Can Probiotics Help For Heartburn, Acid Reflux and GERD?

Health & Wellness

Did you see the recent 60 Minutes segment about probiotics? If you missed it, the segment was a hit piece. It left viewers with the conclusion that probiotics are, at best, an area of scientific interest that needs lots more research (which is true), and at worst, a total scam. 

While it’s true that probiotics are unregulated, and like any other supplement, there are high-quality brands as well as rip-offs, the 60 Minutes segment was clearly biased against using probiotic supplements. 

It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to conclude that much of the advertising budget CBS earns during 60 Minutes comes from pharmaceutical companies. In fact, according to MM&M (Medical Marketing & Media), which bills itself as “The media brand of record for pharmaceutical marketing and commercialization,” CBS is the biggest recipient of pharma advertising dollars, having earned almost $1 billion from pharma ads from December 2017 to November 2018. Thus, it’s in the interest of drug manufacturers to rain on the rapidly-growing probiotics supplement parade.

According to Statista, sales of probiotic ingredients are forecast to reach nearly $650 million by 2024. As more people take probiotics for heartburn, acid reflux and GERD, drug manufacturers will undoubtedly lose some revenue. 

Research Showing Probiotics For Heartburn Works

Perhaps you’ve heard the term ‘probiotics’ but you’re not sure exactly what they are. If this is the case, excuse this article for putting the cart before the horse. But by now, most people are familiar, at least on an elementary level with probiotics: the trillions of beneficial microorganisms that reside in the gut (mostly in the large intestine and colon); having enough friendly bacteria in the gut can prevent infections and disease. 

Millions of people with acid reflux syndrome are desperate for an effective, safe remedy that works. (Unlike Zantac, which may be contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical.) For this reason, let’s dive into some research that contradicts the 60 Minutes segment.

A study from earlier this year published in the journal Nutrients analyzed 14 studies on probiotic treatments for acid reflux. Of these 14 studies, 11 reported positive benefits, including lessening the severity of regurgitation; reflux, heartburn, nausea and gas. This meta-analysis was not mentioned in the 60 Minutes segment. 

A study from last year from the World Journal of Gastroenterology shows that taking certain strains of probiotics combined with the proton pump inhibitor (PPI) drug, esomeprazole, improves reflux. 

One strain of probiotic that has been shown to be effective in minimizing the severity of reflux is Lactobacillus. If you eat yogurt, you’re consuming this strain. Unfortunately, most yogurt contains added sugars, which negate any positive effects L. Bacillus may offer. (Eating a diet high in sugar or refined carbohydrates contributes greatly to reflux symptoms.)

Probiotics Improve Gut Flora In People With Reflux

L. Bacillus, the same common strain of probiotic found in many brands of yogurt, has been shown in research studies to reduce gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis is when you have not enough good bacteria and too many unfriendly microorganisms. This imbalance in the gut can cause reflux symptoms. Taking a PPI drug can lead to gut dysbiosis, which in turn can result in the infection, H. Pylori. The probiotic, L. Bacillus has been shown to reduce the severity of this infection

But eating yogurt, even if it’s low in sugar, may not be enough to help heal the gut if your diet isn’t healthy and you have a long history of taking PPI medication or OTC antacid remedies. 

For this reason, you may need a high-count, high-quality probiotic that can survive the harsh acidic environment of the stomach and populate the gut. This is one instance in which the 60 Minutes segment was fair to mention. Many probiotic supplements are of poor quality or have not been properly tested on human subjects to ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth.

Unfortunately, this article is intended for information only; it’s not a commercial, so a particular brand won’t be recommended. However, if you look up or (both of which require a subscription), you’ll find reliable data and research on brand safety and effectiveness. You can also contact a functional medicine doctor or naturopathic doctor for recommendations. 

Bifidobacterium is another strain of probiotic that has been shown to improve GERD symptoms. 

Another research study in Nutrition Journal concludes: “…Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, provid[e] efficacy for a wide range of upper- and lower-GI symptoms, such as abdominal pain and constipation.”

Conclusion: Probiotics Can Work For Reflux But They Are Unregulated

Gold-standard research studies involving hundreds or even thousands of people is prohibitively expensive. Drug companies cannot patent a particular strain of probiotics, therefore there is no financial interest for a big pharmaceutical company to conduct a large clinical trial on probiotics. While it’s true that the study of the microbiome, the trillions of microscopic organisms that reside on and in the human body, is in its relative infancy, the preliminary research on probiotics for reflux is quite promising. This is something that would have made the 60 Minutes report more balanced. But the pharmaceutical companies that bankroll CBS, including makers of heartburn drugs, would likely not have been happy.

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