I've been meaning to talk more about how effective digestive enzymes have been at treating my GERD, but lacked time to sit and collect my thoughts. However, watching my parent recently choke, gag and force themselves to vomit because of a GERD related stricture has galvanized me into action.
GERD is a horrible disease. It is not merely heart burn. As it progresses it causes all sorts of problems...cancer, ulcers, difficult (and quite painful) digestion throughout the digestive tract, strictures which are acid related narrowings of the esophagus that cause food to become lodged in the throat (also painful with a side of induced vomiting to clear it out). While there are procedures to clear strictures, they can come back...within weeks.
By the way, I'm not listing any of this from a medical textbook, it is all just what I've observed in my own family, which is almost universally afflicted with GERD.
Due to my family history, I was very skeptical that Dr. Alternative would be able to truly get me off Nexium. Digestive enzymes? What kind of hoo doo was that? I have the kind of GERD where if I miss even one dose of medication I am spitting up acid and in agonizing pain. How was I going to stop cold turkey and take some natural remedy?
As it turned out, the digestive enzymes didn't work so great in the beginning...but they worked well enough that I stuck with them. As time has gone on, they have become more and more effective. I am now of the opinion that anyone with serious GERD should explore whether or not digestive enzymes can give them relief and hopefully ward off the not-so-fun extras I described above.
There is not a lot of research out there. No medical studies. No official endorsement from the Mayo Clinic or other respected member of the scientific community. In fact it's possible that this blog post is the most comprehensive source of information on the topic..that's how little info is out there. So, of course, my gastroenterologist was just as skeptical as I was in the beginning. Now we are both pleasantly surprised.
Yes, digestive enzymes really do work for GERD. At least for me they do.
Here's how I did it: I took the digestive enzyme supplement recommended by my Integrative Medicine MD which was Enzycore. I took three capsules with every meal. At first, I still had heart burn and would supplement with Nexium. As time went on, I needed Nexium less and less until I was taking it maybe once a week--down from a high of twice a day.
Currently, I'm fine so long as I avoid junky processed food and foods that can trigger heart burn such as tomato, cucumber, chocolate, and peppers. I don't necessarily have heart burn every time I eat the wrong thing, but it does hit me maybe 4 times out of 10. However, I often find that an extra dose of digestive enzymes is all I need to do to control the GERD and I will try that first before I take Nexium.
In addition, I now take a lower dose of digestive enzymes, only one or two capsules with each meal. Sometimes I miss a dose and it's okay, I don't have heart burn...that never happened in the Nexium days.
In the old days if I missed a dose of Nexium (due to prescription running out or missing pills from dropping them), I would miss a day of work as I suffered the equivalent of an acid stomach flu until I could take medication. And it wasn't the kind of sick day where I kicked back and relaxed, it was sitting frozen in one position as horrible pain ripped through me and then running for the bathroom to be sick.
This remarkable improvement in my GERD symptoms has evolved over the last six months. While I can't say for sure, I am hopeful that I will avoid some of the horrible GERD complications other members of my family have suffered from. At the very least,digestive enzymes are much cheaper than Nexium with fewer side effects.
I spent some time googling and listed below are the best articles I could find regarding digestive enzymes. If you're curious about whether or not this is something you want to try, read the links below and then go see someone who specializes in integrative medicine for guidance on your particular situation.
This is a very balanced article on the topic
that outlines what we know and gives some guidelines on what to look
for in a digestive enzyme---if you read nothing else, read this.
An interview the Today Show did with Dr. Galland that's worth watching.
Here's an interesting quote from Life Extension Magazine discussing how digestive enzymes are used in Europe:
"Supplemental oral enzymes have also proven popular in Europe as
substitutes for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. They
are used to treat conditions ranging from osteoarthritis to rheumatoid
arthritis and other inflammation-related conditions. The results of
various studies (placebo-controlled and comparisons with non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs) in patients with rheumatic diseases suggest
that oral therapy with proteolytic enzymes produces certain analgesic
and anti-inflammatory effects. Generally, these commercial enzyme
preparations have been found to be equally as effective as standard
anti-inflammatory drugs, but with better tolerability.36-39
Eastern Europe, oral enzyme therapy (also known as systemic enzyme
therapy, in recognition of the activity of these enzymes outside the
digestive system and within the general circulation) has been shown to
be effective in improving post-surgical recovery time, reducing the need
for pain relievers, and diminishing the incidence of troubling edema,
or fluid retention, after surgery.9,40
Czech surgeons reported, “Efficient edema reduction and thus
accelerated healing…and analgesic effect…” with the use of oral enzymes.9"
9 hours ago