Americans love an easy fix. For example, I find it preposterous that so many people would rather take a pill to lose weight than actually physically excercise and alter their food choices. This is apparent because millions of people are on medications to lose weight, whereas, if they would just move their bodies a little more and make better food choices, they could achieve their weight goals in a healthier and effective way.
Taking acid reflux medications is a further example of this “easy fix”, so to speak. Acid reducing medications were intended to be a short term solution to improve the painful symptoms caused by stomach acid entering the esophagus from the stomach. However, most people are using these meds for long term use without fully understanding the health risks involved. As reported in a recent New York Times article, studies have shown long term use of acid-reducing medications can inhibit the absorption of many vitamins and minerals, possibly leading to bone fractures and even possibly the risk of developing pneumonia.
Here’s the scoop on stomach acid : our bodies need it ! Without adequate acidity, the stomach cannot properly break down the food we eat, especially animal protein. Acid-reducing meds block the production of stomach acids and, therefore, food cannot be digested properly and sufficiently. This begins a whole new set of issues like creating a “leaky gut” and potentially experiencing symptoms of food sensitivities. Furthermore, the stomach responds to the lack of acidity by creating more acid producing cells ! Once off the medication, patients then experience more acid in the stomach than is needed. Thus, the vicious cycle of repeating the medication over and over again begins.
Making lifestyle changes and choosing the right foods to eat can reduce the symptoms and severity of acid reflux and associated diseases in most people. Changes don’t have to be overwhelming. Focusing on eating a more whole foods/ Paleo diet can improve the symptoms of heartburn. Paying attention to the specific foods which seem to trigger one’s heartburn should be especially important. These foods are most likely not being well tolerated by the body in general. If they are not being properly digested, they will cause excess gas and pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter
Here are 3 lifestyle changes which could improve heartburn without using medication:
1) Maintain a healthy weight. Abdominal obesity can put unneccessary pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) causing it to open or leak. This valve is only meant to open to allow food into the stomach or for excess gas to escape. When the valve is forced to open at other times or more frequently, stomach acid can escape leading to heartburn. Eating too much food on a regular basis can also put unwanted pressure on the LES causing it to stretch and loosen. When this valve is loose, unwanted stomach acid hits the unprotected esophagus and causes heart burn.The LES is a muscle and like any muscle it can get stronger when given the right environment.
2) Relax while eating. Digestion is meant to occur in a relaxed state. Taking the time to slow down, chewing food thoroughly, and enjoying a meal can improve digestion. Stress can inhibit the release of the necessary digestive enzymes and slow down the transition time of food from the stomach. Without the proper amounts of digestive enzymes, food cannot be broken down which can cause more gas and pressure on the LES. The longer food is in the stomach, the more stretched the stomach can get and the longer the LES has to work to stay shut.
3) Eliminate carbonated and alcoholic beverages. Carbonated beverages increase the amount of gas inside of the stomach. This can not only cause more pressure on the LES, but also force it to open more frequently to expel the gas. Alcohol acts as a relaxant and loosens the LES. Both of these actions can cause stomach acid to leak into the esophagus.