While prevalence estimates vary widely, the signs and symptoms of acid reflux don’t with the majority of sufferers experiencing a burning, painful sensation behind their breast bone or in the upper, middle abdomen. This is commonly called reflux (or gastroesophageal reflux to be precise) or heartburn…
Although, to confuse matters, some people with reflux don’t have heartburn. Well, no-one said the human was a straight-forward being!
What other signs and symptoms can be a giveaway of underlying reflux?
- Bad breath
- Cough, or respiratory problems
- Difficulty swallowing
- Gum irritation
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sore throat
- Tooth damage
What happens in reflux?
As explained in Google’s dictionary, reflux is “the flowing back of a liquid, especially that of a fluid in the body.” In terms of the GER, it’s when contents from the stomach flow back into the esophagus.
The esophagus is essentially a delivery tube that transports food from the mouth to the stomach. The cells lining this tube are designed to handle the rough and tumble of passing food and drink, not the caustic contents of the stomach below. The stomach contains high levels of acidity, which is why this impressively designed pouch of brilliant biology can break down pretty much whatever we put in it. It, too, is designed to meet its functions and features a thick, protective layer. There is an access point between the two called our cardiac sphincter, and when working well, this operates as a one-way door enabling food to pass down while blocking the return — or reflux — of acidic content back up.
If the stomach’s contents spill into the esophagus, this is known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER). If this problem occurs regularly, this is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Luckily, there are strategies and steps you can take to improve this painful condition. For a number of reasons, I’m not a big fan of long term medications designed to reduce stomach acid production, so…
How can you reduce GERD, naturally?
With a 2013 study published in the appropriately named journal, Gut, estimating 18.1%-27.8% of North American and Canadian residents suffer from GERD, let’s discuss what can be done to help these millions of people — maybe just like you — who struggle with this uncomfortable, potentially dangerous, condition.
Address obesity. Too much tummy fat can place excessive pressure on your stomach. Lose weight, where possible.
Quit smoking. Oh no, not another smoking no-no! Come on, if you’re still smoking you must know by now it’s no good for you. Smoking has been shown to reduce the pressure exerted by the cardiac sphincter allowing food to reflux. Interestingly, active smoking exacerbated this issue. If you choose not to quit, try not to eat and smoke at the same time.
Eat dinner earlier. Consuming a large meal and then heading to bed can encourage gravity to overwhelm your cardiac sphincter, and increases the incidence of reflux… especially if you are also overweight.
Raise your bed head. There’s good evidence to support the simple process of raising the head of your bed. In essence, it helps keep everything down. You have to love physics!
Avoid high fat meals. While there are no double-blind studies, there is evidence to suggest too much fat reduces the pressure the cardiac sphincter can elicit. Good fats are healthful and important, but a trial period with reduced unhealthy fats (think fast food) may help you identify a difference.
Improve your digestive health. I attended a seminar some years ago where the presenting microbiologist talked about GERD in respect to gut bugs, aka your microbiota. He noted that too many ‘bad bugs’ produced unhealthy gas, which could partially paralyze this sphincter, thus allowing acid to enter the lower esophagus and create heartburn and pain. Probiotic, anyone?
While there is much debate about which foods help and which foods hinder reflux, this can vary from person to person. Maintain a food diary and see if you can identify what it is for you.
Now, let’s take a look at some anecdotally linked…
Foods that may help
- Fresh vegetables
- Apple cider vinegar (Ok, I know it’s not a food as such, but this liquid can bring fast relief)
Food that may hinder
- Fried foods
- Raw onion
- Gluten (this is a BIGGIE for me!)
- Candies and sugar rich foods
While for most people, reflux is annoying, for some it can alter the quality of their lives. Whichever it is for you; talk with your health professional, rule out any nasty underlying cause or causes for your reflux, and implement the steps above.
We look forward to hearing all about what helps your GERD!