What Causes Acid Reflux?

Find out what causes acid reflux.  Smoking? Drinking? Belly fat? What about your diet? How healthy is your small intestine?  Different factors influence your stomach's ability to keep its acid inside.

Is Your Stomach Too Acid? 

You might think you suffer from heartburn because your stomach produces too much acid.

You couldn't be more wrong. Having enough stomach acid is critical for good digestion. It also helps to kill ingested bacteria. Your stomach is a transit station for further digestion in your small intestine and gut. The real reason why you experience heartburn is because your stomach valve starts  'leaking'. 

Weak Stomach Valve

To keep your stomach closed at all times, you have got a muscular valve at the entrance. This valve is a tight circular muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. It protects your esophagus against reflux and burning stomach acid.  Your LES is made out of smooth muscle tissue, which means it can't be trained nor voluntary controlled. 

Some people eat and drink as much as they want, without ever complaining of heartburn. These are the lucky ones who have a very strong stomach valve.

Others, like me, have a weak stomach valve that doesn't perform a perfect job.

A weak stomach valve enables stomach acid to travel back into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms.

Stomach Pressure

Heavy Meals

The higher the pressure inside your stomach, the more your stomach content wants to get out. Heavy meals and drinking carbonated beverages make your stomach pressure rise. 

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth

Gluten intolerance, FODMAP sensitivity or simply eating too much carbs can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria inside your small intestine.  These bacteria expel gas that pushes on the base of your stomach and causes acid reflux and heartburn. 

Hiatal Hernia

Your esophagus passes through a very small opening in your diaphragm, just before joining your stomach. The diaphragm, your strongest breathing muscle, supports your stomach valve at this position because it fits tightly around it.

If the opening in your diaphragm is too large, it allows your stomach to bulge upwards. That kind of bulging is called a hiatal hernia . The upward movement pulls your stomach valve away from your diaphragm. Without the strong diapragmal support, your muscular valve can't properly close off your stomach anymore. That is what causes acid reflux in hiatal hernia's.

Smoking

Smoking causes acid reflux. If you suffer from acid reflux, tobacco causes your muscular valve, the lower esophageal sphincter, to relax and increases the production of stomach acid.

Drinking

Alcohol makes you feel relaxed and loosened up. Unfortunately, your LES, the muscular valve responsible for closing your stomach, enjoys the same relaxing effect. After a couple of drinks, your stomach valve has become slack and enables acid reflux to occur.

Obesity

    Unhealthy food habits lead to both obesity and acid reflux. Research shows a strong relationship between obesity and acid reflux.  Belly fat doesn't just hang there in front of your body. As you can see on the picture, it accumulates between your organs. It puts pressure on your stomach and pushes more gastric acid out of your stomach. 

Beverages

Xanthines

Coffee, tea and cola? They all contain xanthines, which are substances that relax your stomach valve.

Water

Not drinking enough water makes your body thirsty. Dehydration is an important source of stomach problems.

Acid Reflux And Stress

People believed for a long time that stress triggers your stomach to produce more acid. It has even been shown that people who are under a lot of psychological stress, report more complaints about heartburn than others.

The weird thing is that research can't find a connection between stress and the amount of acid produced inside your stomach. 

How is this possible? What causes acid reflux when you are stressed out? The experts assume that stress stimulates the pain receptors in your esophagus, making them more sensitive to burning stomach acid.

This means that the same amount of acid reflux will be more painful if you are under a lot of stress.

If you have acid reflux due to histamine intolerance, you should avoid stress. It triggers mast cells to produce histamine, which cause heartburn and allergic-like symptoms if you can't break it down.

Constipation

If your intestines work too slow, your belly contains a mass of stools. Spacing your abdomen, constipation raises pressure on your stomach and pushes your gastric content back up. Constipation and and acid reflux are both signs of small intestine bacterial overgrowth. Changing your diet can solve both problems.

Lying down

Lying down eliminates the force of gravity that helps to keep your stomach content down. Nighttime acid reflux is a well known problem among heartburn sufferers. A wedge pillow for acid reflux is a simple remedy to deal with this problem.


Pregnancy

If you're a future mama, chances are high that you suffer from heartburn. What causes acid reflux when you're pregnant?

  • Your hormones. When you're pregnant, your ovaries produce more progesterone. This hormone is necessary for having a successful pregnancy. It protects you from having a miscarriage by its relaxing effect on the muscles of your uterus. Unfortunately, the relaxing effect of progesterone affects your other muscles too. Consequently, your stomach valve, the LES, gets more relaxed.
  • Your baby. Your growing little one creates an overpressure in your belly and starts pushing on your stomach. Gastric juices are squeezed out.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

A combination of the above factors probably causes your acid reflux.

Remember that excellent remedies exist, such as a wedge pillow for acid reflux for troubles at night. If you suffer from severe acid reflux, your doctor can prescribe proper medication . 


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References: (1)Fill Malfertheiner S, Malfertheiner MV, Mönkemüller K, Röhl FW, Malfertheiner P, Costa SD. Gastrœsophageal reflux disease and management in advanced pregnancy: a prospective survey. Digestion. 2009;79(2):115-20. Epub 2009 Mar 26. (2)The effect of psychological stress on symptom severity and perception in patients with gastro-oesophageal reflux Caroline E. Wright, , Marcel Ebrecht, Rebecca Mitchell, Angela Anggiansah, John Weinman Journal of Psychosomatic Research Volume 59, Issue 6, December 2005, Pages 415–424

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