Stomach acid belongs in our bellies, not our throats. That much is fairly straightforward. The rest of it, however, can be confusing. After all, there’s even confusion as to how to properly refer to the nuisance of rising acid in our throats. Is it G.E.R.D.? Is it heartburn? And, how can we prevent it, manage it, cure it? Throat cancer is on the rise, after all … is the fact that stomach acid is making its way to our throats partly to blame? We’ll explore all of these questions and more, so grab your reading glasses … and, if it’s not too close to your bedtime, perhaps some tea and a snack. Let’s get to it.
What should we call this malady anyway?
Okay, so here’s the scoop on heartburn. First, contrary to water-cooler talk, heartburn is not a condition. It’s actually a symptom of a condition: acid reflux. When acid reflux becomes chronic (long-lasting), it is referred to as G.E.R.D (or, Gastro-Intestinal Reflux Disease). Got it?!
What are the causes of acid reflux?
If you dedicated your life to discovering every known cause of acid reflux, you’d probably meet your maker long before you reached the end of the list, because there are so many different triggers for each sufferer.
That said, there are some commonalities you can place into certain buckets so you can get to the bottom of your own reflux concerns, or help a loved one who deals with this annoying nemesis. These commonalities are diet, weight, and stress. Let’s take a closer look.
Diet: What we eat has a lot to do with whether or not we experience acid reflux. However, only you can tell what your triggers are. It may sound crazy, but a lot of people get heartburn from eating things like oatmeal and bananas, yet others are soothed by these two foods? Huh? Yep. And you’ve no doubt heard that chili should be avoided, but some folks can definitely get away with eating spicy foods without the ill-effects of heartburn.
If there were a short list though, the common foods and food-types to avoid, or watch out for, are: spicy foods, carbonated beverages and tomato-based sauces. A note on tomato-based sauces: often the trigger here is the excess amount of salt in combination with tomato sauces that we get when eating out. Home-based sauces without as much salt often don’t serve as triggers. Neat, huh? Also, don’t forget meal size. The larger your meal, the more pressure you’ll end up putting on your stomach which can drive acid into your esophagus. Experiment with this – you may notice that you can eat almost anything you want, as long as portions are reasonable. You should also read up on gut bacteria … just beginning to eat foods that are good for you can set you up for a gut that’s running the way it should.
- Weight: Speaking of putting pressure on your stomach, being overweight is a wonderful way to do just that. Losing weight if you need to, can help you squash acid reflux conditions without the indefinite loss of your favorite foods. So get outside and get your tail moving!
- Stress: Ah, stress. Who needs it? No one, right. And yet, we all deal with it from time to time – some more than others. Stress is a definite cause of acid reflux, and a host of other maladies of all sorts. It really is a bummer, stress … work on reducing it as best you can.
- H. pylori: If H. pylori doesn’t ring a bell, don’t fret – its role in illness of the gut is fairly new. In fact, a few scientists risked their own lives not too long ago on a hunch that it was the true cause of ulcers. Turns out it plays a role in acid reflux as well. A simple breath test your doctor can administer will tell you whether or not this bacterial strain is the reason for your acid reflux issues – and, it’s a good test to get as well, because there is evidence that points to H. pyloribeing a contributor to stomach cancer.
What sort of short term fixes are there?
Again, as much as acid reflux causes are unique to the individual, treatments (outside of antibiotics if you happen to have H. pylori), are equally unique. Some folks find respite from the following solutions:
- Loose Clothing: Loosen that top button during and after meals, wear loose clothing, or better yet, overalls if you can get away with it! By lessening the pressure on your stomach you can often forgo acid reflux trouble.
- Posture: Sit up straight – particularly during and after meals. You won’t believe how well this works. Mom was right!
- Exercise: Deep breaths seem to help tighten the muscles in our esophagus, helping to keep acid where it belongs. So, again – get that body movin’.
- Better Bedtime Habits: Elevating the bed a bit (at the end where you rest your head), and avoiding reclining for bed until 2-3 after your last meal is a great way to keep acid in its place. Also, if raising your bed isn’t an option, in a pinch, try laying on your left side – researchers aren’t entirely sure why this helps, but anecdotally, people swear by it.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Many in the natural health community have been suggesting apple cider vinegar as an acid reflux cure for decades. Now, research seems to be supporting the theory. A teaspoon or two a day in water seems to be most beneficial. Also, apples alone are known to help as well. As always, when adding anything out of the ordinary to your diet, always consult with your doctor. Some foods, harmless as they may seem, can interfere with any medications you may be taking.
- Gum Chewing: Chewing with Xylitol gum after a meal, or when acid reflux symptoms present themselves, can help quell the pain, and get your stomach back to digesting. The extra saliva produced upon chewing is a trigger to your brain to fire up the digestive juices, and it’s also good for your teeth.
So, as you can see, understanding heartburn and GERD is a complicated task. Hopefully this article gave you a good base of information from which to leap off for further study. After all, it is important to be aware of the inherent dangers of leaving these conditions alone – the consequences (such as Barrett’s esophagus) can indeed be dire. So feel free to learn as much as you can about these conditions, and don’t be bashful in sending along this article to friends and family. It can certainly help them reduce occurrences of heartburn throughout their lifetime.
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