Reflux, commonly known as heartburn, strikes in the chest and can feeling frighteningly like a heart attack. Known medically as gastro-oesophageal disease (GORD, or Oh Gawd), occurs when the stomach contents (both food and liquid), leak out of the stomach and up into the oesophagus. The issue is not an excess of stomach acid, although it may feel that way, but with a defect in the closing of the oesophageal sphincter that separates the stomach from the oesophagus. By design, the sphincter should keep a tight seal, only allowing food and drink to travel in a downwards direction, not the reverse.
- A feeling of food being stuck or a lump behind the sternum (breastbone).
- A burning or acidic sensation in the sternum and up into the throat.
- Symptoms are usually worse after meals, particularly large ones, when leaning forward or lying down and late at night.
- Unexplained cough.
- Hoarseness of the voice.
- Sore throat.
- When the reflux is asymptomatic, or you are unaware of its occurrence (ie there are no symptoms), it is called silent reflux. Although you may feel no discomfort, this condition needs to be resolved as constant erosion of the tender mucous membrane cells lining the oesophagus, known as Barrett’s oesophagitis, increases one’s risk of cancer in this part of the body.
What causes it?
- Many women experience reflux during pregnancy. This is due in part to the hormones that relax smooth muscle (in this case the oesophageal sphincter), and also later in the pregnancy due to the upward pressure from baby on the stomach.
- A hiatus hernia can often cause reflux. A hiatus hernia is when part of the stomach is forced through a small opening (a hiatus) in the diaphragm into the chest.
- Reflux is a common symptom of that old friend, stress.
- Food triggers include alcohol, chocolate, coffee, spicy foods, tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers and citrus fruits.
- Peppermint is usually the recipient of rave reviews for any digestive disorder, however, for some people, peppermint can relax the oesophageal sphincter and trigger reflux. It’s moments like these, you don’t need a Mintie.
- The bacteria often responsible for stomach ulcers, Helicobacter pylorus (H. pylorus), may also be responsible for reflux.
- Some medications have reflux as a side effect. Check with your doctor.
- Gluten sensitivity may be the cause.
What to do
- Become acquainted with your triggers and avoid them.
- While you’re off your coffee and alcohol, why not drink herbal teas that help reflux instead like licorice, chamomile, meadowsweet and lemon balm. Ginger is excellent for reflux, helping the stomach to empty downward, the correct direction. Add ginger to your meals or drink as a tea.
- Eat small meals; large meals can be a common trigger for reflux.
- Eating when stressed or in a hurry increases the chance of reflux. Take your time over your meal and chew each mouthful well.
- Avoid drinking more than a glass of fluids during, half an hour before, and an hour after larger meals.
- If there does not appear to be any other good reason for your reflux, avoid gluten for 4 weeks and see if this improves symptoms.
- Slippery elm is an absolute must when treating reflux. It soothes and heals. Take a teaspoon of slippery elm powder before or with each meal, mashed with a little yoghurt, banana or in hot water. Slippery elm powder is better for this condition than slippery elm capsules or tablets as the medicine needs to come into direct contact with the inflamed mucous membranes.
- The herbal teas mentioned above are terrific remedies for relieving the symptoms of reflux and soothing the mucous membranes of the oesophagus. In addition, calendula and goldenseal are excellent healers of inflammation.
- Glutamine is an amino acid that has an excellent reputation for preventing damage to and repairing cells lining the intestine, including the oesophagus.
- Aloe vera is anti-inflammatory and helps heal ulcerations. Take 10 ml of aloe juice before each meal. - Zinc is a mineral necessary for healing. Combine it with vitamin A for healing mucous membranes.
- The tissue salt, calcium fluoride (calc. fluor.), taken twice daily can, after some months, strengthen the oesophageal sphincter. This is particularly helpful for hiatus hernia.
- If your reflux is caused by H. pylorus, a good probiotic supplement taken each morning can help. Also, get this checked out and treated by your doctor, with triple therapy if necessary, as infection by H. pylorus may result in a peptic ulcer.
- To stop reflux from troubling you at night, elevate the head of the bed 15 cm or so. Try a couple of books under each bed leg. Some people find that sleeping on their left side helps.
- If stress is a trigger for your reflux, learn to manage your stress levels.
- Lose weight if necessary.
- Stop smoking.
At a glance
- Avoid foods that may trigger reflux such as alcohol, chocolate, coffee, spicy foods, tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, peppermint and citrus fruits.
- Certain herbal teas can be very calming for reflux, such as licorice, ginger, chamomile, meadowsweet and lemon balm.
- Tidy up your eating habits. Eat smaller meals, chew your food well and avoid eating when stressed or too late at night.
- Gluten sensitivity may be the cause of your reflux. Avoid gluten for 4 weeks and see if symptoms improve.
- The soothing and healing qualities of slippery elm powder makes this remedy a priority when treating reflux. Take a teaspoon of slippery elm powder before or with each meal, mashed with a little yoghurt, banana or in hot water.
- Herbal remedies for relief of reflux symptoms include lemon balm, licorice, chamomile, meadowsweet, ginger and chamomile. Herbs for the healing of mucous membranes are calendula and goldenseal.
- The amino acid, glutamine, is very good at repairing cell damage to the oesophagus.
- Aloe vera can help heal and calm inflamed mucous membranes. Take 10 ml aloe juice before each meal.
- Lose weight if necessary.
- Stop smoking.
- Stop stressing.