Giuliana came to me after three years of suffering from acid reflux. She had tried everything: eliminated all kinds of food from her diet, practiced relaxation, tried supplements. Reflux can be caused by an offending food, but this was not the case for Giuliana. Nexium and prolisec helped for a while, but then they stopped working and she began to panic. By the time she saw me, she could only sleep sitting up. No one had an answer for her. But as is often the case, the anatomy held the key to this mysterious illness.
The stomach is the body’s Waring blender. It mixes food and enzymes in a highly acidic environment so nutrients can be absorbed in the intestines. Two mechanisms at the top of the stomach keep this potent acid from flooding up into the esophagus and burning its delicate tissues. A valve directly between the stomach and the esophagus helps keep the acid contained. But then, one of our heroes of health, the diaphragm, provides a second mechanism for containing corrosive stomach acid. The diaphragm weaves its fibers around the esophagus where the esophagus pierces the diaphragm on the way to the stomach The fibers weave a second valve that helps prevent acid from escaping the stomach and searing the esophagus. If the diaphragm is out of position, pulled to the side or up or down, this second protection often fails to function properly, allowing acid to stream upward and causing reflux. That’s what happened to Guliana.
When I asked Giuliana how this all started, she hesitated. She had told this story so many times and every doctor had dismissed her story as nonsense. She finally said, “I went to Italy to visit my family. The hotel sprayed pesticides in all the rooms because they think Americans hate bugs. I took one whiff of that room and I felt ill. The next day my reflux was so bad I had to be hospitalized.”
Even though it is unusual, her case makes complete sense anatomically. The pesticide exposure had caused her liver to become congested and swollen. The diaphragm has a firm fascial attachment to the liver, and the congested liver had distorted her diaphragm and rendered its special valve between the stomach and the esophagus ineffective. Stomach acid coursed upward and burned her esophagus.
I sent Giuliana to a colleague who specializes in the treatment of the internal organs, a subspecialty called visceral manipulation. In six treatments, he took the twists out of the poor diaphragm, helped the liver drain its toxins, and pulled the wandering stomach back down where it belonged. Giuliana was able to cut her prescription meds by two thirds, and eventually, her reflux vanished.
This is an unusual case, but as always anatomy is the key. It’s more common for reflux to occur after a blow or trauma to the chest, abdomen or ribs. Any of these can twist one or both valves that keep stomach acid contained, and allow acid to flood the esophagus. The result is heartburn or reflux. But once the twists are removed and the stomach and diaphragm put back where they below, reflux can resolve. I have seen this dozens of time. If you have reflux that nothing can help, consider seeing an osteopathic physician who specializes in visceral manipulation, and get your life back.