Acid reflux or heartburn is one of the most common ailments that affects men and women all over the world, irrespective of their ages. People often believe it to be a minor disease and therefore either ignore its tell-tale symptoms or refuse to visit the doctor for it. But what they fail to realize, is that if left untreated, acid reflux can lead to serious and irreversible health issues. It is because of the ignorance towards the depth of the effects of acid reflux, that people believe that treating it is not a big deal. Statistically, acid reflex affects almost 20 to 30% of the total population of the western countries.
Today, we debunk a few myths related to acid reflex, as well as put forth a few genuinely scientific facts about it.
What is acid reflux?
There is present a thin valve between the juncture of the food pipe and the stomach, which prevents the reverse or upward movement of the contents of the stomach. As soon as food enters into the stomach, the high acidic pH of hydrochloric acid produced by the walls of the stomach, start acting on it.
Sometimes, due to the failure of the valve or some other cause, the semi-digested food along with the acid mixed in it, manages to travel back to the food pipe and the mouth through reverse peristalsis (movement of the muscles of the food pipe). This, in turn produces heartburn and general discomfort in the chest area, resulting in acid reflux.
What are the most common acid reflex symptoms?
One of the most confusing things about detecting acid reflux is that most of its symptoms are hard to diagnose and are easily confused as symptoms of some other diseases. But some of the most prominent tell-tale acid reflux symptoms are:
• Heartburn: The most common symptom, heartburn includes a clogging or uncomfortable sensation in the chest region, underneath the breastbone. In some patients, the heartburn increases when they lie down or just have had a heavy meal.
• Indigestion: Also called dyspepsia, it includes constant burping, a heaviness or the feeling of being bloated, occasional nausea and even vomiting. If left untreated, it can develop into a serious form of ulcer.
• Bad taste in the mouth: This generally happens because the acid rises to the throat and the back of the mouth, thus leaving a tangy and unpleasant aftertaste in the mouth, as well as corrosive or acidic feeling in the food pipe.
• Tooth decay: The constant back flow of acid to the mouth makes the pH of the mouth acidic, and reacts against the calcium of the teeth. Over time, the teeth start to become corroded or damaged, which if left untreated, can be irreversible.
• Regurgitation: This is more prevalent in children, where the semi-digested food of the stomach moves back upwards into the mouth. In some cases in adults, it can even lead to intense vomiting.
• Hoarseness: On being constantly subjected to acid reflux, the vocal cords become irritated, which generates a hoarse voice. This symptom is often confused with a sore throat or a cold.
What causes acid reflux?
Acid reflux can occur due to a number of reasons, all of which form a part of our everyday lives. Such causes include:
• Smoking: Smoking not only damages the lungs permanently, but is one of the leading causes of acid reflux. It reduces the rate of saliva production, making the mouth dry, which would otherwise have counteracted the acidic pH. Smoking also leads to an abnormal increase in the amount of acid production in the human body, which not only damages the protective mucous lining of the stomach, but the entire digestive system.
• Over eating or being obese: When a person suffers from obesity, or consumes more than the required amount of food during their day, it increases the pressure on the stomach. Since there is more food to digest, more hydrochloric acid is produced by the lining of the stomach, which, in turn, leads to frequent attacks of acid reflux.
• Hiatal hernia: Generally, the diaphragm, a thing membrane separating the pelvic cavity from the thoracic cavity, prevents the upwards movement of the acid from the stomach. In the stomach abnormality called hiatal hernia, the upper region of the stomach is situated above the diaphragm. Thus, the diaphragm is no longer capable of preventing the upward mobility of acid, leading to an increase in the number of times a person experiences acid reflux.
• Exercising or lying down after a heavy meal: Any exercise that forces you to bend downwards or lie straight on your back, especially after consuming a hearty meal, will definitely cause acid reflux, particularly because it align the food pipe on the same level with the stomach, making reverse peristalsis easier. Similarly, when you bend forward, you make it easier for the acid content to move towards the food pipe.
• Pregnancy: The changing levels of hormones in the female body during pregnancy, affects the muscles of the alimentary canal. This means that the muscles of the stomach act a little differently and now react to the same kind of food in a different manner, which may lead to increased acid production. Pregnancy hormones also affect the proper functioning of the stomach-food pipe valve, which means that the acid content can easily move upwards.
Are there any foods that cause acid reflux?
Absolutely! Unlike what most people believe, acid reflux is not always caused by spicy Indian food. In fact, there are some everyday foods that cause acid reflux. Some such common foods are:
• Citruses: The stomach already hasa certain amount of hydrochloric acid content in it. Citruses or tangy fruits like grapefruit, limes, lemons as well as oranges, when consumed in excess or in an empty stomach, add to the already present amount of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, thus, leading to acid reflux.
• Coffee: Coffee, as we know, is one of the richest sources of caffeine, which is a stimulant. It not only keeps the body awake, but it also signals the brain to produce more acid in the stomach, thereby increasing chances of acid reflux. Therefore, coffee should be switched for green tea or be limited to no more than two cups.
• Tomatoes: Tomatoes are one of the most acidic foods of our daily dietary consumption. Therefore, an excess of consumption of tomatoes, for instance, in salads, as tomato puree or even tomato ketchup, can lead to acid reflux.
• Chocolate: The extremely high cocoa as well as caffeine content of chocolate, especially dark chocolates, can stimulate acid reflux. Therefore, it is always a good idea to limit your intake of chocolate and switch from dark, unsweetened chocolate to white chocolate as well.
• Cheese: Dairy products like cheese and butter are extremely rich in fat content. Unfortunately, foods rich in fat content, are one of the most dangerous foods related to acid reflux. Therefore, try to use a little amount of butter, cheese and ghee in your daily dietary routine.
• Peppermint: Peppermint contains a substance that relaxes the valve and the sphincter muscles present between the stomach and the food pipe. As a result of this, when you consume peppermint after a heavy meal; it relaxes the valve and consequently, allows for the acid content to travel back.
Is there any acid reflux remedy?
Most doctors and health professionals recommend a complete modification of lifestyle choices and your bad habits to get rid of acid reflux.
• Instead of heavy meals, try eating lighter meals throughout the day and avoid any processed or fat containing foods as well as carbonated drinks.
• Switch to healthier alternatives like chamomile tea, herbal tea as well as green tea instead of coffee.
• Quit smoking. For those of them who find it difficult, they can use nicotine patches or nicotine chewing gums.
• Do not go to bed directly after a meal. Doctors recommend waiting at least three hours before hitting the sack.
• Excess weight puts pressure on the stomach; therefore, it is vital to attain a healthier weight goal.
• Yoga is a relaxation technique that loosens the muscles of the body and calms the mind, thereby relaxing the stomach muscles and decreasing stress levels.
• If you have acid reflux for more than three times a week, you should seriously consider visiting a doctor.
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