What is acid reflux?
‘It leaves a sour taste’ - the expression we sometimes use when we look back on events feeling unhappy at how things have gone down. It’s probably drawn directly from the symptoms we can experience from acid reflux. That really uncomfortable thing where stomach acid comes into your mouth, giving you a really sour taste. For some people it stops at the chest with a burning feeling after eating. But if your stomach decides one day to stop cooperating then it’s going to travel further up and give you a taste of the highly acidic environment that is actually quite useful when it’s contained down below where it’s supposed to be.
Other acid reflux symptoms
As if the awful feeling in your chest and bad taste aren’t enough, acid reflux is also likely to trigger other unpleasant symptoms. Oesophagitis can occur as a result of the acid causing soreness and inflammation deep in your throat. This can lead to pain or difficulty when swallowing. Then also bad breath, bloating, belching and feeling sick – it’s no wonder there is a whole industry devoted to offering sufferers instant solutions.
Our first response to an attack is likely to be a trip to the chemist to find a tablet that stops it in its tracks, or we may go on the internet and search for a cure. But could this just end up making things worse? Clinical Nutritionist Stephanie Moore believes so. She thinks we actually need more acid in the stomach. ‘If acid levels are high, the top of the stomach automatically clamps tightly shut, ensuring the acid cannot pass up in to the throat, she explains. 'It is, ironically, when we have too little stomach acid, that the top of the stomach remains partially open, allowing seepage of the acid upwards, resulting in pain.’
In other words, our first response to acid reflux should not to be to seek one of the many over-the-counter remedies or stronger prescription medicines that neutralise or eliminate the acid in your stomach, even though they may temporarily stop the burning feeling. Neutralising the acids could be the beginning of a vicious circle – feeding the flames, as it were. After all, that stuff is in our stomachs for a reason. It digests our food. So, on her recommendation, the idea is not to get rid of our stomach acid, we just need to manage it better.
Stomach acid is your friend. Really!
Let’s not mince words. That stuff burning the back of your throat is actually hydrochloric acid. That may sound a bit scary but once you find out what an amazing job it does for your body you realise that it is really a great asset. Stephanie Moore explains, ‘The stomach contents need to exit the stomach at a strong enough acid level to have broken down the proteins, killed off nasty bugs and to turn on the biological switch for the rest of the digestive system to be fully activated.’
Stomach acids break down those tough proteins that our body needs to make amino acids and allow us to absorb vital nutrients. They stiumulate the gall bladder to release bile which aids the breakdown of dietary fats in to fatty acids. And surprisingly these acids also help to kill off nasty bugs that may be lurking in our food – the kind of bugs that can multiply and create bloating gas which can contribute to the pressure forcing acid up from your stomach.
Natural ways to deal with acid reflux.
What are the natural solutions to acid relux? There is a whole wealth of advice on how to deal with acid reflux handed down from sufferers over the years. Many of these are natural self-help measures that are cheap and easy to adopt.
- Large meals seem to be a heartburn trigger, but you don’t necessarily have to cut down on the amount you eat. Eating smaller but more frequent meals could be the way to leave you satisfied while avoiding a build-up of acid.
- Get to know which foods trigger your symptoms. Maybe keep a diary to help remind you which foods always seem to cause problems. Common ones to avoid are coffee, fizzy drinks, tomatoes, citrus fruits and juices, chocolate, onions, and high-fat foods.
- Why not let gravity lend a hand? Raising the head of your bed could be the practical solution to avoiding the back flow of your stomach contents.
- Keep to a healthy weight. Too much abdominal fat can put pressure on the stomach, forcing acids up into the oesophagus. This may not be the easiest solution but will lead to more profound health benefits.
- A vital part of digestion is keeping digestive tract moving healthily. Eating plenty of fibre is one of the best ways to make this happen.
- A big meal last thing at night? No thanks. Reflux sufferers know too well the consequence of stimulating your digestive system just before spending a few hours in a horizontal position asleep. So make sure you get your dinner down you at least two or three hours before bedtime.
- Drinking milk seems to divide opinion. Some swear by it but the fat content can stimulate more acid which can lead to an excess, and drinking too much could lead to discomfort if you’re already feeling bloated.
- Stop smoking. One of the many detrimental effects of tobacco inhalation is the reduction in effectiveness of the muscle at the top of your stomach that keeps acids in.
- Casual dress code. Slip into something comfortable because a tight waist band puts pressure on the abdomen, forcing those stomach acids up the wrong way.
4 top tips to avoid acid reflux
If occasional gastric reflux is your only symptom then why not look at making the lifestyle changes Stephanie Moore recommends! This could be the route to eliminating heartburn once and for all without drugs.
- Relax. This seems to be the key strategy to tackling the acid reflux problem. Being stressed out contributes in a number of ways to poor digestion. Taking time to savour your food naturally triggers the creation of the required digestive juices in your stomach.
- Chew it. Chew it. Chew it. Chew it. There is a real emphasis on this. Chewing not only breaks down our food it also begins the creation of more acid and enzyme production – the fluids that help us digest and benefit from our food.
- Take a seat! There’s a sound scientific reason for this familiar instruction. When you’re standing or rushing around the opening at the top of your stomach is likely not to close as it’s supposed to when you’ve finished eating.
- Apple cider vinegar. You can get the unpasteurised and unfiltered stuff in health food shops. A spoonful before a meal will help stimulate natural digestion and close off that pesky opening at the top of your stomach.