A burning issue – suggestions on how to combat acid reflux
Acid reflux, or heartburn, is a common problem which can be extremely uncomfortable. This is often considered to be due to excess stomach acid but, unfortunately, too little stomach acid can also bring about this very unpleasant feeling which can make diagnosis a bit confusing.
How can that be? Well, the food we eat enters the stomach and is broken down by hydrochloric acid secreted by the stomach lining together with the churning action of the stomach. When it is sufficiently broken down into more of a liquid substance it is propelled onward into the small intestine for further digestion, enabling the body to extract nutrients to support the functioning of our bodies in numerous ways. It seems reasonable to assume that if there is too much acid in the stomach, a little of it can splash back upwards into the oesophagus (the tube that connects the mouth and stomach) causing a burning sensation. For this reason, many people are prescribed medication such as Omeprazole which has the effect of reducing stomach acid. However, if there is insufficient stomach acid, it may slow down the digestive process because a lower amount of acid will take a longer time to break down the food. If the food remains in the stomach for a longer time it may begin to ferment and produce some gas, and the presence of gas in the stomach may cause a little acid to be pushed back into the oesophagus, thereby bringing about the same burning sensation.
So, what can you do about it? Here are some suggestions:
1. We need to encourage digestive juices before consuming a meal, so grabbing something on the go is best avoided. Digestion begins by thinking about food, seeing something delicious or smelling a tasty aroma – think how a dog begins to drool at the sight and smell of a sausage! Sitting down to eat in a relaxed environment is far more conducive to good digestion. Business breakfasts or lunches are far from ideal because the concentration is on the work, there may be tension and release of adrenalin which does not promote good digestion.
2. It’s important to chew your food thoroughly, as the larger the chunks of food that enter your stomach, the more work will need to be done to break them down. Your teeth are designed to prepare food for digestion, so be sure to make good use of them!
3. Certain foods have been found to exacerbate reflux for some people, such as chocolate, peppermint, garlic or spicy foods, dairy, citrus fruits, fried foods, alcohol and tomato-based dishes. Therefore, it would be a good idea to try avoiding these (one at a time) to see if it makes a difference, and then reintroduce them to monitor what happens and to see if the problem persists.
4. You may find that smaller meals are easier to digest than large meals and this may help to resolve the problem.
5. There may be more of a problem with reflux for those who are overweight and therefore losing weight may be helpful.
6. Posture is important because your organs need space to function and if you are slouched over a desk, for example, it may be interfering with your digestive process. It would also be wise to avoid lying down or going to sleep for about three hours after eating.
7. Low stomach acid may be assisted by sipping apple cider vinegar during a meal because this has been reported to enhance acid production.
8. Bitter foods can also enhance digestive acid production and you may like to try eating a small salad of bitter leaves such as radicchio or chicory, rocket, endive or kale as a starter or whilst preparing a meal.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one set answer for all sufferers because it may be caused by a combination of factors which vary from one person to another, but it’s well worthwhile considering all these points before reaching for the antacids.