The Many Paths to Healing Heartburn
For some people, heartburn is simply your body’s revenge for an indulgent meal. For others, it can be a daily occurrence and the body’s way of saying something is wrong. Heartburn is a symptom of an underlying condition known as acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease. This condition occurs when the digestive tract becomes irritated and gastric acids and bile flow back up the esophagus. This causes damage to the esophagus as well as pain and discomfort, though sometimes there can be “silent reflux” with little to no symptoms. Other signs could be a chronic cough, bad breath or stomach pain. As much as the symptoms can vary from acid reflux, the causes can vary as well.
Some people may not experience stomach pain their entire life and suddenly heartburn starts. It can continue to get worse and is experienced most meals. An infection from the bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, can cause symptoms of heartburn and gastritis. This bacteria changes the pH in the stomach as it burrows into the lining of the stomach. It can be diagnosed through breath, stool and blood tests. Treatment can be from antibiotics or otherwise natural substances. There have been some studies showing probiotics, green tea, flavonoids, garlic, red wine and even broccoli can help prevent an infection. Often times, treating the infection and healing the digestive tract resolves heartburn symptoms.
Protecting the esophagus from the acids and bile within the stomach is a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. This muscle works in response to food entering the body to tighten or relax, allowing food to pass and containing stomach contents. Many factors can influence this muscle and cause acid reflux. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, have been shown to relax this muscle, so that even when the LES should be closing off, cortisol keeps it relaxed and open. Low estrogen levels have also been implicated with symptoms. The body is so connected that hormones out of balance can lead to heartburn symptoms.
Medication can also cause similar problems, particularly medication for high blood pressure can have the side effect of heartburn. If this is a side effect, a physician can help find an alternative medication that doesn’t damage the digestive tract.
The Body’s Structure
Hiatal hernia can be an underlying cause for acid reflux symptoms. A herniation is a protrusion of an organ out of its cavity. In this case, a hiatal hernia is the stomach escaping past the diaphragm and stretching upwards. The symptoms of these hernias can vary, but supporting the body’s structure can help mitigate the symptoms.
Small meals, sitting up and not eating late at night can help keep gastric juices from climbing up through the hernia. Also, a healthy body composition with a normal sized belly keeps from an increased pressure on the stomach. Diagnoses of a hiatal hernia requires imaging or an endoscopy and could lead to answers on how to address heartburn symptoms.
Spicy food. Fatty food. Tomatoes. There are some foods that can induce heartburn and acid reflux in many people. But also, avocado, sugar, mint, dairy and breads can cause these symptoms as well. Though these are the classic offenders, every acid reflux is unique, and so everyone can have their own offending foods. Food sensitivities are the immune system being overstimulated by specific foods. Either from dietary changes or a blood test, specific foods that may irritate the digestive tract can be identified.
Acid reflux is a message that something is out of balance. Many people ignore these cry for help with over the counter anti-acid medication. Putting a metaphorical band-aid on the symptoms could allow the imbalance to persist and worse symptoms to occur. Persevering through symptoms of heartburn increases risks of cancer, potential nutrient deficiencies and damage to the digestive tract.
Dr. Lauren Young is a board certified naturopathic physician, accepting new patients for her family practice in Manchester, CT. Dr. Young is in network with most insurance companies. For an appointment or more information, please call (860)533-0179 or visit www.ctnaturalhealth.com.