Beach Metro Community News
Many people have experienced – at one time or another – some degree of “indigestion” or “acid feeling” after having eaten a very large meal or after consuming foods that did not agree with them. However, for some people, the symptoms of “heartburn” or “acid reflux” can be a chronic, painful, and often serious problem.
Acid reflux (clinically referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) occurs when acid from the stomach flows back into the esophagus (the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach) and subsequently causes a sensation of burning (commonly known as “heartburn”) that can travel from the chest upward towards the throat. For some, this feeling can be so severe that it mimics the symptoms of a heart attack.
Acid reflux or heartburn can be caused by a variety of factors. Firstly, we have a muscular valve or ring which is located where the esophagus and the stomach meet. This valve, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) allows the entry of food into the stomach and also prevents the acid in the stomach from moving up into the esophagus. However, if the LES is too relaxed or loose, the stomach’s hydrochloric acid can travel up into the esophagus, causing the sensation of burning. (Frequent and prolonged exposure of the esophageal lining to this acid can cause ulceration and even permanent damage if left untreated).
Secondly, if a person frequently suffers from heartburn, they may have a condition called a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach protrudes above the diaphragm (the muscular wall which separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity), resulting in a deformed LES. This problem can often be helped with specific exercises and techniques to strengthen the diaphragm and to move the stomach down into its proper position.
Finally, contrary to popular belief, acid reflux is not always caused by an excessive production of acid in the stomach. In fact, more often than not, it is caused by insufficient hydrochloric acid, as proven in clinical studies.
In general, acid reflux can often be controlled by avoiding the following: overeating, eating too fast, eating late at night, or consuming foods that are known to relax the LES (e.g. citrus fruits and juices, fried foods, spicy foods, high-fat meals, sugar, alcohol, chocolate, coffee, tea, milk, peppermint and spearmint tea and tomatoes). Other factors that can contribute to acid reflux are: smoking, pregnancy, obesity, certain prescription medications, and leading a stressful lifestyle. Therefore, it is not only important to make dietary changes, but also to practise stress management techniques and to address other lifestyle factors that could be aggravating or even causing this problem. Additional suggestions which may help to prevent symptoms include: not lying down less than three hours after eating, not eating just before exercising, improving digestion with digestive enzymes or herbs, elevating the head of the bed a few inches off the floor, and regular exercise.
For many heartburn sufferers, immediate relief is obtained by the use of antacids. Although these medications can be very effective in the short-term to control symptoms, they can worsen the situation in the long-run, as they block the natural production of acid in the stomach. We actually require adequate stomach acid for complete digestion and absorption of food and nutrients, to prevent food allergies, and as a first line of defense against harmful bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms which can enter through our digestive tract.
In order to effectively eliminate the symptoms of acid reflux, it is important to determine the cause. Therefore, it is essential to consult with a healthcare practitioner who can help you to diagnose the cause of your heartburn and address the underlying problem, rather than simply using measures to suppress the symptoms. Certain nutritional supplements and herbs can help greatly with this condition, as they can act to alleviate symptoms, while treating the root cause, improving digestion, and healing the digestive tract. It is important, however, to remember that there may be interactions and contraindications with natural remedies and certain medications or medical conditions. Hence, any treatment plan followed should be under the advice of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Note: This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace proper diagnosis and treatment by a qualified healthcare professional.