Acid Reflux: the Popular Myth
The Real Cause of Acid Reflux
Most people believe that acid reflux or heartburn is caused by too much acid in the stomach. This idea is supported by drug companies who make billions each year off of acid suppressing pharmaceuticals. The problem for patients is these treatments lead to more problems and never address the underlying cause.
Acid reflux is the most common digestive complaint and its on the rise. It often goes unreported and people use antacids to mitigate the symptoms. Reflux can have serious and even life-threatening complications, including scarring, constriction, ulceration, and cancer of the esophagus. Poor stomach function affects the sensitive esophageal lining. It also extends downwards instigating problems in the digestive tract like IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome is the second cause of missed work after the common cold.
Don’t Just Treat the Symptom
Stomach acid actually declines with age and we know the incidence of gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) increases. In clinic most people with reflux respond well to stimulating stomach acid either by supplementing with hydrochloric acid or raw apple cider vinegar. There are rare cases where a patient has too much acid and we treat this differently. Pharmaceuticals do give relief from the discomfort and this can be helpful. When these drugs were developed the suggested use was six weeks. In the long-term the problem worsens. By further inhibiting acid production when it’s already low is good only for the drug companies.
What is the cause of GERD?
A malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter or valve (LES). Any amount of acid in the stomach will damage the lining of the esophagus. Like the colon the stomach is meant to have an acid environment. This is how it functions to ensure the microbiota is healthy. It keeps out pathogenic bacteria, breaks down protein and starts the enzymatic cascade for the rest of the digestive process. The LES opens to allow food into the stomach and then closes.
Acid stopping drugs promote overgrowth of bacteria, weaken our resistance to infection, reduce absorption of essential nutrients, and increase the likelihood of developing IBS, other digestive disorders, and cancer as was mentioned earlier.
Increased abdominal pressure due to gas in the stomach is one cause of the LES malfunctioning. Carbohydrate malabsorption is a primary cause indicating a deeper look at diet. A moderate carbohydrate diet with no processed food can often be helpful.
Stress is usually involved as well which is actually good news. Making changes to manage stress is one of the most important actions anyone can take in order to enjoy life. This is where the evolutionary framework come in. Simply standing up every 45 minutes if you work at a desk can do wonders. Ten minutes of mindfulness practice a day lower stress considerably. Moving and playing frequently and eating meals with loved ones are all helpful. Stay tuned for my stress management course where you learn about the physiological effects of these small changes.