I want to first congratulate you for finding this article. This means, you have begun to effectively navigate the gauntlet of acid reflux guidance, tips, tricks and hacks that are available on the internet. The fact that you are reading this article on probiotics means you have at least begun to suss out some of the actual root causes of reflux.
This is critically important as there is so much bad information out there. It’s only natural that when we are wading through this sea of information that we gravitate towards anything that looks like a life preserver. Unfortunately, it’s more often than not that our discernment of one approach vs another is based on popularity rather than science. After all, if most people are doing it and saying it, it has to be the best option right? If you doubt this, consider the fact that we intuitively understand that acid reflux is a digestive disorder, yet we choose to medicate it by taking acid (digestion) suppressing medications!
Sure the medications suppress the symptoms in the short term, but it’s quite plain to see that suppressing digestive efficiency is less than beneficial in the long term. Doctors and regulators understand this. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration and your Doctor will both tell you these medications should not be used for longer than 14 days due to significant long term side effects (in this video, I share my personal experiences with these side effects). Nonetheless, they are prescribed and the prescriptions are renewed for years and years.
Prior to finding my cure, I took these medications for more than 15 years. I knew very well that the medications merely mitigated the symptoms of the disease, albeit poorly (I had to eat antacids by the fists full to manage my symptoms). Sadly, I didn’t know there was an alternative. I mean, my doctor just flat out told me:
“Your options are to take the medications for life and suffer the long term consequences or face esophageal cancer, as modern surgical techniques tend to last a few years at best.”
I say all that to say this: You should judge a potential acid reflux treatment based on its ability to affect the root causes of reflux, not based on the popularity of the treatment. I’ll say this another way because this is important: If you are unclear of a treatment’s impact to the underlying root causes of reflux, then you need to explore it further before deciding to put in your body. As you do, you will find that many of the popular remedies for acid reflux are quick fixes that mask the symptoms at best, and at worse are exacerbating the underlying condition.
For example, someone told me today that “acid reflux cocktails” are popular now. When I inquired as to what a cocktail included they said:
“They’re making a concoction of apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, honey, ginger in either hot or cold water”
This home remedy has a lot of good things in it, but there are some concerning things as well. For instance drinking apple cider vinegar regularly, even if diluted, can really do some damage to the soft tissues of your throat and can erode tooth enamel. And yes, this can still occur if you are drinking it with a straw. And please, please, don’t chase it with alkaline water as suggested in this article. If you don’t know why alkaline water is bad, you need to read my How I Cured My Silent Reflux article. Lastly, I would only recommend apple cider vinegar in capsule form and I wouldn’t take it on an empty stomach. For the ones I recommend, visit my resources page.
Next, there is cinnamon. It’s a great prebiotic source, but is also a common reflux trigger so this may have the untended impact of triggering reflux symptoms in some. Honey is a nice home remedy to soothing sore throats, but using this as a frequent remedy can have the unintended side effect of feeding and encouraging growth of undesirable bacteria in the gut. The ginger is the only thing in this cocktail that I would consider taking as it is a known anti-inflammatory and solid pre-biotic source. So to summarize my thoughts on this acid reflux cocktail I will acknowledge that the remedy might be helpful for some, but I would venture to guess that it only provides short term relief. It certainly does not heal acid reflux and it has significant potential to trigger and even exacerbate symptoms over time.
People often reach out to me citing half dozen or more remedies that they are trying in combination in order to find relief. I often hear “I’m taking aloe, slippery elm, DGL, Gaviscon, marshmallow root, acupuncture, chiropractic’s, turmeric, …” I certainly don’t fault people for seeking relief. I understand completely. My 15 years dealing with acid reflux were some of the darkest in my life, especially the last 6 months where my symptoms escalated out of control. Ultimately, what I want to challenge you to do is dig a little deeper so you can understand the efficacy of any supposed remedy before you start using it.
Having said all that, in this article I want to help you understand the incredibly important role that probiotics can play in addressing the root causes of acid reflux. We will cover the following topics:
Note that if you are new to this site, you should first read my How I Cured My Silent Reflux article as it explains the underlying root causes of acid reflux, its corresponding treatments, and provides the necessary context to understand the recommendations on this page. Note that the concepts in the article apply to acid reflux, GERD, and Silent Reflux. After reading that article, if you would like to learn more about probiotics and their role in treating acid reflux you can return to this article.
Before we cover the topic of probiotics, we need to take a step back to explain them in their proper context within the microbiome.
Over the last 20 years, an emerging field of study called the gut-brain-microbiome axis has delivered a paradigm shift in our understanding of human biology. This study has revealed that the vast ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa that make up your microbiome actually work in symbiotic harmony with the human body. What’s more, the 100 trillion microbes and associated genes that make up the microbiome are directly responsible for proper immune function, digestion, hormone production and regulation, and nutrient absorption to say the least.
Quite interestingly, initial colonization of 7-9000 strains of microbes that inhabit your gastrointestinal tract begins in the womb, accelerates during birth and nursing, and reaches steady state by three years of age. In fact, research in this field has linked cesarean sections, lack of breast feeding, and our increasingly antiseptic lifestyles to a whole host of gastrointestinal driven disorders including allergies, auto-immune disorders, asthma, obesity, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid disorder, autism, eczema, cancer, and more.
Traditionally, the medical field is divided in specialties where each specialist focuses on a specific organ. Due to this compartmentalization, doctors are unable to effectively treat the body as a whole. Consequently, medicine struggles to trace the root causes of disease farther than their narrow field of vision to the organs related to their specialty. This is one of the reasons the new field study into the gut, brain, and microbiome is so ground breaking. Seemingly for the first time we are properly tracing a whole host of diseases back to dysfunction of another organ, namely the gut. Many in this field of science have come to think of the microbiome as the last organ.
By first studying rats, research has discovered that obesity, anxiety, autism like symptoms and other disorders could be transferred from a sick mouse to a healthy mouse, simply by transferring the gut or colonic bacteria from the sick mouse to the healthy mouse. Similarly, they discovered that by transferring the microbiome of a healthy mouse to a sick mouse, the symptoms could be reduced and or eliminated. Clearly, the microbiome has a significant impact on health.
In fact, many of these studies have shown significant promise in human clinical trials. Fecal transplants, of all things, have become a new treatment option for functional medical practitioners to address a number of diseases, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This procedure takes the healthy, well balanced microbiota from the donor and transplants into a recipient. Over time, this recolonizes and rebalances the GI tract. Consequently, the recipient begins to take on many of the health characteristics of the donor. Astonishingly, even neurological and behavioral symptoms of Autism have been shown to reduce significantly.
When I first found my remedy for acid reflux, I only had a partial solution. I did understand that an imbalance in the gut could contribute to acid reflux, but I did not understand just how true that was. The supplements that I took initially to help resolve my reflux did the trick but the remedy was fragile because I did not have a full understanding of the microbiome and therefore did not do enough to address the root causes of the disruptions to my microbiome.
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Now that you understand the importance of a healthy gut flora, we can now divert our attention to the effects of an imbalanced microbiome. Dysbiosis is a medical term that describes this imbalance and leads to a range of health conditions.
One of the reasons dysbiosis has such an effect on your health is healthy bacterial balance plays a vital role in immune function. This, along with stomach acidity serves to protect the body from harmful pathogens that enter by way of the mouth. The picture begins to come together, when you understand an estimated 70% of your immune system resides in your gut.
Also, beneficial bacteria are essential for proper digestion to take place. This, as foods that do not digest properly can even be tagged by the immune system as an invader (mild to severe allergic response), triggering an inflammatory response that can pose long term damage to the mucosal layer of the stomach.
Additionally, your microbiome is directly credited with maintaining healthy mucosal lining of the stomach, a key aspect of keeping harmful bacteria or viruses from entering the blood stream. When this fails, due to imbalance, harmful pathogens and even food particles are allowed to enter the blood stream. As a side note, the inflammatory response that follows is one of the leading contributors to brain fog, which is due in part to an inflammatory response in the brain.
Not surprisingly, bacterial imbalance can lead to improper fermentation of food in the gut, bloating, malabsorption of vital nutrients, bacterial overgrowth (IBD, IBS), all common acid reflux symptoms. The undesirable bacteria, when allowed to proliferate, can begin to take up residence in other areas of the body. When this occurs in the lungs, asthmas and allergies can develop.
Lastly, some of these bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium produce lactate and acetate as a byproduct, which is an important factor in maintaining healthy acidity in the gut and in feeding other beneficial microbes. Additionally, as this Atlas Biomed article puts it, “not only do these probiotic bacteria help to keep us healthy, but they enable other bacterial species in the gut to thrive, too.”
There are many reasons that your microbiome can become imbalanced. I cover this in more detail in my risk factors section of the aforementioned article. If you haven’t read it, or my book, it may be helpful to identify things that you may be doing that initially triggered or that are deepening your imbalance.
As it goes with most new discoveries, there is generally a wave of enthusiasm an hype for the possibilities. New business models spring up, entrepreneurs are forged, and a flurry of new websites spring up to capitalize on the next best thing since sliced bread. Similarly, the burgeoning field of gut-brain-microbiome research has given a boost to the probiotic industry. You can see from the below google trends chart searching for the term probiotics is at an all-time high:
Two microflora, in particular, have been heavily researched over the years. These are Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. This, as they are easily cultured and studied and are in relatively high abundance in the human microbiome. Additionally, they perform vital functions in support of the digestive process. Both ferment sugars to create lactic acid. Bifadobacteria additionally produces short-chain fatty acids which have a significant positive effect on metabolism and body weight.
As MBG Health shares, “Lactobacillus naturally lives in the small intestine, while Bifidobacterium takes up residence in the large intestine (or colon).” Bifidobacteria have been shown to limit the growth of undesirable bacteria in the intestines, help to break foods down into vital nutrients, reduce inflammation, and support immune function. In addition to helping your body to absorb vital minerals, Lactobacillus produces lactic acid which helps to control the population of bad bacteria and helps to maintain healthy mucosal barrier in the stomach.
The natural food source for these helpful probiotics are dietary fibers such as those that are in abundance in vegetables, fruits, and legumes. The fiber content in these foods are actually indigestible by humans, but are perfect perfect prebiotic food sources for the bacteria. Not surprisingly, these organisms are found on and in these foods. In fact, adding these high fiber sources to your daily diet is a great way to increase the abundance of theses helpful microbes.
Furthermore, they carry a wide range of beneficial strains as compare to what you can get in probiotics. Ingesting probiotics in this manner provides an immediately relevant food source as the bacteria will naturally congregate on foods that they prefer to consume.
It is important to realize that consuming probiotics is entirely useless unless you provide a food source, such as a high fiber diet. As buyers have grown wiser and as the science has caught up to this fact, a new class of probiotics called synbiotics has emerged. A synbiotic is essentially a prebiotic that comes packaged with its own prebiotic food source.
In addition fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut are an amazing source of probiotics and prebiotics. My strong preference, and in fact what has worked for me to resolve my reflux, was increasing my dietary intake of high fiber and fermented foods, daily as opposed to taking probiotics.
That said, there are cases where you may need a boost to speed things along. In those cases I would not take synbiotic or probiotics in lieu of these foods. Instead, I would take them in addition to these sources. So, if you want to take probiotics there are a few things you should consider in choosing one:
- Probiotics are considered dietary supplements, which are not regulated by the food and drug administration. As such, manufacturers do not have to prove effectiveness or safety of their products. As such, it is important to choose a reputable, high quality manufacturer that is tested by a third party lab
- To be effective, the probiotic must be live when you take it so this is a case where you really do have to pay attention to the expiration date
- You want a probiotic that contains multiple strains as each strain carries different health benefits
- Lastly, the quantity of probiotic matters. Take one that has enough bacteria to form colonies, which is measured in colony forming units (CFUs). You’re looking for probiotics in the 5-100 billion CFU range
We covered a lot of ground in this article, and yet we have just grazed the surface of these topics. The concepts of the microbiome, dysbiosis, and probiotics are thoroughly explored in my #1 Best Selling Book. In it, I also provide the three phase plan that I used to eliminate my reflux entirely.
On my resources page I have provided links to the specific products that I used to eliminate my reflux as well as some that are useful in managing symptoms of reflux in the short term. While there, be sure to grab my transition guide which helps to put these supplements in context of a holistic three phase plan to recovery.
Lastly, I am on a mission to positively impact 100,000 people this year. If I have inspired, helped, informed or otherwise assisted you in anyway, let me know by giving me a follow on any of the below platforms or join my mailing list. If I have yet to do so, then take advantage of the daily tips available on these sites!