Common ailments such as GERD often generate a plethora of old wives tales and home remedies that are ineffective. Myth-busting is an important part of medical knowledge dissemination, because it corrects mistaken assumptions that could worsen patients' health.
While there are many great home remedies out there that can help you treat the symptoms of GERD, there's also a lot of bad information being proliferated, largely via the Internet.
The Web is a wonderful tool in that it can quickly disseminate information to an amazing number of people. The downside of this is that it can also be used to quickly spread false or misguided information as well. Often the good information gets jumbled up with the bad, making it hard for folks to tell which is which.
It's almost like fire. Fire when used properly, can be used for a number of constructive purposes such as cooking, construction, sterilization, etc. But it also can be used destructively as well.
Bad information is especially harmful in the context of medicine, because it can cause people to engage in behaviors that they believe may help their situation, when in reality it may actually exacerbate their problems. For example, it's commonly believed that sucking on peppermint can relieve GERD symptoms, when in actuality, peppermint is a food GERD patients want to avoid because it can make heartburn more likely to occur.
Here's a few myths about GERD:
- Myth 1: A bland diet can cure GERD— While eating foods less likely to result in an excess of gas or stomach acid production may alleviate the symptoms of GERD, it won't fix the underlying cause of GERD, the malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter. Unless this part of the body is repaired or strengthened through surgery, all you can do is treat the symptoms of the illness.
- Myth 2: GERD medication will keep me from being able to digest food — While medications for GERD will reduce your stomach's production of acid, enough acid will be left for the digestion of your food, and other chemicals produced by the body called enzymes will also work to break down food.
- Myth 3: Switching to decafinated coffee will prevent heartburn — Caffeine isn't the culprit in coffee's ability to give you heartburn. The real source of your distress are the oils present in coffee beans that give coffee it's flavor and texture.
- Myth 4: GERD only causes problems in the esophagus — GERD can cause a number of other health problems, including making asthma worse, coughs and sore throats, and in some cases may cause malnutrition or eating disorders in folks whose esophagus becomes so irritated that they don't want to eat.
- Myth 5: Smoking a cigarette after eating can prevent heartburn — Actually, smoking weakens the lower esophageal sphincter, making it more likely that you'll experience GERD. So put the smokes down.
- Myth 6: If you relax after eating, you can prevent hearburn — The National Heartburn Alliance says engaging in physical activity after you eat will keep your digestive system moving, meaning that food will process and leave your stomach faster, therefore causing less of a risk that your stomach will reflux its contents back into the esophagus. In fact, the NHBA rcommends light exercise after meals, such as a brief walk or leisurely ride on a stationary bike.
- Myth 7: GERD is common, so I should just grin and bear it — GERD can lead to some serious medical trouble, such as Barrett's esophagus, a precursor to cancer, and even esophageal cancer. Getting treatment for your GERD symptoms can head off these problems, but it requires you to act.
- Myth 8: Antacids aren't "real" medication — Over the counter medicine such as asprin and antacid are drugs just like prescription medication. You should use them carefully and as directed. You should also consult with your physician about any over the counter drugs you're taking. Over the counter drugs can interact with prescription meds or other treatments, so it's important for your doctor to know about them so he or she can plan accordingly.
For good, reliable answers about GERD, your best bet isn't some Web site or what your neighbor's aunt said, it's your doctor. He or she has knowledge and training regardign GERD and can point you in the right direction on how best to treat your symptoms and their underlying cause. If you have cause to doubt your doctor's judgment, seek the opinion of another qualified medical professional. Getting correct, accurate information on GERD and how to treat it is vital to you being able to maintain your health and quality of life.