Stomach pain and the truth about acid reflux

Do you regularly suffer from burning, acidic stomach pain? You’re not alone – a survey in Norway recently revealed that the number of people who experience ‘acid reflux’ or ‘heartburn’ at least once a week, has increased by around 50 per cent in the last 10 years. But before you reach for your usual antacids in an attempt to relieve the searing discomfort, you need to arm yourself with the real facts about stomach pain.

What is acid reflux and what causes it?

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a common condition in which stomach acid leaks out of the stomach and into the oesophagus causing it to burn. This happens if the Lower Oesophageal Sphincter (LOS) relaxes when it shouldn’t (a condition known as hiatal hernia), typically after eating a heavy meal, bending over, lifting something heavy or when lying down.

So, contrary to popular belief, it’s not a high amount of acid in the stomach that causes stomach pain and acid reflux, but rather stomach acid escaping from the stomach and accessing areas that it’s not meant to. In fact, many of us only develop acid reflux and heartburn as we get older, just when acid production in our stomach is in decline.

Common symptoms include:

• Burning stomach pain
• Heartburn (a fiery sensation that radiates from your stomach and into the chest and throat)
• An unpleasant taste or bad breath (caused by the regurgitation of stomach acid)
• Pain and difficulty when swallowing
• Hoarseness or tightness in the throat
• Wheezing
• Asthma
• Dental problems

Why do we need stomach acid in the first place?

Stomach acid is essential for the digestion and absorption of protein, vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients. In addition, stomach acid creates an important barrier, which can prevent bacteria and other harmful organisms from penetrating our digestive tract. Indeed, low levels of stomach acid are directly linked to poor nutrition and a range of medical conditions including osteoporosis, pneumonia and macular degeneration.

Dispelling the antacid myth

We are constantly bombarded with adverts for antacids that supposedly prevent or remedy acid reflux and heartburn by reducing acid levels in the stomach and thus lowering the amount of acid that can escape into the oesophagus. Whilst these medicines may mask the symptoms and temporarily relieve the acute stomach pain associated with acid reflux, they don’t actually fix the underlying problem. As we know, the cause of acid reflux is the LOS opening when it shouldn’t. Doctors still don’t know exactly why this happens, but many now believe that more acid, as opposed to less, is fundamental in keeping this important valve shut. And it would appear that the LOS relaxes more, when low levels of stomach acid are present. By taking antacids to reduce acid levels, we are therefore potentially making the true cause of the problem far worse, rather than better. To compound the matter, antacids are often prescribed without determining whether or not a patient actually has high levels of acid in their stomach. When tests are conducted, the reverse is often revealed – that there is a shortage of stomach acid, rather than a glut of it.

Dr. Barry an Australian physician conducted some ground breaking research on acid reflux. He discovered that an organism known as ‘helicobacter pylori’ could cause a chronic low-level inflammation of the stomach lining, which can result in stomach pain and the many symptoms associated with acid reflux. When we suppress acid levels in our stomach using antacids, we effectively decrease our body’s ability to kill the helicobacter bacteria, which ultimately aggravates and perpetuates the condition.

And, given that antacids reduce our levels of stomach acids, which are crucial for adequate nutrition, they’re hardly a suitable solution for stomach pain, acid reflux or heartburn.

Natural ways to eliminate stomach pain and acid reflux

The NHS recommend a step-by-step approach to treating acid reflux and encourage uncomplicated treatments, such as changing your diet, first. Below is a comprehensive list of entirely natural, yet highly effective ways that can help you to manage and prevent acid reflux, heartburn and stomach pain:

1) Remove processed foods and refined sugars from your diet
Refined sugars (and the processed foods that contain them) upset the bacterial balance in your stomach by feeding bad bacteria such as helicobacter and allowing them to grow out of control.

2) Add plenty of vegetables, fermented foods and probiotics to your diet
These types of foods are known to specifically stimulate a healthy intestinal flora by encouraging the correct ratio of ‘friendly’ bacteria and can effectively eradicate helicobacter in an entirely natural way.

3) Boost your vitamin D intake
As there may be an infectious element to the underlying problem causing your stomach pain, it’s wise to boost your vitamin D intake. Vitamin D will support your body’s production of antimicrobial peptides, which will in turn eradicate any infections present. You can get vitamin D via (modest) exposure to sunlight, from cod liver oil, sardines, herring, salmon, mackerel and tuna. You can also supplement your diet with krill oil, a powerful superfood literally crammed with this vitamin. If you decide to take vitamin D supplements make sure that they contain vitamin D3, the same variety of vitamin D produced by the body.

4) Seek out foods containing melatonin and tryptophan
Recent studies suggest that melatonin could also be effective in helping to treat stomach pain and acid reflux. Melatonin is found in foods such as olive oil, rice and cherries. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is converted into melatonin within the body. A delicious superfood particularly high in tryptophan is raw cacao.

5) Eliminate known food triggers
Cut out well-known triggers of stomach pain and acid reflux including caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.

6) Increase your body’s natural production of stomach acid
As already mentioned, stomach pain associated with acid reflux is caused or at least aggravated by too little acid, rather than too much of it. Encourage your body to produce more stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) by consuming foods that are rich in organic sodium. These include unprocessed sea salt, Himalayan salt, celery, wheatgrass, seaweeds, algae and aloe vera.

7) Take regular exercise
Enjoy plenty of regular exercise – this will help strengthen your immune system and give your body a fighting chance in combatting unpleasant conditions such as acid reflux, heartburn and stomach pain.

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