What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is sometimes known as heartburn or reflux esophagitis, indigestion, feelings of fullness, bloating or gaseousness. These things are all consequences of impaired digestion. Acid Reflux, or Gastro esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is characterized when the contents from the stomach rise up into the esophagus. Acid from the stomach can inflame the delicate lining of the esophagus. It is a chronic condition that normally lasts a lifetime.
People who suffer with acid reflux often believe it is caused by an excess of stomach acid, when in fact, it is usually due to a deficiency of hydrochloric acid or overeating, especially eating meat, fried foods, chocolate, alcohol, coffee and sodas.
Symptoms of acid reflux
Acid reflux is manifested as a severe burning sensation radiating from the stomach to the chest and throat. People suffering from acid reflux may experience acute pain and discomfort during the day or during the night.
People have reported experiencing acute pain during the night just like that found in heart failure or angina. The severity of heartburn does not necessarily indicate a damaged esophagus. Dyspepsia is a syndrome that many of the GERD patients suffer from. Symptoms include a feeling of nausea after meals, and pain in the abdomen.
Regurgitation is also a common symptom. It is the backing up of the acid in the throat. Regurgitation sometimes occurs in the patient’s mouth, which is called Wet Burping. There are also cases where GERD does not result in heartburn or regurgitation, but such cases exhibit symptoms that include pain or discomfort in the chest region.
Acid reflux may also show up as symptoms in the throat. Such symptoms include persistent hiccups, a sore throat, trouble in swallowing, choking frequently over the food and even acid laryngitis.
Causes of Acid Reflux
The causes of acid reflux are complex and varied. The most common factors are the lower esophageal sphincter, hiatal hernias, esophageal contractions, and stomach emptying.
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a ring of muscle that surrounds the lower end of the esophagus where it joins the stomach. The LES relaxes to allow food and saliva to pass into the stomach and then contracts to seal the esophagus from the stomach. Patients with acid reflux may have an abnormally weak LES. This reduces its ability to prevent reflux.
The second abnormality of the LES is that in some cases it has exaggerated relaxed periods, extending long after cessation of swallowing. This allows acid to flow into the esophagus over a longer period and to therefore accumulate.
Here are some of the other major causes of acid reflux:
- Hiatal Hernias – This occurs when a small part of the upper stomach pushes through the diaphragm and into the abdomen. This impairs the LES’ ability to function optimally.
- Esophageal contractions – When we swallow, waves of contractions (known as peristalsis), food and saliva is carried into the stomach. In some suffers of GERD these contractions can be abnormal in a variety of ways. In cases of severe GERD, it is common that the contractions are too weak to completely clear the esophagus of stomach acid.
- Stomach emptying – Some patients with GERD may have an abnormally slow rate of stomach emptying. When the stomach is digesting food, the stomach acids are in their most active state, therefore the slower the process the more time acid reflux has to occur.
It is also important to understand that the gastric juices of the stomach have an optimal pH range (between 1.5 and 2.5). This is primarily made up of hydrochloric acid and pepsin. The pH range of the stomach is very important as it allows for the effective transport of minerals and digestion of protein, while also facilitating the destruction of pathogens entering the digestive tract. It also acts as protection from helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).
Studies have shown that 90% percent of people with duodenal ulcers and seventy percent with gastric ulcers test positive for H. pylori. It is thought that low gastric juice (hydrochloric acid) production encourages H. pylori colonization, while H. pylori also increases gastric pH levels.
The result is that an environment is setup for their continued growth and long term acid reflux. As such, most people do not get relief from using an antacid to solve the problem of acid reflux, as this doesn’t target the cause of the condition. In fact, many people have found that using antacids tend to make the problem worse, even if they provide temporary relief.
Acid Reflux Treatment
The most common form of treatment is antacid tablets, as millions of people use over-the-counter antacids for symptoms of acid reflux. These antacids raise the pH of stomach acid above 3.5. In fact, this pH level is abnormal for the stomach and admits undigested protein to move into the small intestine.
Besides this, the pH of the release from the stomach may not be adequately acidic to trigger the release of pancreatic enzymes from the pancreas (protease, amylase and lipase). It should be noted that the typical SAD (Standard American Diet) has contributed to the stretched capacity of the human pancreas resulting in digestive complications, which cause acid reflex in many cases.
Medications may be used to reduce stomach acidity and antacid medication may become a regular part of a sufferer’s daily routine, but they can often cause a “rebound effect”, as the stomach attempts to overcompensate for the neutralization of its own secretions; pepsin and hydrochloric acid.
It should be noted that three to four hours after antacids are ingested, the stomach begins to secrete even more acids but without food in the stomach, which can cause the patient even more discomfort. More important that short term medications are overall lifestyle changes. These days, many doctors advise the following lifestyle changes: It is advised that large meals should be avoided and replaced by eating more frequent, smaller meals to prevent excessive acid production and to speed in stomach emptying.
Nutritional practitioners inform people that usually the problem of acid reflux is not too much acid, but rather a lack of acid. As such, Hydrochloric acid supplements, pancreatic enzymes and special herbal formulas are recommended in addressing acid reflux.
Fatty foods, chocolate and peppermint should be avoided because they relax the LES. Highly acidic or bitter foods may irritate the esophagus and should also be limited in their consumption.
People who suffer from acid reflux should not lie down within 2 hours of eating. The effect of gravity while standing aids in removing acid from the esophagus. Bending or twisting movements should be avoided as they upset the stomach’s contents and may promote reflux.
People with acid reflux are also encouraged to combine certain foods together. Food combining has been shown to de-stress the digestive system. As an example, a good measure to put into place would be to eat only fruit until noon. Thereafter eat salads and vegetable dishes. If you want to eat animal protein, do not combine proteins with simple carbohydrates (such as rice, potatoes and bread), in the same meal. Combine either protein and vegetables, or carbohydrates and vegetables as this will aid with digestion and prevent acid reflux from occurring in many cases.
Eating foods that self-digest will greatly relieve the digestive burden on your stomach and internal organs. This will go a long way to preventing acid reflux. The best foods in this category are raw, fermented foods such as salads, raw vegetables, raw nuts, grains, seeds, sprouts, seed cheeses and legumes that have been soaked before cooking. Smoking should also be avoided.
Smoking relaxes the LES for up to 6 hours after having a cigarette. In most individuals, these measures will make a significant contribution in alleviating much of the discomfort associated with GERD.
In some cases surgery may also be an option. The procedure is aimed at strengthening the LES. The surgery is minimally invasive and has a high success rate.
As you can see from the preceding paragraphs, try to stay away from blocking the natural digestive process with antacids if possible, as the natural approach should be aimed at aiding your digestion and reducing digestive stress. This is done by eating less, cutting back on animal protein, fried foods, refined sugars, refined carbohydrates, foods produced in boxes, packets, cans and jars, foods void of enzymes and laden with chemicals, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, artificial flavors, thickeners, stabilizers, colorants.
In addition, you should aim to support the body’s healing process with nutritional supplements that are free of any toxic agents like stearic acid (hydrogenated oil), magnesium stearate (hydrogenated oil), silicon dioxide (sand) and talcum (a suspect carcinogen) all used to aid encapsulation and tableting.
Drugs commonly prescribed for acid reflux
This is a PPI drug that works by blocking the production of acid in the stomach. Besides treating acid reflux, this drug is also used to treat ulcers, zollinger-ellison syndrome, erosive esophagitis, etc. You can combine this medicine with antibiotics to treat ulcers caused by bacterial infection.
Aciphex Oral should be taken once a day as prescribed by the doctor. It has to be swallowed whole and should not to be crushed, chewed or split. You can also take an antacid along with this medicine. The length of treatment and dosage depends on the seriousness of your condition, but to benefit the most from this drug, it has to be taken for the full course prescribed, even if you think you are feeling better.
Maalox Oral is very effective in the treatment of too much stomach acid or upset, indigestion and heartburn. This is an aluminum and magnesium antacid so it works very quickly to lower the acid in your stomach. Most people find the liquid form is more effective than capsules or tablets. Maalox works on reducing or eradicating existing acid in the stomach. It does not prevent acid production. This drug can either be used alone or in combination with H2 blockers such as cimetidine or ranitidine and PPIs such as omeprazole. Maalox has to taken after meals.
Esomeprazole works by blocking the production of acid in the stomach. It is a PPI drug used to treat acid related throat and stomach problems like acid reflux, and erosive esophagitis. It helps to relieve symptoms like heartburn, difficulty in swallowing, coughing and sleeping trouble.
Nexium also prevents acid damage to the digestive system. Nexium Oral should be taken once a day at least one hour before a meal. The capsule has to be swallowed whole and it should not be chewed or crushed. If have difficulty swallowing this capsule, you can mix the contents of the capsule with soft foods such as yogurt or drink it with juice or water. You can also take antacids with this drug.
Famotidine is a popular drug and mainly given to patients with ulcers of the stomach and intestines. This drug is also prescribed for patients who have undergone treatment for intestinal ulcers. However, this drug is used also for treatment of acid reflux, as it is a H2 blocker which works by reducing the acid in the stomach, thereby healing and preventing ulcers and improving symptoms of stomach pain and heartburn.
This is one of the GERD drugs available across the counter. It is best to take this before sleeping and it can be taken with or without food. To benefit from this drug, you have to take this on a regular basis even if you find you are much better. Always consult your doctor before starting, stopping or adjusting your dosage of this medicine.
Prilosec OTC oral
This drug has Omeprazole as its main ingredient and works by blocking the production of acid in the stomach. This is a PPI and is used to treat acid related stomach problems and throat problems. This drug can be used in combination with antibiotics if needed.
This medicine has to be taken usually once a day, 15-30 minutes before a meal. You can also take antacids along with this medicine if necessary. Taking this drug regularly is highly recommended. It usually takes about four days to feel the benefit of the drug.