In order to cure acid reflux disease, you must remove the cause of the problem and promote the healing process.
It’s commonly believed that heartburn is the result of overeating. Although 116 million Americans may overeat, the size of the meal has no scientific correlation with the frequency of heartburn.
“Then we must be producing too much stomach acid,” you say…
Having too much acid production is very rare. In fact, the opposite is the case. In most people, stomach acid decreases with age.
So Why Is Acid Refluxing?
There are several causes of acid reflux, but the common thread is the relaxation of the LES. Once the LES relaxes, acid is afforded the opportunity to rise from the stomach and damage the esophagus, resulting in a burning feeling.
Once the esophagus has been damaged it is very slow to heal. Antacids, histamine blockers and proton pump inhibitors only shut down acid production, they don’t promote healing of the LES, nor do they cure the cause of the heartburn.
Symptoms of Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is generally felt as a burning pain in the middle of the chest. It may also feel like a pressure in the chest. In some people it can be so bad that it is difficult to keep food down and may even result in dental erosion.
Over time reflux can result in damage to the LES, called Barrett’s Esophagitis, and even cancer. If you have chronic heartburn or reflux then be sure to have a thorough examination by a gastroenterologist to rule out this serious conditions.
Sometimes this chest pain is confused with heart pain. If you are unsure about the cause of any pain in your chest, be sure to have a thorough exam by your doctor.
Acid Reflux and Heartburn: The Underlying Causes
Heartburn or acid reflux or GERD — whatever the name, if you are like millions of others, you are experiencing this gastrointestinal malady.
You may take your acid reflux problem for granted and buy your antacids at Costco, but you should be aware of the negative effects this has on your entire body. You also should know that heartburn is a sign of other problems, and can almost always be treated without acid blockers.
The following are the most common causes:
Food allergies: In my practice I have found that a majority of cases of heartburn are caused by food allergies. Food allergies often cause a host of other problems and can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Foods: certain foods cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, thus leading to heartburn. These include peppermint, coffee, alcohol and chocolate.
Hiatal hernia: This is a physical condition where part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm. It can generally be reduced without surgery, though even when present it is not necessarily the sole cause of heartburn.
Low Acid Production: Ironically, low stomach acid levels can result in heartburn. This is much more common than increased acid. This problem can be assessed clinically and is readily treatable.
Acid Blockers: Prevacid, Prilosec, Zantac, etc. Asthma inhalers (beclamethasone, flovent, etc). Corticosteroids Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Antianxiety medications, such as diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan). Osteoporosis drugs such as alendronate (Fosamax).
Overeating: Of course. The stomach is only so big, even if the eyes and the mouth are bigger.
Pregnancy & Obesity: These are related in that both put pressure on the stomach, decreasing it’s volume and forcing food back from whence it came.
Stress: Stress is a small word with big health consequences. Stress can be the sole cause of heartburn, but often it is exacerbating other causes. Regardless, there are nutrients, herbs and therapies that will help you deal with your stress.
Smoking: Smoking also causes the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, leading to heartburn. If you experience heartburn please schedule an appointment so that we can sort through the possible causes and provide you with permanent relief. Even heartburn caused by necessary drugs can be treated in a way that is much healthier and more effective than acid blockers.
Dr. Stephen Wangen is the award winning author of two books on solving digestive disorders, and a nationally recognized speaker on IBS. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio. He was recently named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.