First Person: What on Earth is the Gluten-GERD Link?

When my 35 year old son was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and a hiatal hernia in 2010, I knew he would have a very difficult adjustment to a complete lifestyle change. As a nurse/mother I implemented his physician’s treatment plan, medication regimen, food restrictions and exchanges, and attempted to include the entire family in the upheaval. Some of it worked, most of it did not.

My son has always been an over-achiever and in complete denial of his loss of health. The prescription medications’ side effects were worse then the symptoms. Over the course of a miserable 2 years, I searched the internet for more in-depth research with GERD, celiac disease and the new controversial mind-set of the GERD-gluten link.

An article published in the September 2011 issue of Diseases of Esophagus noted how a number of published studies have shown that a gluten-free diet can efficiently control esophageal symptoms and help prevent recurrence. Gluten is a protein found in grains like barley, rye and wheat. People suffering with celiac disease have symptoms similar to GERD – including vomiting and difficulty swallowing.

In the interim, my son has always been fascinated with our Native American heritage and has utilized several sites for ancestry searches. We were searching for the percentages of our different lineages. The lab mistakenly ran a test for genetic predisposition to disease processes instead of percentage of ethnicity. He was very aggravated, but I jumped on an opportunity to quantify my gut-reaction to his symptoms.

Debate and argument does not work with my son; solid science does. The red flags in the lab report were eye-openers. Top of the list was an 80% chance of coronary artery disease. I finally had his full attention with the scenario of him in Depends, drooling on himself, being fed through a gastrostomy tube.

His physician’s nutritionist and I collaborated on a heart-healthy/gluten-free menu plan and natural supplements with no side-effects. I introduced the food plan to my entire family with mixed responses. To follow a gluten-free diet, all foods with wheat, rye and barley grains must be avoided. This includes most pasta, cereal, breads and processed foods. My son must also avoid fatty, spicy, acidic, chocolate and dairy products which aggravate his GERD.

Luckily, most of these deprivations are junk food. More research is establishing links between ADHD, ADD, autism, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), GERD and other food sensitivities and allergies related to gluten intolerance. So, as much as half the population could be affected by this genetic lack of ability to break down gluten containing foods.

With the higher US diagnosis rates of gluten intolerance and the related disease processes, there is a heightened awareness for a change in food options for schools and restaurants. Most large grocery outlets are offering specific aisles for green/organic/gluten-free options. At this point in time, these foods are a little more pricey than junk food with limited choices. Click here for an informative site on gluten-free foods and supplements.

Today, my son takes an occasional antacid when he cheats or is stressed out; takes no prescription meds; joined a gym and leaned out; enjoys eating again and is sleeping through the night without terrible heartburn and nausea. He still has bad days, but nothing like the past 2 years. We are all enjoying a much simpler, healthier lifestyle. The younger grandchildren are still irritated about the junk food deprivation.

I do not attribute this totally to the diet change, but it has demonstrated dramatic results when nothing else worked. There were more symptoms I did not list because his denial and stress exacerbated them. Hopefully, this article will help minimize others’ suffering from these gastrointestinal diseases and disorders.

Good Health!

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credit/copyright: galtime. caption: What is causing your child’s stomach-ache? Could bullying be to blame?

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