drugs, which cause more symptoms, to be masked by more drugs, and go get checked out today.

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