Chances are you have experienced reflux at some stage in your life. Most of us get it occasionally after a meal which has been too large, creamy, fatty or spicy. If you are getting reflux every other day, or worse, every day then it needs to be fixed. Pregnant women are the exception here.
Reflux is short for gastro-oesophageal reflux. Stomach contents are regurgitated back into the oesophagus causing heart burn and /or an acidic taste in the mouth. Sometimes these contents make it all the way back to the mouth. It is important to know that reflux is a symptom. It is a sign from your body telling you that something is not working correctly.
Why does this happen?
- Between the oesophagus and the stomach there is a sphincter (LOS) which closes tightly to stop regurgitation. When you swallow, this sphincter loosens to allow food and drink to pass into the stomach before closing tightly again. Some people have an LOS which is loose or sloppy and so doesn’t close tightly, allowing the leakage of stomach contents back into the oesophagus. It burns because the contents of the stomach are very acidic and are not meant to come into contact with delicate membrane lining the oesophagus.
- Hiatus hernia is another cause. Hiatus hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach moves up into the chest through a small opening in the diaphragm. This can lead to weakness in the LOS.
- Low stomach acid. I know this goes against popular belief that too much acid causes reflux and that’s why antacids and medications like Nexium or Losec work. We will look at this more deeply in next week’s blog.
- Zinc deficiency. Zinc is essential for the production of stomach acid and also for maintaining the protective mucus membrane barrier of the oesophagus.
- Food intolerances
Risk factors for the development of reflux include obesity as the increased pressure on the stomach forces the LOS to open inappropriately, and also smoking. Nicotine relaxes the LOS and it decreases saliva which offsets any acid which may be in the oesophagus. Smokers cough puts recurrent pressure on the LOS which can weaken it over time. Alcohol consumption is another risk factor.
What are the Complications of Reflux?
Constant regurgitation of acid causes inflammation in the oesophagus. This can lead to ulceration, Barrett’s oesophagitis and oesophageal cancer. This type of cancer is on the rise in Australia. It is usually slow growing and is often not detected until it is quite advanced leading to low survival rates.
Over the next couple of weeks we will continue to talk about reflux; the importance of stomach acid and how a naturopath can reduce that symptom of reflux by treating the cause.