These are common conditions that are not always understood. Heartburn is a slightly misleading term because it really has nothing to do with the heart but has been known to mimic a heart attack. Symptoms of these conditions can include:
- Burning sensation in the chest
- Regurgitating food
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chronic cough, wheezing
- Sore throat, hoarseness or change in voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest pain (non-cardiac)
Heartburn and Acid Indigestion are actually digestive disorders caused by acid from the stomach being pushed back up into the oesophagus (the tube that connects the throat to your stomach) causing irritation or a burning sensation. This process is called reflux and if persistent the medical condition is termed gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Although symptoms generally occur after meals they can be experienced at any time of day and often get worse at night when lying down. The reflux is controlled by a valve (sphincter) located between the bottom of the oesophagus and the top of the stomach. This valve relaxes at certain times, mainly to let food into the stomach, however GORD patients have valves that relax more often than normal. It’s at this point of relaxation that the acidic stomach contents get pushed back into the oesophagus.
Increased relaxation of the valve can occur with age but can also be caused by lifestyle and dietary factors, as well as digestive complaints such as bloating. An element of reflux will happen to everyone, but in GORD patients the mechanism that clears the acid from the oesophagus is also impaired so the acid can stay there for some time, prolonging the symptoms and sometimes causing injury to the oesophageal tissue.
A common misconception is that too much acid causes GORD, but this is quite unusual. Antacid and prescription medications are often taken to stop acid production which reduces immediate symptoms i.e. there is no acid left to splash up into the oesophagus. However, they can worsen the condition if used persistently. Acid and digestive secretions are crucial for the breakdown and digestion of food and a deficiency could increase symptoms of bloating, a major cause of GORD. People who aren’t digesting foods properly can also suffer increased susceptibility to food intolerances and allergies as well as reduced nutrient absorption from foods. It is much better to try and work on the cause of the problem where possible and use medications as a last resort.
Some of the factors implicated in causing this condition include:
- Common food triggers such as chocolate, peppermint, caffeine, fruit juice, wheat, high fat and spicy meals.
- Over eating and being overweight
- Lying down after a meal or eating too close to bedtime.
- Regular use of painkillers such as Aspirin and Ibuprofen.
- Diagnosed with a Hiatus Hernia
- Various medications
GORD does not generally progress into a more serious condition, however some cases can lead to ulcers and a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus. Consult with your GP if symptoms persist or increase in severity. The condition can usually be managed with dietary and lifestyle modifications and at Nutrition Mission we can help you to identify these factors and put together a nutritional programme tailored specifically for you. The aim is to support your digestive system and optomise its function in order to tackle the root cause of the problem. Here are some other simple tips that can help make a difference:
- Stop smoking
- Avoid eating late at night or close to bedtime.
- Don’t over eat.
- Lose weight if you need to.
- Sit at the table when eating meals, chew properly and take your time.
- Get to know your trigger foods/drinks and avoid them as much as possible.
If you would like to seek professional advice about this condition, please contact one of our fully qualified nutritional therapists who will be happy to help.
Dent, J., El-Serag, H.B., Wallander, M-A and Johansson, S. (2005) Epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review. Gut, 54: 710-717.
Kahrilas, P.J. (2003) GERD pathogenesis, pathophysiology and clinical manifestations. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 70 (5).
University of Maryland Medical Centre (2011) Gastroesophageal reflux disease [online]
Available from: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/gastroesophageal-reflux-000068.htm#ixzz1uCgqudUz. [Accessed 4 May 2012].