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'By paying attention to what I was putting in my body, I was finally able to stay reflux free'

Michael Kelly talks about cutting back on foods to help an ailment and has a great recipe for red cabbage, carrot and beetroot slaw.

WHEN I WAS in my late twenties I started to have some problems with my stomach, and more specifically with gastric reflux.

It is a miserable ailment where acid from the stomach is leaking up in to the oesophagus causing a heartburn-like sensation. The symptoms were severe at times – I clearly recall having to stop the car and pull over because I thought I was having a heart attack.

Looking back on it, I am pretty sure it was caused by a combination of a stressful job (in IT sales) and the utterly unconscious relationship I had with food at that time.

My GP prescribed me with a drug called a Proton Pump Inhibitor or PPI (brand names include Nexium and Prilosec) that acts to reduce acid production in the stomach.

Relief from the symptoms of reflux were almost instantaneous and I was pleased to report to anyone that would listen that thanks to the little pink pill I was able to eat (and
drink) pretty much anything I liked. I took a PPI tablet daily for nearly 7 years.

PPIs rank only behind statins as the world’s best selling drug with annual sales over $11 billion dollars in the US alone.  It’s no understatement to say that the drug has ended sheer misery for millions of people around the world. But, as with many wonder-drugs, there are concerns about side-effects and over-subscription.

According to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine (Heidelbaugh, Kim, Chang and Walker, 2012) PPIs have been linked to “increased risk of enteric infections, community-acquired pneumonia, bone fracture, nutritional deficiencies, and interference with metabolism of anti-platelet agents”.

In my case, I would say that the drug didn’t come without its problems, though of course it’s hard to establish a cause-effect relationship.  A few years after being prescribed PPIs, I noticed some issues with my health – joint pain, fatigue and a general ‘fuzziness’ in my head. Overall my body just didn’t feel right.  A nutritionist that I went to at the time believed the PPIs were causing this and explained it thus: if your stomach is producing a fraction of the acid it used to produce thanks to the pills, then it simply can’t digest food as effectively.

Seems obvious when you think about it. Larger, undigested morsels of food then travel down in to your gut causing damage to the gut wall.  Over time these lesions in the gut become big enough to allow little bits of food to enter your blood stream where your body views them as foreign invaders and responds by attacking them. The result? Your body is permanently on a war footing.

PPIs, though miraculous, mask the fact that many (but not all) reflux sufferers could solve their problems through diet change. This is problematic of course, because it’s much easier to take a pill then to do a root-and-branch reform of our diets. I was feeling unwell enough to give it a try and I resented how frantically reliant I had become on the PPIs.

With careful attention to what I was putting in to my body, I was finally able to stop taking the tablets and stay reflux free at the same time. I cut back on meat, wheat and dairy and greatly increased the amount of vegetables (most of them home-grown) in my diet. I will talk next week about improving general gut health and the role that fermented foods such as kimchi and kefir can play.

In general terms though, what you might describe as markers for inflammation in my body have disappeared, and I would say my overall health feels significantly improved.

Things to Do this Month – November

Do not leave beds bare for the winter – sow a green manure, or cover with a thick layer of
manure/compost and then black plastic or straw.  This will return nutrients to the soil, keep the worst of the weather off it, suppress weeds and prevent leaching of nutrients.

‘Earth up’ or tie up vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Divide up your rhubarb if you want to propagate, and cover it with a thick mulch of manure.   Prune apple trees. Mulch fruit bushes. Take cuttings of currant bushes from current season’s wood.


Sow broad beans outside now for an early crop next spring.  To avoid rotting before germination, make small newspaper cups and germinate them indoors first.

Next summer’s garlic does best if it’s planted before Christmas – plant outdoors in well prepared soil in a sunny spot. Though I have to admit I never bother with them, some varieties of onion can over-winter and will be ready to harvest in early summer.


Continue to harvest perpetual spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, swede, parsnips, apples, pears. Start harvesting leeks, winter cabbage, kale, artichokes, Brussels sprouts.  Time to lift carrots and turnips or at least cover them with a good layer of straw to protect them from frost damage.

Recipe of the Week – Red Cabbage, Carrot and Beetroot Slaw

I like growing red cabbage because it seems relatively impervious to some of the beasties that make growing other cabbages a complete nightmare. I must say however that we often find it difficult to do it justice in the kitchen and don’t find it as versatile as green or white cabbages.

This coleslaw is great though and I like to think the abundance of raw veg in it can offset the use of lots of mayonaise.  I have tried to do a more virtuous mayo-free version with mustard and vinegar but it didn’t work so well in my view.  This will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.


  • ½ a red cabbage, outer leaves removed and very thinly sliced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
  • 2 small beetroot, peeled and grated
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh parsely, finely chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoons mayonnaise


Combine all the vegetables and the parsley in a bowl and mix well. Season really well with sea salt and black pepper. Stir in the mayonnaise and sprinkle some more parsley on top.  Serve immediately.

unnamed Michael Kelly Michael Kelly

Tip of the Week – Lifting Spuds

This week I lifted the last of my maincrop potatoes from the ground to store them for the winter. Though main crop potatoes can remain in the ground to be used as required, in my garden they tend to get eaten by slugs and wireworm.

So around this time each year, I lift them for storage in a box in the garage. They don’t need to be stored in sand like beetroot or carrots, but a blanket to cover the box is a good plan to protect them from heavier frosts.

Before storing I got the kids to check through them all and divide them in to two piles (they enjoyed the muckiness of this job).  In to one pile they put the ones that already have wireworm damage or split skin to be used quickly – these I will keep in the house.  In the other they put the more perfect specimens which will store for longer in the garage.

I am delighted with the variety Cara which I have grown for the first time this year – we have had a huge crop of massive spuds which are particularly great for chipping and baked. We’ve been eating them for about a month now, and I harvested about 150 of them this week which I reckon should last us about 12-15 weeks (to the end of January or so).

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

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