Acid Reflux–A Singer’s Worst Nightmare

Help for Singers: Effective Nutritional Solutions to Healing Acid Reflux Disease

Imagine: You are rehearsing for your first major singing role with an opera company and your vocal range has become unpredictable. Some days you have your full range; others, you do not. But you have never experienced this problem. The opening night is in just one week. Your doctor says you have a nodule on your vocal cords, which has developed because you have acid-reflux disease. He tells you that you must rest your voice and not do the performances. You are devastated.

Health problems that affect performance are extremely frightening. They not only affect you physically, but they are an enormous burden to your mental well-being. Acid-reflux disease is a serious ailment that can permanently damage the voice. If we heed the profound statement of Hippocrates (460-370 BC) that ”All diseases begin in the gut,” then we must make a serious pursuit finding the root cause and correcting the source of any digestive issue. Since the longevity of a vocal career depends on health, it is imperative that true solutions are found to this problem.

Have you ever asked yourself why digestive ailments have become so common? There are endless radio, television and magazine ads about medication that helps acid-reflux and other digestive complaints. What is a large percent of our population doing that would promote this massive increase in the incidence of digestive disorders? Should the entire population succumb to these medications? It would seem that there are underlying reasons that so many people have these disorders.

I had acid reflux disease in my early forties just prior to becoming extremely ill with a life-threatening digestive disorder that nearly ended my musical career. I am the clarinetist and executive director of the Orion Ensemble, now in its 18th season. We tour throughout North America, present three series each year in the Chicago metropolitan area, and perform a live, internationally broadcast series on WFMT, Fine Arts Radio in Chicago. Besides playing principal clarinet with the Lake Forest Symphony, I frequently perform with the Lyric Opera Orchestra, Grant Park Symphony and the Ravinia Festival Orchestra. In addition, I have taught for over 30 years and have served on the faculties of the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, Northern Illinois University, Indiana University and Bradley University. In 2004, the Hal Leonard Corporation released my solo album of Bach unaccompanied cello and violin suites and sonatas transcribed for the clarinet.

In the fall of 2001, I became chronically ill for two years, suffering from a severe inflammatory condition in my spine, which caused debilitating pain in my arms, shoulders, hands and fingers making it difficult to play. I developed chronic diarrhea and my embouchure, the facial muscles I use to produce my sound, also began to shake uncontrollably. This was ultimately diagnosed as coming from a long-term digestive problem, intestinal damage and malabsorption as a result of following common nutritional dictates and Celiac disease—an intolerance to gluten grains.

Of great significance, despite the fact that I was chronically ill for two years, is that I had experienced ongoing musculoskeletal inflammation, often of a severe nature, since my 20s and relieved it through physical therapy-type approaches common to the field of music—you name it; I became an expert at it! In my late twenties and throughout my thirties, I was constantly “chasing” pain and stiffness from practicing and performing. When I would solve the discomfort in one area, another area would become irritated. I was also trying to eat a healthy diet and closely followed popular guidelines for healthy eating.

Along with inflammatory conditions, I had early digestive illness symptoms starting in my childhood.  Beginning in my youth I had ongoing flatulence, which is a sign of poor digestion and intestinal bacterial flora imbalances. When I was 42, I began to experience acid reflux disease. A very distracting problem for a wind player, I felt a constant pressure in my throat and the sensation of wanting to burp. Of course, when I did burp, acid would be released into my esophagus. This was very frightening and I sought answers to this problem. At this point, my solution was to stop eating wheat, which was quite helpful for the time being. However, several years later, I developed a spinal inflammation followed by a severe digestive disorder—life-threatening chronic diarrhea and malabsorption. Obviously, cutting out wheat was not the full answer to acid reflux, as my digestive disorder, unknowingly to me, continued to develop.

We have become complacent in accepting the widely publicized recommendation that a low-fat, high fiber diet is essential to good health. I later learned that the nutritional advice I was following was not based on the study of healthy people, but on trends. Although I thought I was eating a healthy diet, and for years had faithfully followed the US governmental guidelines, these modern conventions were clearly causing health problems.

If following modern dietary trends resulted in digestive problems, what then were the answers to healing? In order to not only save my career, but also save my life, I needed accurate information. This complicated puzzle was solved through a radical change in my diet based on studying the work of Dr. Weston Price that reversed my acid reflux and intestinal damage, and provided my body with the nutritional elements necessary for building health. I am now recovered and vibrantly healthy! For the first time in 25 years, even with a full performing, practicing and teaching schedule, I have had no pain or inflammation in my body for over four years. My embouchure is completely strong and I have excellent stamina and muscle strength.

Dr. Price was a prominent dentist in the 1930s who was baffled by the large percentage of degenerative illness in his patients—chronic ailments of all sorts such as arthritis, inflammatory conditions and digestive complaints, fertility problems, cavities, crooked and crowded teeth and behavior and learning problems in children. He sought answers to these problems by traveling worldwide to see if there were cultures free of these types of conditions. He found 14 vibrantly healthy isolated cultures that had no signs of degenerative illness and had eaten the same foods for centuries from generation to generation. Although their diets were completely different, he analyzed their foods and found common characteristics that determined their diet’s ability to promote optimal health and genetic potential in humans. He was able to cure chronic illness in his own patients through his findings. He wrote an incredible book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Through his unprecedented work and the development of the Weston A. Price Foundation, (www.westonaprice.org) there is a growing movement of people who are finding solutions to healing chronic conditions and serious illness through traditional foods.

What are some of the foods that Dr. Price found to be absolutely essential to optimal human health? The surprising traditional practices involve high-fat, easy-to-digest, nutrient-dense nutrition from pastured animals and wild-caught fish including:
•    Nutrient-dense, high-vitamin A and D foods, such as liver, cod liver oil and egg yolks—essential for nutrient absorption (Price found that healthy populations had 10x the amount of Vitamin A and D from natural sources in their diets.)
•    High quality traditional fats critical for digestion and nutrient absorption, such as raw butter and coconut oil.
•    Bone-broth soups made from chicken, beef, or fish with vegetables, simmered for up to 36 hours that heal the intestinal tract, are easy-to-digest, and provide essential nutrients in an easy-to-assimilate form, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and other amino acids. Secondly, they provide important bone and tendon-healing components.
•    Easy-to-digest, high-enzyme, traditionally cultured foods to help develop a healthy intestinal flora, such as homemade sauerkraut, pickled beets, and raw milk kefir and yogurt from grass-fed cows.
•    High quality proteins—meats, raw dairy and dairy products, poultry, eggs and fish—from animals eating their natural diets.

By focusing on eating ample nutrient-dense, traditional foods that support good digestion, such as raw milk from grass-fed cows often cultured into kefir or yogurt (yes, it’s legal—for details on finding a certified raw milk source, visit www.realmilk.com ), traditional lacto-fermented vegetables, egg yolks, meats and poultry from pastured animals, liver and organ meats, wild-caught fish—especially salmon and seafood, bone-broth soups daily, cod liver oil, and ample traditional fats, I was able give my body the nutritional elements to heal and build optimal health. Through these easy-to digest, nutrient-rich foods that supported the development of a healthy intestinal flora, I also corrected the low-acid state of my stomach, which ended the ongoing stomach and intestinal fermentation that I had experienced for so many years. Therefore, I no longer suffered from flatulence or any other digestion ailment symptoms, including those from acid reflux and a hiatal hernia. And after five years of following the principles of that Dr. Price discovered, I continue to notice improvements in my well-being.

Since my recovery, I felt that I needed to write a book that would help people in high-performing fields and others understand how our modern foods are causing so many health problems and offer accurate answers to healing. I knew that many artists were desperately trying to find solutions to serious career-threatening ailments, and had often exhausted all available resources. With the help of co-authors, Sally Fallon, international lecturer on nutrition and the founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and Dr. John Turner, DC, CCSP, DIBCN, the doctor who helped me with my recovery and has over 25 years of experience treating athletes, artists and the general public, I wrote a book called Performance without Pain (pub. 2006 by New Trends Publishing) and an acid reflux e-book called Acid Reflux: A National Epidemic and Precursor to Chronic Illness: Achieving Lasting Healing with Traditional Foods.

I have given over 70 seminars since 2004 for the general public, performing artists and families with children who have Autism. Since then, I have had the opportunity to witness how powerful Dr. Price’s principles are in helping world-class singers permanently recover from acid-reflux. The following are two recent stories that chronicle recovery with traditional foods:

I am a successful, internationally acclaimed singer in my fourteenth year of singing professionally. In that time, I have often struggled, plagued with GERD or performance anxiety that resulted in a reduced performance capacity. Let me start from the beginning, though, before I became a singer.

I grew up poor in a small town in Indiana. I was blessed to live in an area where growing one’s own vegetables or going to local farmer’s markets was common. We drank powdered milk and ate lots of red meat, all of which was corn-fed. Wonder bread was a staple, but, luckily, junk food was an expensive indulgence, as was eating-out, so we seldom experienced either, although we had our fill of KoolAid. I was diagnosed at the age of seven with a nervous stomach, which I now believe was reflux. I avoided sausage and very spicy foods, which seemed to make we feel the worst, and didn’t think anything else about it. I was always a very high-strung person, with lots of energy, nervous and otherwise, and I attributed that to metabolism and personality.

Fast-forward to college, when I am finally singing on a daily basis. I experienced problems with lots of unfocused, frantic energy that made settling into singing difficult. I also panicked easily. I would experience my “nervous stomach” problems before important events, and would never really know when I would have trouble with my voice. Being an extremely determined person, I soldiered on and performed well by sheer willpower. I advanced and improved and managed to make it into Orlando Opera’s Resident Artists program. I shortly thereafter was admitted into the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. I had to complete my work with Orlando, which included many exhausting programs for children and adults, sometimes having three to four shows in one day. I snag myself into a vocal node, and was on vocal rest for almost two months, only talking for two minutes a day. The first time I sang in public again after the node was my house audition for the Lyric; thus began my vocal descent.

My node never healed, my “nervous stomach” got much worse, my range was erratic, my voice unpredictable, my nerves shot. People heard that I was in trouble, but attributed it to bad repertoire choices and tried to change my fach. I still had the same willpower, which did help me get through performances, but it wasn’t enough. I had my biggest successes during this time, but suffered from the fact that my voice wasn’t “stellar” like it used to be. On a day that I was in vocal distress, I visited an ENT in Portland who scoped my cords and informed me that the node I had contracted five years earlier had never healed, and the “nervous stomach” from which I had suffered was indeed GERD. Scared, shocked, and a bit relieved, I visited a famous doctor who specializes in vocal surgery, which was very successful. My surgery was very successful and my cords were perfect again, and there was no reason that I should struggle anymore. Yet, I still had GERD, which acid reflux medicine and the diet the doctors prescribed didn’t help, and it wasn’t consistent enough for me to want to be on a medication constantly. My nerves were still shot, also, and I was panicked beyond belief. I found a wonderful teacher and got into therapy, which helped enormously. I also had a baby, which tends to affect the voice in a positive way, but I still could not get rid of the GERD, so my top range was inconsistent, and my focus and nerves were spotty on the best days, like I couldn’t stop the constant stream of noise in my head.

I met Kathy Pirtle when I was a guest performer with the Orion Ensemble, of which she is a founder. She saw I was drinking a lot of water, and had mentioned that I had GERD, which is a bad combination. She talked to me about Weston Price and the book she herself had just written about her performing problems and the life-changing diet she discovered. At this point, I had tried everything, from vegetarianism to Atkins to South Beach to the Blood-type diet, so I was willing to try anything. I was terrified that such a high fat diet would make me blow up like a balloon, and I had just gotten rid of all the weight I had gained from giving birth, but I thought my voice and health were more important. From day one, I noticed that I was hungry on less, and felt vital. My mood calmed down and my nerves settled, so that I could focus and think while singing, which is something I was rarely able to do. Also, reflux was a thing of the past, as well as gas, which I thought was something with which all people had to deal. I also continued to lose weight, and didn’t bloat the way I used to at any hormonal times of the month. If I decided to cheat and eat lots of refined grains and sugars, I would bloat up again, quickly put on pounds, get gassy, and might have reflux that night, so the proof for me has been, so to speak, in the pudding. Now, I am happier in my singing than any other time in my life, and feel I finally have the stamina to do it.

Another huge reason I decided to take up the diet was because of my mother. She recently has been diagnosed with breast cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, high blood pressure, Atrial Fibrillation, plantar fasciatis, bone spurs, thickening of the uterus, and depression. It all started for her with GERD, which went unnoticed for fifty years. I knew if I did not do something, I could end up in that condition. It wasn’t all about my voice, it was about my quality of life after my singing career was through.

Here is another professional singer’s story of healing from acid-reflux through traditional foods:

When I was in my early 20′s, I remember having a ‘sensitive’ stomach but thinking it was dorm food in college or stress. I didn’t think much of it. My stomach would hurt but I didn’t have throat burning or excessive throat mucous. This was prior to the first surgery.

I had my first vocal surgery in 1992. I was 33. I had a varicosity on my left vocal cord that needed to be cauterized. They had no idea what caused it. They said it could’ve been overuse—hereditary—they weren’t sure. No one at that time mentioned acid reflux. I had been experiencing erratic vocal symptoms. Sometimes I felt great, strong, like I could sing anything and for extended periods of time. Other times I would experience quick fatigue, muscle tensions that I couldn’t control and tightness in the throat. I later learned it was from the varicosity, which would swell sometimes but not always. He thought it had probably been there a long time and was working it’s way to the surface of the cord. It eventually burst which was how I figured out what was wrong. I lost my singing voice entirely when that happened. It was like I suddenly went hoarse.

I had another vocal surgery in 1997 for a similar thing. This time I had a pollup on the left vocal cord but when they went in to take it off, they found more varicosities on the cord, which they again cauterized. At that time, my doctor mentioned that he thought I maybe had some acid reflux symptoms and suggested I go on some medication. I can’t remember which one it was—maybe Nexium? He said I could take it whenever I felt it was necessary so I messed around with it a little but didn’t feel like I wanted to get dependent and didn’t end up taking it. I didn’t really believe him because at that time I wasn’t experiencing throat burning or even upset stomach. This surgery was a surprise. I had been singing regularly and had been feeling great. He thought it was a ‘vocal accident’—just a fluke.

By 1999, I had started my own business and was having more severe problems. I would notice that certain foods seemed to trigger symptoms. I was experiencing painful upset stomach and lots of gas and burping. I tried to control it with eating blandly and eating more often in lesser amounts. This helped some. I was under a tremendous amount of stress at that time with a new business and trying to get pregnant with our second. We eventually ended up adopting. I was noticing that the acid reflux was sometimes affecting my endurance and my voice would tire more quickly. I also felt like I needed to clear my throat a lot which of course exacerbates the symptoms. I was in a vicious cycle and it was starting to mess with my head. I felt I had no control over my instrument and couldn’t rely on it. Sometimes it was fine. Other times I felt nothing but struggle. I was experiencing a mild form of depression because of it. I had fantasies of quitting entirely and just giving up.

By 2002, I needed another surgery. This time, I had had it. I worked with a vocal therapist who told me that acid reflux can cause varicosities on the vocal cords. I had always been against taking medication and so struggled with the idea of taking something every day. But the therapist said I needed to take it regularly or it wouldn’t work. It needed to build up in my system. After the surgery, I had barely been talking, let alone singing and one month later, another swelling appeared on the right vocal cord (first time on this side). I went into a tail spin. I decided to go on the medication to protect my voice. I also decided to wait and see if I could ‘heal’ the problem naturally. I just wasn’t ready for another surgery. I found a great voice teacher who helped me get back on track. I was singing better but still feeling some vocal symptoms that I couldn’t control. (Weird fluttering in my mid register was the most annoying and prominent). I decided to have a fourth surgery in 2004 to get rid of the pollup. At this surgery, he said the cords looked cleaner and there was less redness and varicose problems so I felt like the medication was helping. I still felt uneasy about being on it indefinitely though.

Since that time, I have read your book and have been following the recommendations (at least about 80% of the time). I have taken myself off the medication and my voice is healthier than it’s been in a long time. I feel like my range has diminished slightly but other than that, I’m in good shape. This may be due to the fact that I’m older and am not using the upper most part of my range as much as I did when I was singing more classical music. It may also be because I’m peri-menopausal—at least that is what my doctor has suggested. I like to think that it has nothing to do with that, but I’m not sure. Additionally, through eating this way, after suffering my whole life with debilitating back pain, my back is much better. I’m sure it’s all related. I have a ways to go but am doing what I can to get as healthy as I can. Your book, along with Sally’s and the Weston Price Foundation’s stuff has been an inspiration. I finally feel like I’m on the RIGHT track.

These are just a few examples of healing through traditional foods. Why did our food supply change? To better understand this, let’s first examine the drastic changes that occurred since the dawn of the profit-based industrial farming industry in the 1950s. The foods we are purchasing in our grocery stores today have almost no resemblance to the quality and types of foods that our ancestors ate for thousands of years. With profit as the sole guiding force, our livestock are fed unnatural diets, which are generating foods that are very low in nutrient value; we pasteurize, homogenize, irradiate and alter our fresh foods in countless ways; we use chemical fertilizers and spray our foods with insecticides and herbicides; the shelves of our grocery stores are bursting with processed junk food of all kinds and the average person is eating about 180 pounds of sugar a year.

Before the 1950s, most of our foods came from small family farms. These high quality foods came from animals eating their natural diets—cows ate grass, chickens ate bugs and worms and all fish were wild caught. The food from animals raised on their natural diet was nutrient-dense. The grains, nuts and seasonal vegetables and fruits were, of course, also naturally, or “organically,” grown. Sugar consumption was much less—at about 40 pounds a year per person. With the industrial farming industry, came dramatic changes in land use. As our livestock were now fed grains instead of their natural diets, much of the land that was formerly used for pasturing animals was now allotted for grain production.

Significantly, profit from grains was essential to this new system of farming. This ignited a huge push to make profit from products made from grains. Thus the processed food industry progressed, vegetable oils were developed, the cholesterol-heart disease theory evolved and the Food Pyramid, which emphasized grains, became our nation’s nutritional guide. We went from a country that primarily ate nutrient-dense foods—raw whole milk and milk products; eggs; high quality meats, poultry and organ meats; traditional fats like butter, lard and coconut oil; seasonal fruits and seasonal vegetables—to a country that ate a lot of nutrient-poor grains and new-fangled processed foods, refined sugar, vegetable oils, and meats, dairy and poultry that were factory farmed. Beginning in the 1970s, fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world also gradually became available year round.

How did these changes to our food supply affect my dietary choices? As a child in the 1960s, my family ate plenty of grains—both whole, refined and in some processed foods—modest amounts of meat, eggs, dairy, vegetables, sugar and vegetable oils, including margarine, which was hydrogenated vegetable oil, and no butter or other traditional fats. I remember “Velveeta Cheese,” “Miracle Whip,” powdered milk (which my mother added to whole milk to make it stretch farther), “Blue-Bonnet” margarine, and many “new” sugarcoated breakfast cereals. All these exciting products had endless television commercials touting their wonderful attributes. My mom (thank goodness), having to stretch the family budget to feed 5 kids, did not let us have “Twinkies,” “Hostess Cupcakes” or other very popular—and expensive—snack cakes in our lunch like all the other kids—we got plain old, store bought, bargain cookies and fresh fruit.  I also remember the “bran cereal phase” where my mother heard that bran was really good for you—fiber was the “craze” in the early 1970s. We had bran breakfast cereal with added wheat germ every morning! My approach to “healthy eating” beginning in college in the late 1970s, did not include the “new-fangled” processed foods, but incorporated lots of salads, whole grains, fresh vegetables, fruit, peanut butter (it was cheap), small amounts of meat, dairy and eggs, vegetable oils, little sugar and no “evil” traditional fats—the Food Pyramid was in full force in our country and the “key” to healthy eating.

The consequences of these dietary habits were profound. First, I learned that the lack of traditional fats contributed to my problems with digestion and nutrient absorption. Second, I developed malnourishment and a “leaky gut”—a factor in inflammatory conditions—because most of the foods I ate as a child and those I thought were so “nutritious” as an adult were difficult-to-digest, nutrient-poor, and created intestinal flora imbalances, an incomplete digestion of foods to occur and nutrients to be unavailable. In fact, without foods that promote a healthy intestinal flora, the whole grains that I consumed could not be fully digested, and contributed to the development of “gut dysbiosis,” where unhealthy bacteria thrive in the intestinal tract and cause bacterial fermentation and intestinal damage. When the intestinal tract become damaged, undigested proteins can “leak” through the intestinal wall, causing an immune system response and inflammatory chemicals to constantly circulate throughout the body. Third, the result of following the US high-fiber nutritional dictates was persistent flatulence and fermentation in the stomach from these bacterial imbalances, which lead to acid reflux—my first serious digestive disorder symptom.

Often, acid-reflux disease is a sign of a hiatal hernia, where part of the stomach protrudes up through the esophagus and stomach acid can easily be released in the wrong direction. A lifetime of fermentation in my stomach produced a constant upward pressure against the esophagus due to the undigested foods being acted on by bacteria and yeast, thereby causing both of these ailments. Insoluble fiber is exceedingly difficult to digest, especially when digestion is not optimal, and historically, people consumed far less fiber in favor of more nutrient dense, easy-to-digest foods such as high quality dairy from grass-fed animals—raw milk, cream, cheese and butter—high quality meats and fish, bone broth soups and cooked vegetables with butter.

In a remarkable book by Konstantin Monastyrsky called Fiber Menace, (pub. by Ageless Press, 2005), the author describes major health problems that can develop from eating what’s considered a modern healthy diet high in insoluble fiber from grains, raw vegetables, fruits, legumes and even fiber supplements. He details how high-fiber diets cause large stools which stretch the intestinal tract beyond its normal range—eventually resulting in intestinal damage—and a drastic upset of the natural bacterial flora of the gut. The end results can manifest as hernias, acid-reflux, hemorrhoidal disease, constipation, malnourishment, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. He also provides numerous medical references to show that high fiber diets do not confer the benefits claimed for them.

The author of this book is a brilliant professional man who suffered a life-threatening illness from years as a vegetarian living on high-fiber foods. Konstantin Monastyrsky was trained as a pharmacologist, but after immigrating to the US from the Ukraine, pursued a career in high technology. He worked in two premier Wall Street firms: as a senior systems analyst at First Boston Corporation and as a consultant at Goldman-Sachs & Co. He has also written two best-selling books in Russian: Functional Nutrition: The Foundation of Absolute Health and Longevity, and Disorders of Carbohydrate Metabolism.

Monastyrsky explains that human teeth are fashioned to chop flesh and that our digestive system is built to handle mainly protein digestion, with only small amounts of fiber. When we eat too much insoluble fiber, digestion lasts longer and fermentation occurs, damaging the bacterial flora and causing problems such as bloating, flatulence and enlarged stools, leading to acid reflux, constipation or diarrhea, IBS and diverticular disease.

From eating a high fiber diet that encouraged poor intestinal bacterial flora, I also developed low acid in the stomach, further contributing to acid reflux. Where most research on poor digestion focuses on unhealthy intestinal flora, the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD, Mmed (neurology), MmedSci (nutrition), (pub. by Medinform, 2004), uniquely points to many problems with gut flora actually beginning with an unnatural growth of the fungus, Candida Albicans, in the stomach when it is not producing enough acid. Dr. Campbell-McBride discusses that this overgrowth interferes with the first step of digestion by causing the stomach to produce inadequate amounts of the hydrochloric acid necessary to break proteins into “peptides” before entering the small intestine. For instance, under normal circumstances, the gluteomorphine and casomorphine proteins in wheat and milk are broken down in the stomach in the presence of proper amounts of stomach acid. However, with less stomach acid, these foods in fact begin to ferment in the stomach and are not broken down into peptides before passing into the small intestine. Besides causing an inadequate digestion of foods, the pressure of the gas created from this fermentation can lead to acid reflux, esophageal problems and even hiatal hernias, which are some of the most common digestive problems that people experience. Consequently, medications that curtail the production of stomach acid further exacerbate poor digestion and bacterial flora problems.

For those who worry about getting enough nutrients without eating raw vegetables and fruits, nutrient-dense animal foods contain concentrated nutrients because the animals spend their whole lives “chowing down” literally bushels of fresh green grass and other plant matter. The result is meat and fat containing all the vitamins and minerals found in fresh produce, not only in more concentrated form, but also one that is easy to digest.

In Fiber Menace, the author gives practical advice not to eat anything that your great, great, great, great grandparents wouldn’t eat . . . but when our grandparents did include high-fiber foods like grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables in their diets, they could do this without ill effects because they had a healthy intestinal flora from eating cultured beverages and fermented foods, and they knew how to properly prepare legumes and grains for easy digestibility through soaking, sprouting and sour leavening or, in the case of vegetables and even many fruits, by cooking.  Additionally, they were able to eat these foods because they did not weaken the intestinal mucosal tissue by following a low-fat vegetarian diet.

It is wise to refrain from consuming raw vegetables and fruit until acid reflux symptoms are well under control for an extended period of time. After a full recovery, it may be possible to add small amounts of these foods providing symptoms do not return. The addition of grains, however, should be very cautious, as they may be difficult to tolerate or produce allergic reactions. It is best to only test properly prepared grains.

If you are concerned about constipation, some of the healthiest cultures had very little fiber in their diets. A diet with adequate traditional fats, fermented and cultured foods and beverages for a healthy intestinal flora, and easy-to-digest bone-broth soups will correct irritable bowel symptoms of both constipation and diarrhea.
Acid reflux is a very complicated problem that requires a thorough and honest assessment of all possible causes. As the optimal health of every body system is dependent on nutrition that supports the proper functioning of the digestive system, certainly studying and applying the essential components of the diets of cultures that had perfect health is a wise endeavor.

Although finding high-quality foods and changing your diet may at first be complicated, your health is your most important asset. Without your health, you may not reach your potential and your dreams may not become a reality. The foods that Dr. Price found that supported optimal human health are not the foods that are currently recommended by US governmental standards for healthy eating. However, these nutrient-dense foods were the permanent answer to correcting malnourishment, healing acid reflux and my digestive tract, and therefore, my long-term pain. The exciting news is there is a growing movement of people across the country that is turning to these same foods to improve chronic illness of all kinds.

Written By Kathryne Pirtle

Kathryne Pirtle is a world-class clarinetist whose career nearly ended because of performance difficulties caused by celiac disease, acid reflux, chronic inflammation and other health problems. Performance without Pain, written with Sally Fallon, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation and John Turner, DC tells the story of her trials and recovery.   As a health educator, she has given more than 70 workshops around the country with Dr. John Turner and appeared on numerous radio and television shows.  She has been published in the Autism File Global, Advance Magazine (a publication for Physical Therapy), Wise Traditions, International Musician, the Clarinet and writes a blog on her website www.performancewithoutpain.com about issues relating to building health with nutrient-dense foods. She has also just published an e-book called Acid Reflux, A National Epidemic and Precursor to Chronic Illness—Achieving Lasting Healing with Nutrient-Dense Foods.

Pirtle is executive director of the Orion Ensemble, which gives three concert series in Metropolitan Chicago, presents a live internationally broadcast series on Chicago’s WFMT-FM Fine Arts Radio Network and tours throughout North America. She is also is principal clarinetist of the Lake Forest Symphony and frequently performs with the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra, the Grant Park Music Festival, The Ravinia Festival Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

For more information on building health and healing with nutrient-dense foods see Performance without Pain and our new e-book on healing acid reflux.

11 thoughts on “Acid Reflux–A Singer’s Worst Nightmare”

  1. Wow, this article has been eye opening. I’ve suffered from acid reflux and thought I had it under control. It comes back from time to time and I figure going on a high fiber diet might help that. I’m glad I read this article and intend on buying one (or both) of the books!

  2. Hi. I have Celiac Disease. I have leaky gut and it seems I have difficulty with milk products. I have malabsorbtion as well very few digestive enzymes. I’ve been on Nexium a while. I’ve tried different methods of going off 3 times now. I just went back on tonight because I’m having a lot of difficulty singing and speaking. We have a gig this weekend. Any suggestions? I need to be able to get through this gig and my throat hurts. The acid reflux has been bad for a few days. I seem to be able to go off Nexium for 3-4 weeks and then it hits and my throat hurts and I go back on and I’m fine after a while. But I need faster results for this weekend.

  3. Wow, I loved this article. I’m ordering both books! It’s amazing that we can go to a specialist and pay a lot of money to be told information that does not work! It sucks, and I’m blessed to have found this article. Hopefully I will be able to heal my reflux based off of this information. I am starting immediately. Thanks!!!

  4. Thank you so much for this inspiring article. When I was first diagnosed with Acid Reflux, it didn’t bother me as much until my symptoms started to get worse and it started to affect my vocal cords. The doctor recommended I lose weight and eat healthier. I decided I needed to take back control of my health. I was already over 200 lbs obese and I thought that maybe losing weight would improve my overall health. I came across a diet called the Sacred Heart Diet and immediately lost 14 lbs in one week. I continued to lose weight after that as it helped to increase my energy and metabolism. After losing over 55 lb., I did notice my health improved with other issues. And although my Acid Reflux has decreased, I still have symptoms everyday. My children have noticed that I don’t sing as often as I used to. I used to be the type of person that was singing all the time especially when I cooked but now I just don’t have the same confidence as I used to have plus my voice is still hoarse. I don’t have the confidence to sing anymore not even around family members. I just don’t know when Acid Reflux is going to creep up so I save myself the embarrassment and I just prevent singing altogether. But I do admit I miss that part of myself. Singing kept me sane and it helped to relieve stress now I feel lifeless and captive within myself. ;(

    -Vane D. Lopez

  5. Dear Vane,

    I am glad you found this information. I have helped professional singers from around the world recover from acid reflux–I am hoping that you will follow the suggestions that are in my e-book.

  6. Thank you so much for this info.Some of the ladies sound just like me!!!..I had a beautiful voice& now I do not sing anymore because I knw it sounds horrible, due to health issues with my digestive tract!! Including hiatal hernia.im going to try your diet change!!thank you again!

  7. I have a strange problem. I have acid reflux and am on a PPI. I find that almost any animal protein like fish, chicken, red meat and eggs just sit in my stomach for around 12 hours and gives me massive heartburn. I had to go vegetarian. I can eat vegetable protein and that feels ok.

  8. Hi Jack,

    So sorry you have been suffering. Acid reflux is a horrible health challenge. Because you have been on a PPI, this will lower the acid in your stomach and make it difficult to digest many things–even healthy proteins. This will ultimately lead to malnutrition.

    I highly recommend that you read my book. It has helped people with these issues resolve them permanently. Acid reflux is caused by a candida overgrowth, and PPI’s do not address this issue. You must correct the cause of the acid reflux to recover.

    Many Blessings on Your Healing Journey,
    Kathryne Pirtle

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