I love watching antacid/heartburn commercials because they are pretty funny. A man is peacefully sleeping when he bolts up and grabs his chest while flames suddenly radiate from his chest. Poor guy isn’t getting any sleep but upon taking a dose of “Gaviscon and It’s Gone” he settles back into bed next to his wife who is smiling like a Cheshire cat in her white nightgown.
Though I’m making light of heartburn, having had experienced it myself I can attest to the fact that it is quite painful. Symptoms include a burning sensation in the chest (often this symptom is confused with an actual heart attack). The few times I have had it in the past, I did reach for a tums or gaviscon and…poof, it was gone. Before the relief came, however, my mouth was watering and the scorching pain of stomach acid in my throat had me keeling over in pain. It’s not funny business.
Heartburn is brought on by GER or Gastroesophageal Reflux which happens when a little sphincter at the base of our esophagus sporadically stays open instead of shut tightly. The esophageal sphincter is what keeps the contents of our highly acidic stomach where it should be – in our stomach. If you read yesterday you may assume that people with low quality Hydrochloric Acid (HCl), usually brought on by excess yeast in the gut, don’t have issues with GER. Interestingly, the opposite is true.
From a Holistic Nutrition perspective we ask three questions:
What role does HCl play in heartburn?
Stomach acid needs to be acidic enough to send a message to the Esophageal Sphincter (from hereon in, let’s refer to it as the ES) that it needs to stay closed. When the quality of HCl is compromised, the ES does not stay as tightly sealed as it should. Check out yesterday’s post on common causes of low HCl.
Why is the Esophageal Sphincter weaked?
Not surprisingly, the same foods issues that cause low HCl cause a weakening of the ES. When the ES is weak it can’t stay as tight as it should causing a back splash of although weak, still very acidic HCl into the upper esophagus and mouth. These include chocolate, excess sugar, coffee, tea, synthetic sweeteners, etc. Other foods that can weaken the ES include citrus, fatty foods, spices, peppermint, and tomatoes.
How does lifestyle play into the picture?
Aside from smoking which is indicated in almost every single health issue out there, another factor that is commonly present when there is persistent GER is a Hiatial Hernia which is often caused by overeating. The pressure from constantly full gut is that the stomach is pushed up and protrudes into the diaphragm and a resulting symptom is heartburn. GER is not uncommon to see in people who are overweight because often a lot of “non foods” are consumed which further exacerbate the problem.
On the other side of the spectrum, intense exercise can cause a Hiatial Hernia from the sheer pressure on our body.
So, antacids are a symptom suppressor but taking one doesn’t solve the problem in the first place. Listen to your symptoms and see if you can make the dietary and lifestyle changes that can improve the quality of HCl, strengthen your ES, and keep you sleeping soundly at night without an antacid.
If you have tried these changes and are not having any luck, try consulting with a Holistic Nutritionist or Naturopath who can put you on a protocol to test the level of acidity in your stomach and help you implement a more comprehensive dietary and lifestyle plan.
Check back tomorrow for the first post in a series on Nutrition Around The World which will examine nutritional habits and practices in different countries.
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