Some 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. Heartburn is the burning pain one experiences in the lower chest area due to acid reflux.
Acid reflux is described as stomach acid coming back up the throat.
Acid reflux is often interchangeably used with gastroesophageal disease (GERD), although both are not technically the same. A person diagnosed with GERD experiences acid reflux at least twice a week.
Another figure indicates that about 20% to 30% of the population in Western countries suffer from GERD. That would translate to about 66 to 99 million in the United States.
Chronic acid reflux could become a serious health issue.
Possible Causes of Acid Reflux
It’s in the name.
The reason why some of the contents of the stomach will flow back up to the esophagus is because of acid. While the burning sensation is known as heartburn, this ailment doesn’t actually have anything to do with the heart.
Our stomach has hydrochloric acid, which is essential in breaking down food in the stomach. It also helps with digestion and absorbing nutrients like protein. Plus, it protects our stomach from possible harmful pathogens like bacteria.
Hydrochloric acid is strong, but there is a lining in our stomach that would serve as protection. The esophagus, though, doesn’t have such a lining, which is why there is a burning sensation.
In the same report released by the American College of Gastroenterology, about 15 million Americans suffer from heartburn as often as daily.
What are the major risk factors of acid reflux and GERD?
Food is a major reason why people may suffer from acid reflux. It’s not just the food that you eat, but also how you eat the food.
Food that was not properly digested could give you acid reflux. That’s why you should not go to bed with a full stomach. Avoid lying down immediately after eating. Give your tummy at least two to three hours to fully digest your food before you lay down.
Acid reflux is actually worse when one is lying down. It makes it easier for the acid to pass through the esophagus. Nighttime heartburn is quite common with 79% of people suffering from acid reflux or GERD experiencing it.
Overeating will also trigger heartburn. Eat the appropriate portion of food for every meal. Don’t indulge too much or your esophagus will suffer. WebMD suggests eating four to five small portion meals a day rather than indulging in three large ones.
Aside from eating too much, eating too fast will also set off acid reflux. Always take time to chew and swallow your food instead of shoving in forkful after forkful of food.
Of course, there is also the matter of the actual food that you eat. Most types of food that are high in fat and acidic will prompt acid reflux. Spicy food is another trigger.
Here are some of the food that could cause heartburn:
Citrus fruits Cheese Chocolate Coffee Onions Peppermint Tomatoes
Most of the above-mentioned food products are acidic. Oranges, for example, have an approximate pH level of between 3.69 and 4.34 while onions have a pH level of 5, more or less.
Dark chocolates usually have a pH value that hovers around the 6 mark while black coffee has a pH value of 5. Cheese is slightly less acidic than coffee with a pH value of between 5.1 and 5.9. Peppermint’s pH level is around 6.
pH refers to the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a certain product. A pH level of 7 indicates neutrality while anything less than that is referred to as acidic with 0 as the most acidic. Anything over a pH level of 7 is considered alkaline with 14 as the most alkaline.
Acidic food is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you already have problems with acidity, you should limit your intake of food with pH levels of 4.6 and under as they are considered highly acidic.
Overeating and eating fatty and acidic food products are part of the lifestyle that could cause acid reflux. There are also other lifestyle-related practices that could increase the risk of acid reflux or GERD.
Obese people are at risk of heartburn. Obesity could be due to overeating coupled with a lack of physical activities or exercise.
Smoking can also cause acid reflux. Even worse, it can affect not just the active smokers but also the passive ones. According to doctors, nicotine relaxes the esophageal sphincter, which is a tight ring of muscle that regulates the flow of food into the stomach. When this ring is relaxed or loosened, there is an increased risk of acid going back up to the esophagus.
In addition, smoking reduces saliva, which is an important substance that neutralizes the acid. The bicarbonate present in saliva combats acid reflux.
Alcohol, too, can cause acid reflux. Alcohol prompts the stomach to produce more acid while also causing the muscles around the tummy to ease off allowing the contents of the stomach to ease out.
There are also some medications that could bring about acid reflux. Among them are some antidepressants, antihistamines, asthma treatments, calcium-channel blockers, painkillers, and sedatives.
What To Do If You Have Acid Reflux?
Now that you know the common causes of acid reflux, you can easily prevent it by just changing your lifestyle.
You don’t have to strictly give up acidic food; you just need to eat them in moderation. Overindulging in all types of food should also be avoided.
Still on the issue of eating, make sure you don’t lay down immediately after food consumption. Allow a few hours for the food to settle in your stomach.
If you enjoy drinking alcohol, just do so in moderation. The same could be said about coffee. As for smoking, it’s best to just completely do away with it. Everybody knows smoking is bad. Many know that smoking causes cancer, but there are many more illnesses associated with smoking. One of those illnesses is acid reflux.
If you are still experiencing acid reflux or GERD even after a lifestyle change, then you should see a doctor who could prescribe medications. Some antacids could neutralize stomach acid and medications that could either reduce or block acid production.
Try to lose weight
Obesity is the leading cause of heartburn, according to the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. An increase in one’s weight will result in increased abdominal pressure. The consequence of this is that there will be less pressure to hold the sphincter closed, making stomach acid more likely to leak.
With this in mind, you have to exercise and try to lose the extra weight.
Know your medications
As earlier mentioned, there are some medications that could cause or worsen acid reflux. Check with your physician to know what medications may prompt acid reflux or GERD and if there are alternatives that you could take instead.
Good sleeping position
Nighttime acid reflux could be a problem as it might cause you to have a sleepless night. To prevent this, you have to sleep at an incline. Your head should be angled so that it comes out higher than your abdomen.
The recommendation from experts is to elevate the head at six to eight inches. When the head is angled, gravity will prevent stomach acid from refluxing.
Hydrate with Water
Water is the best liquid for hydration and to help curb acid reflux. You should avoid carbonated beverages since they would easily make you burp, which would send some acid to the esophagus.
Coffee, alcohol, and citrus juice are also known as acidic drinks that could aggravate heartburn. Water is the safest drink and frequently drinking it will also aid in digestion, which could be very helpful in preventing acid reflux.
How About Alkaline Water?
When you really think about it, if you have a problem with stomach acid, then it’s best to consume non-acidic drinks to counter the acidity problem. On that note, alkaline water should even be better.
Since alkaline water is still fairly new on the market, there is no definitive evidence that would indicate that it can help curb acid reflux and GERD. There are studies, though, that would point in that direction.
Possible Positive Effects of Alkaline Water
A study published by the National Institutes of Health titled “Potential benefits of pH 8.8 alkaline drinking water as an adjunct in the treatment of acid reflux” seems to be going in a positive direction.
The study concluded that alkaline water with a pH level of 8.8 instantly inactivated pepsin, which is the stomach enzyme that breaks down proteins in food. Pepsin is the main component present in the reflux substance.
Further, the study also noted that alkaline water has a good-buffering capacity, which led researchers to conclude: “The consumption of alkaline water may have therapeutic benefits for patients with reflux disease.”
Another study indicated that alkaline water improved acid-base balance and hydration status. The study was called “Acid-base balance and hydration status following consumption of mineral-based alkaline bottled water.”
The conclusion read: “(The) results indicate that the habitual consumption of alkaline water may be a valuable nutritional vector for influencing both acid-base balance and hydration status in healthy adults.”
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