Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disorder, otherwise known as GERD/GORD, or reflux, occurs when the contents of the stomach protrude up into the oesophagus, through the sphincter which divides the two sections. This can produce a burning sensation in the chest and throat, and if chronic, can cause scarring, ulcerations, and is also linked with oesophageal cancer.
Antacid advertisements might have us believe that this occurs primarily because our stomach is too acidic, and that this acidity causes us to feel pain. The truth is, inadequate tone in the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES), which separates the oesophagus and stomach, causes the contents of the stomach to reach up into oesophagus and cause these symptoms. This can be due to intrinsic factors, or from an increase in the pressure placed on the LES (e.g. increased intra-abdominal pressure).
So what causes the LES to become compromised? Before we discuss this, we need to understand a little more about the role our stomach acid plays in our health.
The Role of Stomach Acid
Acidity in our stomach is the major regulator of digestive secretions in response to the food we digest. When the upper intestines detect food delivered from the stomach, it responds to the normal acidity by releasing hormones. These hormones send messages to the liver, pancreas, stomach, and other organs to prepare for digestion and for the absorption of nutrients. When stomach acid is low, these hormones are not released, and normal absorption of vitamins, minerals and macronutrients cannot occur.
In addition, stomach acid is the first line of defence our bodies have against consumed microbes and bacteria. Many of these microbes cannot survive in the normal pH of the stomach, so when stomach acidity is low, they can invade the stomach and release a variety of toxins and gas.
Low Stomach Acid Leading to Reflux
So we have two primary functions of stomach acidity:
- To assist in normal digestion of what we ingest
- To protect us from harmful bacterial overgrowth
Mal-digestion of foods, particularly carbohydrates, results in gas and bloating. Bacterial overgrowth also feed on carbohydrates, which can ferment and produce gas in the presence of these microorganisms. Both of these mechanisms result in an increase in pressure from the stomach upwards towards the LES.
Even at a lower acidity, the contents that breach the stomach have the ability to cause symptoms and irritate the oesophagus.
Conventional treatment of reflux to this point has been antacids. This is a ‘band-aid’ solution, which only treats the symptoms, without taking into account the long-term effects of the medication. Given the link between low stomach acid and GERD, it is easy to see how antacids, which actually compound this low stomach acid, only aggravate the long-term presence of reflux.
So, next time you’re suffering from GERD symptoms, try mixing a cup of water with a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar. If your symptoms improve, it’s a good indicator that your reflux is due to low stomach acidity, not high.
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