A Hiatal Hernia is when the stomach slips up above the diaphragm (the flat muscle below
the heart and lungs that separates the upper chest from the abdomen). This may result in a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and acid reflux. Hiatal hernia syndrome occurs when the sphincter that separates the esophagus and the stomach loses it’s tone and becomes relaxed, creating the symptoms of a hiatal hernia without actual displacement of the stomach. These can affect stomach and digestive function, causing reflux and heart burn as the sphincter is no longer aligned. Digestion will be disrupted and minerals and certain vitamins (such as B12) will no be absorbed as well. Poor vitamin and mineral absorption will create problems on the Biochemical plane. The lowered mineral reserves may cause muscle cramps, or disrupt the nerves, making us jittery and anxious emotionally, or unfocused mentally. The stomach in the upper chest will interfere with heart and lung action, impoverishing the blood, making us fatigued, perhaps provoking anxiety from the discomfort itself.
Identifying the primary plane, the root of the problem — the mechanical — allows us to treat the root cause. The secondary problems or branches — the mental and biochemical — can be properly supported while the root is returned to health. Chasing problems in the branches — the anxiety, palpitation, cramps, etc. — would leave us chasing the branch symptoms and no the cause. Ignoring the need to support these branches would likewise prolong suffering. Understanding organ and tissue relationships and proportion of importance are part of the process of building health.
Understanding this approach is key to understanding the natural holistic approach to health. It is part of what clearly distinguishes the natural approach as the rational and sensible path to health.
Naturopathic Diagnosis of a Hiatal Hernia
What can we do naturally to identify and treat a Hiatal Hernia, or the even more common Hiatal Hernia Syndrome? Diagnosis of a hernia with x-ray or endoscopy is an option — though we make use of it very rarely for this purpose. A much more simple procedure is to check the diagnostic physical reflexes that are present when a Hiatal Hernia or Syndrome is present. These diagnostic reflexes — under the left rib cage, between the 4th ribs on the front and side of the chest, and on the left of the spine, between the 11th and 12th vertebrae — are uncomfortably tender when a hiatal hernia is present. With treatment, these reflexes will reduce in tenderness, sometimes immediately disappear, and are a useful guide to treatment.
Conventional Diagnosis and Treatment of a Hiatal Hernia
When a hiatal hernia is suspected in conventional medicine, an endoscopy or x-ray is performed. If a frank hernia is found, the options for treatment are acid inhibitors and surgical repair. Unfortunately, both of these approaches have problems. We need very acidic stomach secretions to properly absorb vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Long term use of acid inhibitors causes numerous health problems — contributing to such problems as osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s. The surgical repair is oftentimes unsuccessful and as with all cutting surgical approaches, comes with risk of improper surgical repair, infection, scar tissue, etc.
Naturopathic Treatment of Hiatal Hernia
The Mechanical aspect of both hiatal hernia and hiatal hernia syndrome generally respond very well to soft tissue manipulation. In this procedure, we gently relax the upper abdomen and gently manipulate the stomach into correct position. The procedure can take anywhere from ten to 20 minutes. Anywhere from one to five procedures may be necessary over a period of time.
The technique of reducing a hiatal hernia was formerly known as ‘bloodless surgery’ or ‘manipulative surgery.’ Dr. Adolf Lorenz, a European physician, was a master of the art who pioneered techniques in the early 20th century. One of his pupils was Dr. Byron White, whom he trained in the 1920’s.. The late Dr. White directed the Happy Acres Memorial Hospital in McMinnville, OR, which closed with his passing in the late 1960’s. The hospital specialized in a variety of manipulative surgery techniques such as hiatal hernia treatment, repositioning of displaced kidneys, manipulating gallstones out of gall ducts, kidney stones out of ureter tubes, repositioning torn menisci of the knee, treating lumbar discs, and a good deal more. Dr. Lloyd Jacobs was a physician who worked at the hospital and was trained by Dr. White. Dr. Blake was fortunate to be trained by Dr. Jacobs in many of these techniques.
Holistic Treatment of the Person with Hiatal Hernia
The Mental/Emotional or Biochemical problems associated with hiatal hernia — such as cramps from low calcium and magnesium, anxiety from low B-vitamins, etc. — are readily supported naturopathically as the body returns to health. If the esophagus has been irritated by the reflux, herbal treatment is very effective at healing these tissues.
It is very important to note that the muscular sphincter that separates the tender esophagus from the harsh acidic stomach enzymes is stimulated to constrict, to tighten, and thus protect the esophagus by the stomach acid itself. Thus, low stomach acid levels will not stimulate the sphincter and allow the esophagus to be irritated. Low acid levels for the stomach and sphincter may well still be too much for the tender esophagus — which is why lowering the levels even further with acid-inhibitors helps people symptomatically. However, a muscle we do not use…we lose — so strengthening the sphincter is important for complete treatment. Digestive enzymes and self-massage of reflex points can be very useful. A series of Bio-Thermal Therapy™ Treatments are very powerful to restore proper tone and rhythm to the stomach, to hold it in proper position, to improve digestive secretions, and greatly increase the strength of sphincters of the stomach.