Heartburn has Nothing to do with the Heart and Everything to do with the Gut
more commonly referred to as acid reflux or heartburn. It occurs when the esophoageal sphincter at the entryway to the stomach doesn’t entirely close. The sphincter is basically a muscle that acts like a gate – it requires pressure to open and close and regulates what substances pass through. If it is left open, even just a little, it loses its effectiveness.
The separation between the esophagus and the stomach is beneficial because the esophagus is just a passageway to the stomach, an inhospitable, highly acidic, corrosive environment filled with caustic enzymes specifically designed to tear organic tissue apart. Should acid leak into the esophagus, you will immediately know because a painful sensation will pulse around your heart and you may even feel the urge to vomit. Occasional heartburn is not unusual, especially after a large or spicy meal. Recurrent or pervasive heartburn, however, indicates that there is a serious underlying problem that needs to be addressed. Persistent heartburn may eventually even lead to cancer.
What is causing the acid leakage?Intestinal Dysbiosis is a condition where the healthy bacteria are missing or are out of balance. One consequence of this disharmony is production of gases such as methane and hydrogen, which can lead to unpleasant symptoms such as bloating and gas. This additional gas build up in the stomach causes pressure on the sphincter of the esophagus. Increased pressure makes the sphincter more likely to leak acid.
Hydrogen gas can contribute to GERD on another front. If it isn’t the pressure from the additional gas that is causing acid leakage, the reflux could be due to H. pylori infections. About 1 in 4 adult Americans have this nasty bacteria residing in their stomach, and it thrives on hydrogen gas. Abundant H. Pylori is notorious for causing ulcers, but it can contribute to GERD symptoms as well. The more dysbiosis, the more hydrogen there is. The more hydrogen there is, the happier the H. pylori.
What is the best way to treat GERD?Many attempt to relieve symptoms of GERD by taking antacids in order to decrease stomach acid. Unfortunately, this may do more harm than good. By altering the pH in the stomach, the balance between good and bad bacteria shifts. The inhospitable, corrosive stomach becoming less extreme creates a more inviting environment for bacteria we unintentionally ingest every day. It has been shown that increasing stomach acid corrects many cases of GERD, which makes sense because it returns its stomach to its optimal pH.
Studies show that probiotics may decrease GERD symptoms, which again makes sense because the root cause could be the hydrogen gas produced by intestinal dysbiosis. More data needs to be collected to examine the correlation, but preliminary signs all support that restoring intestinal harmony leads to reduced reflux.
Kelly Daescu, MS
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