Did you know that the digestive tract is one continuous pathway starting at the mouth and ending at the lower part of the bowel (i.e. the anus)? The digestive process begins when food enters the mouth. When a person begins to chew food, digestive enzymes in the saliva break the food down before it is swallowed. The esophagus is a muscular tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. The stomach contains harsh enzymes and gastric acid that further break down food so it can be absorbed by the body.
Acid Reflex occurs when liquid from the stomach regurgitates into the esophagus. This liquid may contain stomach acids and bile. In some cases, the regurgitated stomach liquid can cause inflammation, irritation, and damage to the esophagus.
It is unknown exactly what causes acid reflex. Several factors, including hiatal hernias (when the stomach pushes up through a hole in the diaphragm muscle), abnormally weak contractions of the lower esophageal sphincter (the smooth muscle found at the end of the esophagus), and abnormal emptying of the stomach after a meal, have been associated with it.
It is extremely important not to ignore symptoms of acid reflux. Long term irritation to the lining of the esophagus can lead to a condition called Barrett's Esophagus. About 10-15% of people with chronic reflux develop this pre-cancerous condition which can lead to the development of esophageal adenocarcinoma - a serious, potentially fatal cancer of the esophagus.
Antacid medication is typically prescribed for the relief of heartburn pain. The more common ones include Dexilant, Nexium and Prevacid, which are all in the class of PPI's (proton pump inhibitors).
These can have many side effects and longterm consequences, including those related to the decreased absorption of important nutrients such as iron and calcium (leading to an increased risk of hip, wrist, and spine fractures). Use of some antacid medications may also increase the risk of pneumonia and kidney disease. Pepcid AC, in those with impaired kidney function can affect the central nervous system and may result in anxiety, depression, insomnia or drowsiness, and mental disturbances.
Interestingly, many peole who take antacids actually have low acid levels i.e. hypochlorydria. Hydrochloric acid is not only required for proper digestion, but also to prevent acid from travelling up into the esophogas. In this case, they would actually benefit more from supplements that will increase the amount of acid produced by their stomach. As a result, antacids often make the symptoms worse long term. There are various ways to assess whether or not this is the case for you and they can all be discussed during an appointment with one of our naturopathic doctors.
If you have heartburn and do not want to take medication, the following are the main natural treatment options: