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Hiatal Hernia: Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness

When people are new to natural healing, they can often feel overwhelmed by the various supplements and modalities that are available. Often, they just don't know where to begin—especially when there are so many different companies and healers telling you to “buy our products!”

Although I do sell herbs and nutritional supplements, there are many things that are important to improving health that don't involve swallowing something. In fact, there is one key to helping people improve their health that has solved more health problems than anything else I've ever learned. It has helped me resolve cases where people had been to numerous doctors and healers but had made no progress. It is an underlying problem in all chronic illness. This problem is tension in the solar plexus and/or a hiatal hernia.

My own health improved dramatically when Jack Ritchason taught me about the hiatal hernia (also called a hiatus hernia), and pulled mine down. At the same time, I learned about the ileocecal valve and how to fix that, too. Learning to fix these problems was the single biggest key to improving my health and has been a big key in improving the health of others, too.

Before I learned how to fix this problem, I had to be extremely careful about what I ate and I had to take a lot of herbs and supplements to stay healthy. I also had to do a lot of cleansing. Even then, my health was not as good as I would have liked it to be.

Once my hiatal hernia was fixed and my ileocecal valve was closed, I found that I could eat a wider variety of foods without suffering a negative impact to my health. I also had to take less than half as many herbs and supplements to get the same results. When this was corrected, I had more energy, gained muscle mass and felt better overall.

Jack taught me that all chronically ill people have a hiatal hernia. I'm not sure that this is the case, but I do know that nearly all chronically ill people have tension at the solar plexus that is interfering with digestion and breathing. Whether this condition would be considered a full-blown hiatal hernia by the medical profession or not, I don't know.

What is a Hiatal Hernia?

Hiatalhernia.gifThe esophagus passes through an opening in the diaphragm muscle called the hiatus. The esophagus ends where it connects to the stomach. The stomach lies in the abdominal cavity below the diaphragm. What a person has a hiatal hernia, a portion of the stomach protrudes up into the chest cavity through the opening for the esophagus (as pictured below).

The diaphragm muscle is supposed to contract downward into the abdominal cavity to expand the chest area when we inhale. As the diaphragm relaxes upward, we exhale. This is why a baby's tummy rises and falls when they are breathing. The movement of the diaphragm causes the abdomen to expand outward when we inhale and relax inward as we exhale.

When the stomach is in the way of the diaphragm, it can't move like it is supposed to, so the person can't take a deep abdominal breath. In order for the person with a hiatal hernia to take a deep breath, they must lift their chest and shoulders.

This is what I do to determine if a person has a hiatal hernia. First, I ask them to take a deep breath. If they breathe upwards into their chest, I show them how to breathe abdominally and ask them to try it.  A person who has a hiatal hernia cannot take an abdominal breath—even when I try to coach them how to do it.

Chronically ill people are almost universally chest breathers. Occasionally, with a little coaching they can take a little bit of an abdominal breath, but even then it is strained, suggesting that they may have a partial hiatal hernia. Some chest breathers seem able to be taught how to breathe abdominally and can do it with coaching. This suggests they don't have a hiatal hernia, but they still have tension in the solar plexus, which is inhibiting breathing. I believe this tension is adversely affecting digestion, too, even though the problem is not actually a hiatal hernia.

Check yourself, right now. Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath. Your chest should move only slightly, but your abdomen should expand outward noticeably when you inhale. If your chest expands outward and your stomach pulls inward when you take a deep breath, you probably have a hiatal hernia or at least tension in the solar plexus.

Medical literature suggests that 1-20% of the population have a hiatal hernia, but about 95% of the people I see have problems breathing deeply from their diaphragm. While this doesn't mean they have a medically-diagnosable hiatal hernia, it does suggest they have problems with both breathing and digestion that are contributing to their health problems.

Problems Caused by a Hiatal Hernia

The first problem a hiatal hernia creates is shallow breathing. Shallow breathing increases acidity in the body because breathing is the first line of pH buffering. Shallow breathing also increases pain, since pain is usually a sign of lack of oxygen to the tissues. Shallow breathing reduces energy levels, because the cells need oxygen to create energy. A low oxygen environment is ideal for the growth of bacteria, parasites and cancer cells. In short, lack of oxygen is one of the primary causes of chronic illness—a cause that is overlooked by most people who are selling nutritional supplements or teaching people about nutrition or health.

That's bad enough, but the problem doesn't stop there. Besides causing shallow breathing, the hiatal hernia also inhibits digestion. It causes stress on the nerves to the stomach, which reduces secretion of acid and enzymes. As a result, proteins are not properly digested and minerals are not properly absorbed. This is why people with severe hiatal hernias lack muscle tone and are often very sickly. Many young people with this problem are excessively thin, while older people tend to be overweight with poor muscle tone.

Depending on how far up into the diaphragm a person's stomach protrudes, a hiatal hernia may or may not cause problems with acid reflux. If the stomach is in certain positions, the sphincter at the top of the stomach will not close properly to hold acid in the stomach. In my experience, people with chronic acid reflux always have a hiatal hernia. However, the reverse is not true—not everyone with a hiatal hernia experiences acid reflux.

The ironic thing is that people with hiatal hernias don't produce enough hydrochloric acid to properly digest food, but because they are prone to acid indigestion, heartburn and acid reflux, they are frequently neutralizing what little acid they do produce with antacids and acid blockers. The result is a vicious downward spiral of declining digestive function and general health.

The Ileocecal Valve

ileocecal-valve.jpgThe problems we've discussed so far are directly caused by the hiatal hernia, but there are also numerous secondary problems caused by this condition. For instance, a hiatal hernia will often cause frequent gas and bloating. This is because improperly digested protein will accumulate in the intestinal tract and contribute to intestinal irritation and inflammation. Poorly digested food irritates the ileocecal valve (which separates the small intestine from the colon) causing it to become inflamed. When the ileocecal value is inflamed, it swells and the swelling prevents it from shutting properly. This allows bacteria from the colon migrate into the small intestines and feast on the sugars in the small intestine. This will cause severe gas and bloating. I've relieved many severe cases of bloating just by closing the ileocecal valve.

An open ileocecal valve is like having your septic tank or the sewer back up into your kitchen. Not a very pleasant thought is it? About 95% of all people with a hiatal hernia also have an open ileocecal valve, although occasionally you'll find one without the other. An open ileocecal valve weakens the entire body.

You can locate the ileocecal valve by drawing an imaginary line from your belly button to the protrusion of bone on the front of your right hip. The ileocecal valve is located just under the halfway point along this line. Find this point right now and press inward. If you feel pain when you press on this spot, you probably have an open ileocecal valve. You can close it by massaging this area using small circular movements while breathing deeply. When the pain goes away, the valve is closed. You'll probably need to do this at least once a day for a few weeks to keep it closed.

Other Problems Related to a Hiatal Hernia

If the hiatal hernia protrudes upward far enough, it puts pressure on the bottom of the heart. Occasionally, I have seen people with a rapid or irregular heartbeat which cleared up when their hiatal hernia was fixed. Also, Jack Ritchason taught me that a large percentage of heart attacks (about 50%) are triggered by intestinal gas and bloating putting pressure on the heart via a hiatal hernia. So, add cardiac problems to the list of potential problems from a hiatal hernia.

Since the esophagus has to be shortened because the stomach is protruding upward, this can cause a slight “kink” in the esophagus. This often happens in the throat area, which can cause the sensation of a “lump” in the throat. It can also cause difficulty in swallowing food or capsules. If this “kink” in the esophagus occurs near the thyroid, it can irritate the thyroid. In younger people, this can cause the rapid metabolism that makes them very thin. In older people, it can cause low thyroid and excess weight.

The shallow breathing and lack of hydrochloric acid (HCl) production can cause an over acid pH in the body, which makes a person more susceptible to infection. Lack of HCl also makes one more prone to infection because HCl kills infectious organisms in the stomach so they can't reach the small intestines. Lack of HCl also makes one more prone to fungal infections.

Improper digestion of proteins and lack of proper mineral absorption have more subtle and far-reaching effects. For starters, a hiatal hernia weakens the immune system and makes one more prone to infectious diseases, autoimmune conditions and cancer. It also weakens the structural system, causing more problems with arthritis, back pain, osteoporosis and other structural problems. Improperly digested proteins also contribute to chronic respiratory problems such as chronic sinus congestion, allergies and asthma. The glandular system is also weakened.

In muscle testing some clients, I've found that nearly every system of the body tested weak. Just by working on the hiatal hernia, I've had most of these systems test strong again. Clearly, the hiatal hernia weakens the whole body, so I think instead of saying, “death begins in the colon,” we should say, “death begins in the stomach.”

This article has three pages. Continue reading with "Correcting a Hiatal Hernia"