Frequent reflux, heartburn and indigestion could be signs of a more serious, underlying problem such as leaky gut, parasites or fermentation in the gut, perhaps due to an overgrowth of Candida albicans. An over-the-counter antacid will only suppress the symptoms for a while, and not treat the real cause of the problem.
To find out if you have an underlying problem, you'll have to undergo a series of tests. There's a gut permeability test to check for a leaky gut, a blood test for signs of gut fermentation and a stool test to reveal parasites. It is also worth having a gastric analysis done to determine how much gastric acid you produce, and whether you have sufficient pancreatic enzymes. Labs that offer these tests are listed at the end of this box.
In the meantime, you can do much to control reflux through your diet. One dietary approach suggests:
* eating foods rich in fibre, and preferably wholegrain breads and cereals rather than 'hard fibres' like oats
* drinking a wineglass of freshly squeezed juice, made up of equal parts of apples, carrots and beetroot
* avoiding all refined carbohydrates, red meat, pips in foods, and foods that commonly cause flatulence, such as peas, beans, broccoli, cabbage and onions, as well as alcohol and caffeine
* peeling foods that have tough skins
* avoiding drinking liquids with meals, and any drinks that are either too hot or too cold.
You should also avoid cow's milk products and any other dairy that includes carrageenan, a seaweed used as a stabiliser in ice cream, yoghurt and cottage cheese.
There's also a range of supplements that can help regulate the stomach's digestive enzymes, and avoid overproduction of stomach acid. These include products such as BioCare's Polyzyme Forte and all pancreatic-enzyme products by Solgar.
A US product called Chirozyme T5-T9, specifically formulated for hiatus hernia, contains a number of herbs and vitamins to soothe and heal the digestive tract.
You'll also need a good probiotic to repopulate the gut with 'friendly' bacteria. Lactobacillus GG, a variety of L. acidophilus purified in Finland, has proved effective in preventing diarrhoea and treating ulcerative colitis.
Finally, there's one thing you can do straightaway - start chewing gum. A small study has found that chewing gum can ease the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Eating increases gastroesophageal acid levels, leading to uncomfortable symptoms, but chewing gum for an hour after a meal had a sustained benefit, more so than either walking or sitting (Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 2001; 15: 151-5).
* Where to go for the tests
Gut permeability tests are carried out in the UK at: Biolab Medical Unit, The Stone House, 9 Weymouth Street, London W1W 6DB, tel: 020 7636 5959; and in the US at: Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratories, 63 Zillicoa Street, Asheville, North Carolina 28801-1074, tel: + (828) 253 0621.
Stool analysis is available at: Parascope, Department of Microbiology, Chapel Allerton Hospital, Chapeltown Road, Leeds LS7 4SA, tel: 0113 392 4657.
Parasite infestation analysis can be carried out at The London Clinic, 20 Devonshire Place, London WD1 2DH, tel: 020 7723 6581, or at the Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratories (as above).