Early in her medical career, Dr. Jamie Koufman, M.D., had an aha moment.
“I started seeing patients who hadn’t been able to find solutions to their problems with their primary care doctors or specialists,” explains Dr. Koufman, co-author of Dr. Koufman’s Acid Reflux Diet (Katalitix, 2015) and Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure (Reflux Cookbooks).
“They were frustrated and needed clarity,” she says. “Over time, it became clear that something bigger was missing” in their diagnosis.
The missing piece: heartburn and acid reflux.
“Most people associate reflux with heartburn, but it actually spans a wide range of different symptoms,” explains Dr. Koufman, a specialist in voice disorders and laryngopharyngeal reflux (which causes hoarseness). “Many people suffer from reflux, and it manifests in all kinds of nasty ways.”
In this exclusive interview, Dr. Koufman reveals the toll heartburn and acid reflux takes on our health, and the changes we can make to tame it.
You say reflux is more than just heartburn. How does it happen?
Reflux is mainly a problem of the valves in your esophagus. A sphincter can become faulty and allow gastric fluids to pass into your throat.
It causes heartburn, and a slew of other problems, including hoarseness, coughing, and mucus buildup. They’re not symptoms people normally associate with reflux, so many don’t realize that they have it.
Do people misunderstand heartburn?
Yes – and not just the symptoms. People misunderstand how dangerous it can be. Chronic inflammation in your esophagus can lead to serious conditions… the worst is esophageal cancer.
It’s not often discussed, but this happens to many people.
[Renowned lawyer] Robert Kardashian used to complain about reflux symptoms, and mainly treated them with over-the-counter calcium tab[let]s. Ultimately, he died of esophageal cancer.
We need to take it seriously.
What’s causing the rise of heartburn cases?
The modern diet of processed foods, acidic foods and rich meals has wreaked havoc on our bodies. It’s making us obese and diabetic.
Reflux, in particular, was giving people a lot of pain.
Do stress and lifestyle factors play a role in triggering acid reflux?
Absolutely! Imagine going to a dinner party – you have a rich meal, probably a lot of fat and meat, preceded and followed by alcoholic drinks. Then you finish with a chocolate dessert.
Reflux-wise, this is a recipe for disaster.
Does this mean we have to give up fine dining?
You don’t have to give up everything you love. You just have to learn what your trigger foods are and how to avoid them – or eat them in moderation.