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As the term’s heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD are often used interchangeably, I wanted to clarify what they each truly are. Acid reflux is a common medical condition of mild or high concern. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more chromic and severe form of acid reflux. Heartburn is a symptom of both acid reflux and GERD.
There are a few ways and reasons the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) opens causing heartburn:
Let’s discuss some digestive anatomy.
You have two sphincters (valves) on either end of the esophagus. The UpperEsophageal Sphincter (UES) and the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES). Unlike the UES, which is controlled by our conscious (let’s eat and swallow) the LES is controlled by the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system.
Yes, the Vegas Nerve has everything to do with your digestion.
Stomach acid is also known as gastric acid, and is an acid solution containing hydrochloric acid, sodium chloride, and potassium chloride. This solution is often referred to as hydrochloric acid (HCL) and is produced by Parietal cells. These are by far some of the most important cells in your body. Parietal cells not only produce HCL, but also produce Intrinsic Factor, a glycoprotein that helps your intestines absorb vitamin B12. Intrinsic factor binds to vitamin B12 and protects it from the stomach acid (B12 is acid sensitive) and carries it through the digestive system helping it be absorbed into your system. B12 is one of the most vital vitamins! It is responsible for red blood cell formation, your cellular metabolism, heart health, brain health, mood, nerve function and the production of DNA.
Balanced stomach acid levels are of UTMOST importance! We need to keep the parietal cells healthy, and when we use medications to reduce stomach acid when we do not need to, we kill these vital cells.
Ok, I am off my soap box about parietal cells……. for now.
With proper levels of stomach acid, the LES stays tightly closed keeping stomach contents out of the esophagus. With improper stomach acid levels, the LES will loosen and a peristaltic squeeze occurs, pushing acidic fluid into the lower part of the esophagus. This is what you feel when you have heartburn or GERD.
On the lower end of the stomach is the pyloric sphincter which separates the stomach from the small intestine. When there is a proper pH of 4.0 - 4.5 in the stomach, this valve opens allowing the digested contents to naturally flow into the intestine. If this valve fails to open because the stomach pH is off, food sits in the stomach and putrefies, producing gas and pressure triggering the LES to once again leak open allowing the acid to irritate the esophagus.
The symptoms associated with acid reflux are identical in people that have Hyperchlorhydria (too much acid being produced), and people that have Hypochlorhydria, (not producing enough acid).
As both Hypochlorhydria and Hyperchlorhydria cause basically the same symptoms: reflux, abdominal pain, belching, bloating, gas, flatulence, nausea, diarrhea and/or constipation, doctors often misdiagnose, and assume people do not have enough Hydrochloric Acid (HCL).
Improperly diagnosing can create a storm in someone who does not produce enough HCL, as when they take a Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) or any acid reducing drug, they may develop Achlorhydria – the complete lack of HCL.
And we need HCL!
HCL is naturally secreted in the stomach to digest food, kill pathogens and allergens, sterilize our food, and trigger further digestive activity.Appropriate levels of HCL is critical in our protein processing, as pepsin (first stage of proteins breaking down) is only released when HCL levels are in balance.
When the pH of the hydrochloric acid in the stomach is at 1.0 to 1.3. pH, pepsin begins to break down proteins into peptones. Peptones are the building blocks for Amino acids which are the building blocks to make all protein on earth. If our stomach acid levels become alkaline or too high (At pH 5.0 Peptic enzymes are completely inactive) then proteins do not break down appropriately and pass into the small intestine. This can create allergies and digestive distress.
If you have no or low stomach acid, it is also difficult to absorb B12, Zinc, and many other nutrients.
Symptoms: burning reflux, nausea, gas and bloating, belching, indigestion, regurgitation, bitter taste in the mouth. If the reflux becomes worse and you enter GERD you can look for heartburn, coughing, hoarseness, wheezing difficulty swallowing, hiccups, sore throat
Whole Food Sources to ENJOY
Whole Food Sources to AVOID
Vitamins, Supplements, Tinctures, & Extracts
Marshmallow root, Slippery Elm, licorice root, Gentiana lutea, Hops, Horehound, Angelica, Marigold, Chamomile, Ginger, Meadowsweet
Healing Techniques & Modalities
Essential Oils & Aromatherapy
Sources: See the Human Body Master Guide for full resource list
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