What causes acid reflux?
Do you experience heartburn and acid reflux after eating food?
You are not alone. Over 25% of the population in the UK suffers from acid reflux at least once a month and up to 40% of people experience indigestion or dyspepsia at some point (1). Doctors prescribe various medications for acid reflux but do you know what causes acid reflux?
Medications for heartburn and acid reflux
There are three types of medications used for managing acid reflux: Antacids, Histamine H2-receptor antagonists commonly called H2 Blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors.
Antacids are over the counter medications that temporarily neutralise the presence of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. H2 Blockers are drugs that block the action of histamine which is required for the production of stomach acid but also they stop the production of Pepsin, a digestive enzyme our body needs to breakdown protein. Proton Pump Inhibitors block the action of proton pumps in the stomach whose chemical reaction results in the production of stomach acid.
Unfortunately, like with any drugs, it is common to experience some side effects which varies in severity. This is particularly the case when people take these drugs over a long period of time.
As a Nutritional Therapist, my concern is that GPs provide these drugs to patients based on symptom assessment only. Physical examination only takes place in severe cases.
The causes of heartburn and acid reflux
The misconception around heartburn is that our body produces too much acid. However, in the majority of cases, according to research carried out by Dr. Wright, the stomach is not producing enough acid.
5 reasons why you may have low stomach acid
- Stress: these days, life is so busy, we don’t even realise that we are constantly under stress. When the body is under stress, the digestive system shuts down and this could be a reason why the stomach is not producing enough acid.
- Aging: unfortunately, as we get older, our body’s ability to produce enough acid to break down the food we eat decreases.
- Medications: the drugs listed above when taken long terms can cause low production of stomach acid and this can have an impact on your digestion.
- High consumption of sugar and alcohol: Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in our gut. When the balance of bacteria is disturbed, we can experience low stomach acid.
- Vitamin deficiency: It is not uncommon for people with deficiencies in vitamins B and Zinc to experience low stomach acid.
Stomach acid – how important is it for the body?
Hydrochloric acid helps the body break down, digest and absorb nutrients such as protein, vitamin B and Zinc. It also eliminates bacteria and viruses in the stomach. This is very important since this action protects our body from infections.
“How can I improve my digestion naturally?”
This is a question I get asked a lot when people are interested in cutting down heartburn or reflux medications. When you take medications long term, they can impact on the whole of your digestive system. This may result in bloating, burping, gas, SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), yeast overgrowth, IBS symptoms, food intolerances, nutrient deficiencies, skin issues etc…
5 tips to improve digestion naturally
- Chew your food very well. The longer you chew your food, the better prepared your stomach will be to receive food and process it.
- Limit the amount of liquid you consume during your meals as this would dilute the acid in the stomach. Drinking between meals is preferable.
- Manage stress the best you can as this has a big impact on digestion. Breathing exercises and meditation can really help reduce stress and therefore improve digestion.
- Get your body moving every day. Walking is excellent to improve digestion and so is yoga.
- Try herbal bitters before meals. The taste of bitter on the tongue stimulates the brain to release digestive juices in our stomach. Viridian offers an Organic Digestive Elixir which is made with peppermint, fennel, gentian, and angelica extracts.
The Stomach Acid Home Test
To work out the cause of acid reflux and whether your stomach has a good level of acid, you can do a little test at home using a common kitchen ingredient: bicarbonate of soda.
Simply dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in 200 ml of water and drink on an empty stomach. If you burp within 3 minutes, you have detected the presence of stomach acid. If you haven’t burped after 3 minutes, you may benefit from a little boost.
If you are concerned about your digestive discomfort, always consult your doctor first. If you are not keen on taking medications to control acid reflux, Nutritional Therapy can be effective in finding the root cause of the acid reflux and can be a powerful tool to manage or eliminate the symptoms.
For more information, feel free to get in touch via the contact form here.
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