Acid reflux or indigestion. Heartburn. GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). It can leave you feeling like you're on fire. Literally and figuratively.
The action in the body when GERD is present is that of your stomach producing an excess of acid, with this acid coming back up in to your esophagus.
It is a super uncomfortable situation, and one that if left to persist, can have some long lasting impacts on the rest of your physiology.
There are other possibilities behind acid reflux or heartburn as well. Could be due to a hiatal hernia, or sometimes an inability to make enough hydrochloric acid (hypochlorhydia) as well. (1)
First things first: get your acid reflux checked by your Medical Team. It is important to know what is at the root of your digestive ills, in order to best support what's behind that throat-on-fire feeling. It is also imperative to rule out other more serious health matters that may be behind the burning feeling.
By the numbers
It is estimated that acid reflux is a fairly common issue for around 20% of the population (2). In Canada alone, the evidence shows that people who struggle with reflux or GERD lose about 16% of their work time, all due to the symptoms associated with this diagnosis (3).
The medication that is typically prescribed in this scenario are called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): they account for a large portion of the drugs prescribed in Canada, more than 11 million separate prescriptions in our country alone. (4) This is a pretty serious matter! What is going on?
What does reflux look like
According to the Mayo Clinic, below you will find the symptoms they look for when trying to understand if you have indigestion, heartburn or reflux of some kind.
A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), usually after eating, which might be worse at night
Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
Sensation of a lump in your throat
If you have nighttime acid reflux, you might also experience:
New or worsening asthma
Reflux as a sign your sink is overflowing
Acid reflux, though uncomfortable, could be a sign your body is sending to let you know that your histamine sink is full and now overflowing. We talked about the sink analogy a few weeks back, revisit this blog post for a refresher if you need to.
Does it surprise you to know that acid reflux can be a histamine clearance issue?
Histamine plays an integral role in digestion. It stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in your stomach, helping to bring the pH lower in your stomach in order to turn your protein-digesting enzymes 'on'. This is a crucial piece of the digestion puzzle – you need the right pH to set the stage here, as your entire digestive process is governed by proper pH levels.
That now-lowered pH level in the stomach triggers other processes down the digestive tract, from your pancreas releasing bicarbonate + other enzymes, to your gallbladder dumping bile. This is all dependant on the right pH level achieved, thanks to histamine triggering the release of the acidic hydrochloric acid.
But what if you are making too much?
In some cases, an excess of histamine can over-stimulate the stomach to release excess hydrochloric acid. Excess hydrochloric acid now makes the chyme (the now mashed and digested food that is coming out of your stomach after digestion there) quite acidic, and has the potential of contributing to irritation in your gut lining down the tract. This can be one of the contributors to inflammation in the intestinal lining, further compounding your body's inflammatory load.
As that inflammatory load increases, so could your body's production of histamine, further compounding the issue.
What to do?
It would be interesting to do some food tracking for yourself, to see if your acid reflux or heartburn is tied in to certain foods that may be exacerbating your acid reflux. Use our handy dandy tracking sheet we have on our Resources page to help you figure this piece out for yourself.
It won't surprise you to know that the medications most often prescribed to help deal with acid reflux or GERD, are histamine blockers (H2 blocker). When acid reflux is in the picture, bringing in a low histamine diet can help alleviate symptoms very quickly.
It bears repeating though: working with a qualified practitioner to help understand what is at the root of your histamine sink overflowing needs to be a part of the picture. While a low histamine diet will help manage your symptoms, it is not addressing the reason why histamine clearance or an over production of histamine are an issue for you.
If you're interested in trying a low histamine diet on for size for the short term in order to get relief from the burn, we invite you to download our Histamine Haven Shopping List. Using this as your guide at the grocery store and in your meal plans will help reduce the amount of histamines coming in to your system. It's a good place to start.
Let us know how you make out!