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Your Burning Questions About Heart Burn Answered

July 20, 2021

By Duke Lifestyle & Weight Management Medical Team

GERD is the medical term for Acid Reflux and the common description is’ heartburn’. This condition has nothing to do with anyone’s heart burning. GERD is the acronym for gastroesophageal reflux disease. For a variety of reasons, the acidic contents of the stomach leak up into the esophagus where the acidity is not tolerated by this tissue. When this happens, one experiences acid burning on the lining of the esophagus. Many people suffer from GERD and there are several ways to improve or eliminate the symptoms.

” All disease starts in the gut”
Hippocrates (the Father of Medicine)

Understanding the Basics of the Gut-Brain Connection

Here are some common questions people have when trying to understand pH levels in the stomach and GERD and ways to improve this condition:

Question: Why does our stomach environment remain acid when we eat foods?

Answer: The stomach is at an acidic pH level of 2-3 whereas a neutral pH level is about 7 which is close to the pH level of our blood. An acidic environment in the stomach is the best environment for absorption and assimilation of the nutrients that we ingest. It is in this environment that proteins can be broken down into parts that we can absorb for nutrition. This acid environment is also beneficial to absorb other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that serve as co-factors in many biochemical pathways to keep your body running efficiently, especially while working to release extra pounds.

Question: Are there other benefits to having an acidic environment in our stomachs besides absorption of nutrients?

Answer: Yes, an acidic stomach functions as one of the initial processes of immune defense.
Another very important function of an acidic environment of the stomach is an initial line of defense against bacteria or viruses that we might encounter when eating or drinking. The acidic stomach takes away those bacterial and viral proteins and renders them harmless to the body, therefore, helping to prevent infections. The acidic stomach assists the defense ability we have through our nose with the hairs and mucous helping to trap airborne bacteria or viruses. Salivary antibodies in our mouths are another assisting line of defense. Our bodies are always working to keep us well.

Question: How does normal digestion occur?

Answer: The answer is in the physiology of digestion. First of all, LES, which stands for the Lower Esophageal Sphincter is a circular muscle at the bottom of the esophagus. It is located at the junction of the stomach and is made up of smooth muscle. The LES is a muscle that sometimes contracts and closes the space between the esophagus and the stomach and sometimes it stays open for short periods of time. The LES serves as a barrier so that acid-containing stomach contents normally do not come in contact with the esophagus. When it is functioning properly, it naturally only opens long enough to allow food to pass through.

Question: What happens when the LES (Lower esophageal sphincter) stays open for too long?

Answer: If the timing for the opening mechanism after swallowing is disrupted, it can stay open for too long. Often extra weight in the middle of the body creates ‘up pressure’ on the stomach and LES is forced to open too long mechanically. Foods, drugs, and medical conditions can cause this laxity as well.

Question: Are there other contributing factors to treating GERD?

Answer: Yes, eating late at night and then lying down flat with a full stomach can contribute to the upward flow of acid contents of the stomach into the esophagus. Combined with lying down, the effect of gravity and excess acid will weaken the LES and worsen GERD. Spicy or acidic foods like tomato sauces that stimulate digestive juices and lower pH levels can contribute to GERD symptoms in some people.

Question: What are some ways to avoid GERD or acid reflux i.e. heartburn?

Answer: Healthy eating changes such as:

  • Avoiding spicy foods especially late at night or evening meals
  • Avoiding upside-down positions after a meal
  • Avoiding alcohol if you experience GERD symptoms
  • Smoking tobacco

Lifestyle changes such as:

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