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Heartburn Isn't Harmless

Posted by Sue Serre on

The month of June kicks off the barbeque season with Father’s Day celebrations that typically include steaks, sausages, burgers, beer, pasta salads, cake and ice cream and more. This brings us to the topic of digestion – more specifically acid reflux and heartburn (the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus). This topic is of particular importance for me as I had trouble with heartburn in the past, my friend Jen has Barrett’s Esophagus and my husband passed away from Esophageal cancer. 


We hear about it so often. How many of us have taken a Tums or a Rolaids when we get regurgitation or heartburn? When that happens it means you are not digesting properly and that “hydrochloric acid” (HCl) which belongs in your stomach, comes into contact with the delicate lining of the esophagus. Repeated bouts over time can result in GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), Barrett’s Esophagus and Esophageal Cancer.


There are things you can do to prevent heartburn. First of all, do not drink liquids with your meals – just sips of water, otherwise you dilute the digestive juices necessary to break down the food in the stomach. This impairs complete digestion resulting in burping, gas and acid reflux. Eat less at one sitting, reduce alcohol consumption, coffee and smoking as these often trigger heartburn and irritate the esophagus lining. Limit fried, fatty and spicy foods and highly processed foods as well. Peppermint and even ginger can worsen symptoms and although good for general digestion – not good for acid reflux.


The typical medical treatment is the prescribing of “PPI’s – proton pump inhibitors which suppress the excretion of stomach acid ( these medications are intended for short term use – not years). This makes sense if you are producing too much acid. The problem is, most people are in fact not producing enough acid. When there is a lack of stomach acid, the body does not send the proper signal to close the Lower Esophageal Sphincter thus allowing the acid to move freely from the stomach into the esophagus causing heartburn.

We need hydrochloric acid in our stomachs for a variety of reasons. It acts as a first line of defense against micro organisms and contaminants like bacteria ( eg. h.pylori which causes stomach ulcers) and parasites and without enough HCl, they can colonize in the stomach, intestinal tract and colon. As it relates to heartburn, this increased amount of bacteria in the stomach can cause volatile gasses and fatty acids to be produced. The combination of gas and volatile acids creates pressure in the stomach that is greater than the pressure exerted by the Lower Esophageal Sphincter which allows acids from the stomach to be forced up into the esophagus.


HCl is also necessary for us to absorb minerals and proteins as well as to stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes which allow us to digest our food properly and absorb the nutrients. So beware of quick fixes and make an effort to implement some changes as mentioned, since prevention is far easier than the alternative. If you’re experiencing digestive issues, come in to The Hollow Willow and let’s discuss some options that may be of benefit to you!