Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
8 Sep

GERD Sufferers Rejoice!

This story comes from reader Melissa. Her personal tale of going Primal was sent in during this season’s Primal Blueprint Health Challenge. She is the first of four entrants that will be part of the first round of drawings for the ongoing Primal Blueprint Real Life Stories contest. If you have a Primal story that you would like to share visit this page for all the details!

Reading all the amazing stories this week, I’m so impressed with all the weight people have lost because of primal living. My own story isn’t about dramatic weight loss, but underscores that the primal diet can address a variety of health problems caused by our modern diets.

I’ve always had a weak stomach. Growing up, stomach aches and pains were a daily nuisance. They became more than a nuisance when I went to college and started suffering from crippling heart burn. It gnawed in my chest nearly all day and night. Unable to sleep or study, I went to the student health center where I was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). I started on mild H2 inhibitors, which reduce acid production and tried to get healthier by plodding on the treadmill for hours and replacing my normal diet of pizza with some whole grains.

As you can probably guess, this didn’t solve much and soon enough I was feeling my stomach acid gurgling back up to where it didn’t belong. My doctor put my on Prilosec, a proton-pump inhibitor, which eliminates most stomach acid. Finally I could once again load up my plate in the dining hall with cheesecake, fried hot wings, nachos, and ice cream floats.

But it didn’t make me happy. I gained 25 lbs and soon enough food was a souce of guilt for me. I would play games in my head, trading the chocolate cake I was about to eat for an unhappy hour on a stair machine. To my horror, the acid reflux started coming back and along with it, even worse other stomach problems. I was diagnosed with IBS and resolved once again to eat healthier, but every day I felt weaker and weaker. One morning as I left my dorm room, I collapsed and ended up in the E.R. It was there that I was finally diagnosed with a nasty case of chronic salmonella.

Chronic salmonella is something that is usually seen in the elderly immunocompromised, not healthy twenty year olds. I realized that stomach acid is there for a reason. It helps us digest food, of course, but it also protects us from pathogens. I wanted mine back, but I also didn’t want to be in pain all the time.

I actually first learned about the Primal diet from a class I was taking on food history, where I read Jared Diamond’s The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. I was floored; here was an essay by an incredibly intelligent scientist saying that humans had been much healthier before we discovered agriculture. Poking around on the web, I discovered lots of interesting sites about eating like these healthy ancestors and I gave it a try.

I certainly didn’t stop having heartburn overnight, but I stuck with eating Primal and GERD has been gone for over two years now. More than that though, the Primal diet has changed the way I think. I’ve read so many interesting books about anthropology and learned how to cook delicious fresh vegetables and grass-fed meats. I went from Doritos addict to farmer’s market fanatic and now I work connecting people to local healthy food.

I now view exercise not as a chore, but as a way of life. I take the long way home, winding through a forest and climbing over large rocks. At the farmer’s market I pick out the biggest watermelons and lift them high over my head as I carry them a few miles home. I’ve lost all the weight I gained my freshman year and it’s not coming back any time soon.

Last year I traveled around Europe, which I never could have done with the stomach problems I used to suffer from. I highly recommend the pork knuckles in Krakow and the very fatty Mangalica pork in Hungary to Primal travelers.

My father was so impressed with my results and The Primal Blueprint that he is now eating Primal and has lost 30 pounds and also eliminated GERD! There’s not that much out there for GERD sufferers about the role of diet, so I hope others will hear my story and give this diet change a try. The Prilosec website recommends a low-fat diet….probably helps boost their sales!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Those birds in the oven and the pork are making me drool. Great story! It still amazes me to hear that peoples lives can totally be changed based primarily on changing their diets.

    Chunster495 wrote on September 8th, 2009
  2. My husband was never diagnosed with GERD, but his dad was, and we guessed that he had it in a milder, on-again-off-again form. (Burning, gagging sensation in throat, etc.)

    It was shortly after I stopped buying bread and cereal that he noticed he didn’t have the problem anymore!

    Kind of obvious in hindsight, isn’t it? Gotta love those “duh” moments.

    I’m off to look up that essay by Jared Diamond; never heard of it!

    dragonmamma wrote on September 8th, 2009
  3. Great story. Another great example of med v. food. Would you rather be hooked on expensive prescriptive medications forever, or tasty tasty pig knuckles forever? I’ll take the pig knuckles.

    Furious Mittens wrote on September 8th, 2009
  4. Loved reading this! Definitely going to pass it along to a couple family members who have stomach issues. If it can so greatly help your GERD, i would think it could help their (less serious??) stomach irritations. Congratulations on your accomplishment, and to your dad!

    Jane wrote on September 8th, 2009
  5. I was a GERD sufferer as well. Terrible heart burn that felt like a knife was being twisted in my chest. Shortly after going primal, it never happened again. Well not never, whenever I fall of the wagon it comes back enough to remind me that I need to get my stuff together and get primal again.

    Since going primal on 19NOV08 I have dropped 45 pounds, don’t have GERD, gut problems are gone.

    Can’t beat it.

    Joe wrote on September 8th, 2009
  6. Good for you, Melissa! It’s amazing how many “medical professionals” don’t realize that digestive issues could be (and usually are) 100% related to the food we’re eating. I’m just glad you took matters into your own hands, and made the change. You look much healthier and happier now!

    And I agree – those are some good lookin’ chickens.

    Adam Kayce wrote on September 8th, 2009
    • Oh come on – do you really think *digestion* and *food* might be related? That’s so silly. Everyone knows digestion problems are caused by a lack of pharmaceuticals.

      crunchysue wrote on September 9th, 2009
      • It’s true, don’tcha know. They recently added “Prilosec deficiency” to the ICD-9.

        Dana wrote on September 15th, 2009
  7. Brilliant to hear this kind of success over illness solely from diet/lifestyle change.

    Let food be your medicine. Let medicine be your food. Hippocrates was right all along? :)

    Nelter wrote on September 8th, 2009
  8. Student teacher here (history), I’m gonna have to make a lesson plan involving that Jared Diamond paper.

    Chris wrote on September 8th, 2009
  9. Such a great story! I think the results speak for themselves so often.

    Cameron Perry wrote on September 8th, 2009
  10. Another former GERD sufferer here. After years of GERD, I went low-carb to lose some weight and I lost the GERD, too.

    When I told my gastro doc that I felt better since I cut grains from my diet, he looked at me like I was daft…

    Great post!

    Suzan wrote on September 8th, 2009
  11. Hope you don’t mind me saying this, but you do look adorable. And your story is inspiring.

    juca wrote on September 8th, 2009
  12. I really love hearing these success stories! It’s great to see the range of ailments that the primal diet is the cure for… I only wish I could get my father on it. He is 79 and had a heart attack last year. The doctors have him so afraid of red meat and saturated fat that he is worried about me now. At least I’ve got him off sugar…
    Thanks Melissa! keep it up

    Mikeythehealthycaveman wrote on September 8th, 2009
  13. Wow that’s amazing. I am happy for your results.

    Alejandro wrote on September 8th, 2009
  14. My wife has GERD as well, due to a minor birth defect. While paleo/primal never completely erased her heartburn, I can tell you that her antacid use dropped from a handful a day to only a couple of tablets a day after a few months of eating caveman-style.

    gcb wrote on September 8th, 2009
  15. I am another reflux sufferer that has suppressed symptoms from eating paleo.

    I found out earlier what proton-pump inhibitors cand do to long term health and still wonder how these things are part of a “health” system.

    I’ve also fixed other auto-immune issues. Paleo all the way!

    Andrew wrote on September 8th, 2009
  16. Mark, congrats on the great job you’re doing – singlehandedly reducing America’s health care costs! I just have one concern. Some of these folks, who see dramatic improvements in their health, should be tested for celiac because not eating wheat is not enough and the 80/20 rule is a really bad idea in that case.

    Celiac is seriously under-diagnosed and celiacs can be skinny, obese and everything in-between. Plenty of celiacs are asymptomatic or have just one symptom – like GERD. Or they don’t realize they had symptoms until they’ve been eating GF for awhile and then it is too late to be tested accurately without a gluten “challenge” which can be at best, very unpleasant.

    One of the big celiac groups has an awareness month in October – could you highlight this issue?

    WSB wrote on September 8th, 2009
  17. Hey, Melissa here! Thanks for all the great comments! I feel honored to be posted here and to spread the word that GERD doesn’t have to torture you forever! And I thank Mark for bringing together all sorts of great resources on the site and in the new book.

    I do agree about being tested for celiac. GERD is not the most typical symptom, but in my research I’ve found it’s relatively common among celiacs, so the test is probably a good idea. I did get tested when I was still eating bread and it was thankfully negative, but I’m glad I took the test.

    There are a lot of theories about what causes it and it amazes me that there are so few studies connecting foods to GERD. The ones out there tend to blame fat, but in my opinion chasing after macronutrients to blame is a dumb idea. Soybean oil and lard are both fats, but I think everyone here knows they have different effects.

    Melissa wrote on September 8th, 2009
  18. Awesome story and just goes to show how much diet affects health. I never was diagnosed officially with GERD but had most the symptoms, they are now gone since eating primal!

    Dollface wrote on September 8th, 2009
  19. Bravo Melissa!

    I too found the Jared Diamond paper inspiring.
    Here is a link if anyone wants to read it.

    ryland wrote on September 8th, 2009
  20. wow. will docs ever understand the role diet plays? for me, the first sign of a problem with my diet is ear pain . docs are incredulous but i know what it means–too many carbs.

    DThalman wrote on September 8th, 2009
    • This makes sense, except that I’d blame the grains in particular, not carbs in general (see Don’s post about tubers on his Primal Wisdom blog). Grains — gluten in particular — promote inflammation, which can manifest as clogged and painful ears, stuffy nose, sore throat, aching joints, puffy gums that bleed when brushed and flossed, swollen belly and bloating around the waist, baggy eyes and saggy face, & the list goes on and on.

      Aaron Blaisdell wrote on September 9th, 2009
      • Grass allergy is a common allergy… and wheat is a grass. I’m stunned the CW hasn’t made the connection.

        Dana wrote on September 15th, 2009
        • I am allergic to grass and I eat foods with wheat ingredients. I had no idea it was even a grass. Right now I have esophagitis due to the GERD and don’t know if it is too late to go primal to help me in the long run.

          Mary wrote on March 25th, 2014
  21. There are probably a lot of us, but part of my story is almost exactly the same as yours! Couldn’t have written it better myself 😉

    Grok wrote on September 8th, 2009
  22. I ate primal for a few months and I STILL have GERD. Maybe this works for some people, but definitely not all.

    Camille in Slovenia wrote on September 8th, 2009
    • Me too. In fact, I only developed GERD after going primal. I don’t blame my diet, but clearly something else is going on.

      Regina wrote on October 14th, 2014
  23. Great experience and keep connecting people to local resources. Eventually people will start to learn that healthy living is the result of natural foods, not medicine.

    Grass Fed All The Way wrote on September 8th, 2009
  24. Bourgogne wrote on September 9th, 2009
  25. I am now on a mostly primal diet, but my GERD completely resolved 6 years ago when I removed all gluten grains – wheat, barley and rye. I have to be very careful about watching for hidden gluten in foods, medications and other products. Cross contamination of foods with gluten is a problem when eating away from home. Taking all these precautions is worth the effort as my health greatly improved when I went gluten free. I have enjoyed even more improvements when I stopped eating all grains.

    Anne wrote on September 9th, 2009
  26. Great article by Jared Diamond; thanks for mentioning. Here’s a link:

    This was published in 1987, before he published Guns, Germs & Steel, the Third Chimpanzee and Collapse.

    Josh Roman wrote on September 9th, 2009
  27. That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing it!

    Dean wrote on September 9th, 2009
  28. My story is very similar to Melissa’s…I have been on Prilosec for 6 years now for GERD. On the rare occasion that I went off of it the GERD always returned within a day or two. I have been eating Primal for four weeks now and have been Prilosec-less for the last two…no GERD. As a result I can sleep through the night without waking up with heartburn and without Prilosec…another plus.

    Mike wrote on September 9th, 2009
  29. Hi. I suffered from GERD also along with other health issues in my teens to early 20’s. (I’m 29 now). I had heart palpitations, bad chol, blood pressure and I was skinny. I even lost about 20lbs when I had GERD. All I would do is barely eat and if I did, I would also throw up. Weird issues. Now, I am healthier than ever before in my life thanks to eating whole foods and getting rid of junk. Yes, I too was the everyday pizza eater.

    Laszlo wrote on September 9th, 2009
  30. Wonderful story!!

    gilliebean wrote on September 9th, 2009
  31. “I ate primal for a few months and I STILL have GERD. Maybe this works for some people, but definitely not all.”

    It took mine about 5 months to really clear up. Damaged stomach linings with chronic inflammation need time to repair…

    I also ate very gently during that time. For a week I ate only eggs. After that I made lots of bone broths, different types of soups, and some smoothies. I supplemented with omega-3 and L-Lysine. I didn’t eat a lot of stimulating foods like nightshades, alliums, or caffeine. I also added lemon juice to lots of things I cooked because I read lots of GERD sufferers actually don’t have enough stomach acid.

    Incidentally, I did try Betaine HCL, which works well for some people with GERD, but it just made me feel bloated.

    I now eat pretty normally (even some really spicy things), but I’m very aware of what is going on in my stomach and it takes some time to develop that awareness. The Primal/paleo diet is very much one that you have to approach with an open mind to tweaking and continuously learning more about the science and your own body.

    I firmly believe that GERD is the product of long-term stomach damage and while healing it is a battle, it’s worth it to have a nice stomach full of properly behaving acid.

    Melissa wrote on September 9th, 2009
  32. Congratulations, Melissa! Going primal eliminated my GERD too. Isn’t it a great feeling?

    Kim Birch wrote on September 9th, 2009
  33. As others have said it was quite likely gluten grains that caused the GERD. Dr Rodney Ford – a paediatric gastroenterologist and allergy specialist has been testing kids and adults with a host of health problems and has found in clinical blood tests that 1 in 10 people are gluten sensitive. This is FAR more than the 1 in 100 that are gluten intolerant (Celiac). Gluten sensitivity is measured by the gliadin antibody test IgG-gliadin. His book on gluten sensitivity is brilliant. He is (compared to other mainstream doctors) really out there in his thinking. He theorises that when you are gluten sensitive the main effects of it are nerve damage, which is why health problems effect so many of the bodies systems.

    Here is his website – I highly recommend his books on gluten sensitivity and curing eczema. It gives a new insight on how new world foods are causing health problems.

    Julianne wrote on September 9th, 2009
  34. Great story!! Congrats!

    Jeanine wrote on September 9th, 2009
  35. Melissa, I loved your story. I had the same experience some years back. I’d been on medication for 3 years but still suffered horrible pain. Finally a naturopath introduced me to Mary Enig’s work. (I found MDA later.) Within a few months my GERD subsided, and the problems haven’t returned (with the exception of my off-the-wagon times).
    As for those people who have had continuing problems, NPR had an article about acid “rebound.” It seems that after people go off of their medications, stomach acid is produced at very high rates but levels off over time.

    Jen wrote on September 9th, 2009
  36. Hmm! I’ve suffered from GERD for 12 years. My trigger foods are definitely not the ones that the docs have told me to avoid. Thankfully I can eat spicy foods all day long with no problems. I’ve cut way back on grains since learning earlier this year that I’m pre-diabetic. I haven’t gone full primal, but it may be worth giving it a shot to see if I can take one less pill.

    InsanityNapping wrote on September 9th, 2009
  37. Not only did 25 years of GERD and my meds go away in 2 months, but I can eat chocolate (98%), tomatoes and soups and have no GERD. These foods guarenteed GERD in the past.
    No more pacing at night holding my chest !

    Sabio wrote on September 9th, 2009
  38. Great story Melissa. I to suffer from GERD but I wonder if there is a few other things in my lifestyle that caused that: homebrew, dairy, beta blockers, stress!

    So am I getting that after a period of Grok like eating you’ve become GERD free? Did you just stop taking meds or were you able to convince a physician to get you off of them?

    Daniel Merk wrote on September 10th, 2009
  39. After reading this, I decided to stop taking my PPI for a while and see what happens. I can always re-start if the problems return, but it’s possible I don’t need the meds any more.

    DML wrote on September 11th, 2009
  40. This is very encouraging for me to hear. I also have issues with stomach acid. It causes my esophagus to close at the entrance to my stomach. Which means I can only half swallow sometimes. Very awkward and sometimes very painful.

    I’ve been living primal for only three weeks and I’ve already noticed it happening less and less.

    A few years back when this landed me in the emergency room the G.I. Doc told me to take Prilosec everyday for the rest of my life. That did not fit into my lifestyle even before discovering primal living. I am very hopeful that I am now on the right track with this primal life I’ve discovered.

    Daryle Dickens wrote on September 12th, 2009

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