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Acid Reflux

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux is when stomach acid comes up from the stomach into the esophageal. This will result in irritation and inflammation of the esophageal. This causes pain in the upper abdomen or the chest. It can also cause feelings of nausea, an acid taste in your mouth, indigestion, and mouth issues such as gum problems, bad breath, and a sore throat. The pain is usually worse after a meal. 

If this is happening consistently, and happening 2 or more times a week, you may be diagnosed with something called gastro-esophageal reflux disease (also known as GORD or GERD). There is a ring of muscle between the esophageal and the stomach, called the lower esophageal sphincter. This ring of muscle acts as a valve that prevents stomach acid from leaving the stomach and going up the esophageal. Gastro-esophageal reflux disease is what happens when this ring of muscle isn’t working properly, and is letting acid out from the stomach into the esophageal. If this happens repetitively it creates inflammation in the lining of the esophageal, which is called esophagitis.

What causes acid reflux, and who is at risk?

There are many things that can contribute to the likelihood of having acid reflux, these include:

Being overweight – this is one of the main risk factors for gastro-esophageal reflux disease. As your weight increases, especially in your stomach area, this places more pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, and means it is not able to function correctly. 

Being pregnant – as the size of your womb increases as your baby grows. It starts to push up against your stomach. Just like above, this extra weight and pressure causes the lower esophageal sphincter to not be able to function correctly, and allows stomach acid to flow up into the esophageal. 

Smokers – the nicotine in cigarettes causes the muscles of the lower esophageal sphincter to relax and not function properly, which allows for acid reflux to occur. It is also thought that the coughing brought on by smoking cigarettes can lead to a hiatus hernia, which can lead to gastro-esophageal reflux disease, as discussed below. 

Hiatus hernia – a hiatus hernia is where a part of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm into the lower chest area, due to a weakness in the diaphragm (which is a large flat muscle that separates the lungs from the abdomen). Hiatus hernias can affect the function of the lower esophageal sphincter and lead to acid reflux. 

What you are eating – there are certain foods that can cause acid reflux to be worse. These include fried foods, fatty foods, spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, garlic, onions, and acidic foods such as tomatoes or lemons. 

What are the complications of acid reflux/gastro-esophageal reflux disease?

While gastro-esophageal reflux disease in itself is not a particularly serious condition, it is important to get on top of it as soon as possible, as it can have some very serious complications if left untreated. These include:

  • Barrett’s esophageal, which is precancerous changes to the esophageal 
  • Stricture, which is narrowing of the esophageal 
  • Esophagitis, which as mentioned above, is swelling or inflammation of the esophageal 
  • Regurgitation of acid into the lungs
  • Ulcerations or bleeding 
  • Adult onset asthma 

How can chiropractic help with acid reflux?

There are a couple of ways that chiropractic can help with acid reflux. The first way is by looking at the structure of your spine. If the thoracic and lumbar spine are not aligned properly, this can place excess pressure on the stomach and esophageal. In severe cases the pressure can be so much that it can contribute to a hiatal hernia. Poor spinal alignment can also cause inhibition of the lower esophageal sphincter, which can allow acid reflux to occur. Chiropractors are able to adjust your spine to ensure correct spinal alignment and structure, to lower the pressure on the system, and reduce the effects of acid reflux. 

The other way is by looking at the nervous system. Your nerve system is protected by your spine, and when areas of the spine become misaligned and stop moving properly, this can cause stress on the nervous system. Your nervous system is how your brain and body communicate.  Furthermore, if there is interference to this system, your body is not going to be functioning at its best. This also goes for your gastro-esophageal system. It needs correct nerve connectivity to be able to function at its best. Therefore interference to the nerve system can lead to issues, such as acid reflux. Chiropractors are able to locate the areas of the spine that are misaligned and causing nerve interference. After that they are able to adjust them in order to get the spine and nervous system functioning at their best. 

Should you take antacids?

Antacids are medications that work to neutralise stomach acid, in order to minimise the effects of acid reflux. While this may provide temporary relief for your acid reflux, it is not good to rely on antacids long term, as they can bring about their own issues. Your stomach acid is there and is acidic for a reason, and lowering the acidity of your stomach acid long term can lead to health issues. 

One of the issues that can happen if stomach acidity is neutralised for too long is bacterial overgrowth. Your stomach acid helps to maintain its environment. Reducing the acidity long term can allow bacteria to grow out of control. Bacterial overgrowth can cause issues such as maldigestion of carbohydrates, which can lead to overproduction of gas inside the stomach. It can also cause issues such as reduced nutrient absorption, increased inflammation, and even raises the risk of stomach cancer. 

Nutrient absorption is another issue. Stomach acid is there for a reason, and plays an important role in the process of digestion. Stomach acid starts the breakdown of food before it enters the intestines. This breakdown of the food allows for the proper absorption of nutrients from the food you are eating. Missing this important step due to lowered acidity of stomach acid means that nutrients are unable to be absorbed properly. When they enter the intestines, it means your body is missing out on many of the important nutrients. Even though you may think you are eating enough, if you are missing this important part of the digestion process. You may not be receiving these nutrients correctly, resulting in malnutrition.