What's causing my Acid Reflux and 16 ways to resolve it
I suffered for years from heartburn and excruciating pain under my ribs that literally made me hold my breath and freeze to the spot for fear of making it worse. Acid reflux or GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is no laughing matter. It was just one of many ‘minor’ symptoms that I suffered from at the time and along with most people I just looked for a pill to fix it. It was a few years later that I began to learn that ‘minor’ symptoms are our bodies’ way of telling us that something is out of balance and the answer is to stop and listen and to learn what it needs to restore the balance. Rather than to just pop a pill to mask the symptoms while the underlying cause gets worse. Let’s take a look then at what’s going on behind the scenes of that pain in your ribs! There are a number of possible causes including:
Too much stomach acid (HCl)
Too little stomach acid
Helicobacter pylori infection
Relaxed/weakened oesophageal sphincter (LES)
The symptoms are exactly the same whether you have high OR low levels of stomach acid. Is that a surprise to you?
Have you assumed that your acid reflux is caused by too much stomach acid and you need to take antacids to dampen it down?
As you can see from the list, there are many other possibilities and in fact many of the above causes are actually linked to LOW stomach acid levels not high.
Low Stomach acid (HCl)
To find out if low levels of stomach acid could be causing your symptoms read more here Candida/yeast infection An overgrowth of a common yeast called Candida Albicans can lead to food beginning to ferment in the gut instead of being broken down and digested. This fermentation process produces excess gas that builds in the small intestines, the stomach and finally breaking out up into the oesophagus taking some stomach acid with it.
Chronic stress The body only has one stress response regardless of the situation you are in. Being stuck in a traffic jam or being on the receiving end of a perceived snub will produce the same adrenalin rush that fighting off a lion would produce. A whole heap of chemical changes happen in that split second of ‘danger’ and part of that stress response is to shut down digestion because your body is not expecting you to want to eat a meal while you’re fighting that lion. It shuts down the resources to your digestion and directs all those resources to areas that will need them in order to fight i.e. muscles, brain, eyes etc. If we continue in a stressful frame of mind day in and day out, perhaps reliving those hurtful words that were spoken or the frustration of things going wrong then our digestion stays on a go-slow and stomach acid is not produce in adequate amounts. Read more about low HCl here.
Relaxed/weakened lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) This valve separating the oesophagus from the stomach should stay tightly closed most of the time, blocking food from passing back up the oesophagus but there are a number of diet and lifestyle choices that can weaken this valve. Factors that can weaken the oesophageal sphincter (LES) and make reflux worse:
Fried or fatty foods
Coffee and tea (even decaffeinated)
Certain medications can cause the valve to relax and not stay tightly shut.
Hiatus hernia - puts pressure on the LES through part of the stomach being pulled up through the diaphragm allowing food to escape into the oesophagus.
Cigarette smoking - nicotine weakens the LES.
Low stomach acid - adequate HCl production is needed to stimulate the closure of the valve.
Once the oesophagus lining has been damaged by acid reflux the following foods and drinks can irritate the lining further:
Citrus fruits and juices
Sugary foods and drinks
Ever heard of silent reflux?
This refers to the damage done to the throat and vocal chords by stomach acid. Not only has the LES been breached causing damage and inflammation to the oesophagus but the acid has also broken through the upper oesophageal sphincter (UES), a valve that sits at the top of the oesophagus. When this happens the acid can come into contact with the throat, vocal cords, lungs, mouth, sinuses, ears, and nose.
Silent reflux symptoms in adults can include anything ranging from hoarseness, sore throat, difficulty swallowing and bad breath through to ear infections, snoring and breathing problems.
So what can we do to help resolve acid reflux? 1. Avoid the diet and lifestyle factors listed above if that is possible but please never stop any medications without full agreement with your GP. 2. Adopt effective stress management which can include learning to say “no”, choosing to look for the humour, choosing gratefulness, deep breathing, relaxation, exercise and anything else that gets you thinking and feeling differently about your situation. 3. Include foods that calm and help reduce reflux:
Essential fatty acids i.e. oily fish, nuts and seeds
Foods that contain enzymes that help support digestion i.e. vegetables, fruit esp. pineapple and papaya.
Pre and Probiotics can help balance gut bacteria, support digestion and so reduce reflux i.e. fruit & vegetables, pulses, plain bio yoghurts, fermented foods such as kefir and sauerkraut.
4. Separate protein & carbs particularly in evening meal i.e. have meat, fish or omelette with just vegetables or salad 5. Reduce the size of meals to smaller more frequent meals. 6. Chew food slowly and thoroughly. 7. Leave 3 hours between last meal or big snack and bed. 8. Avoid drinking for 2 hours before bed. 9. Elevate your bed head by about 6 inches (extra pillows aren’t the same). 10. Avoid chewing gum. 11. Prepare fresh meals where possible to stimulate gastric juices and enzymes. 12. Avoid any foods you suspect you are intolerant of. 13. Request an NHS test for Helicobacter pylori 14. Bitter greens before a meal stimulate the production of HCl i.e. a dark green leaf salad starter or a cup of dandelion root coffee. 15. Apple cider vinegar diluted in a little water sipped just before a meal helps to lower the pH of the stomach. 16. Various herbs can form a soothing coating on an irritated oesophagus to help elevate symptoms as you focus on the root cause. These include Slippery Elm and Marshmallow and deglycyrrhized Licorice Root Extract*. PLEASE NOTE: Do not use without consulting your health provider if you are on any medications or have any contraindications such as pregnancy, breast feeding or medical condition.
*Deglycyrrhized Licorice Root Extract. It is important to buy the deglycyrrhized version as this means that the compound glycyrrhizin has been removed. Excessive consumption of glycyrrhizin raises blood pressure, causes edema and reduces potassium levels so buying Deglycyrrhized Licorice Root Extract avoids those side effects. Even so, please not the caution above, check first and do not take long term, focus on dealing with the root cause. I personally found this supplement extremely helpful when I was suffering from acid reflux.
If however, your acid reflux has been confirmed through a test to be caused by high HCl, which is far less common, then the following foods can help to reduce HCl:
Chamomile or fennel tea - avoid drinking hot as hot tea stimulates stomach acid
Apples and apple cider vinegar (apple cider vinegar helps regulate the levels whether they are too high or too low)
Water - drink a glass during a meal