The True Cause of Acid Reflux
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Poor digestive fire (low acidity) causes food to sit in the stomach too long. Symptoms include bloating, belching, bad breath and undigested food in your stools. This maldigesting food can expand, ferment and give off gasses that put pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve that keeps the stomach separate from the esophagus. Over time, the LES can weaken through this continuous increased pressure and push the acidic contents of the stomach back into the esophagus which burns the lining (or in light of the new research perhaps causes an inflammatory reaction).
Now this is not to say that low stomach acid is always the reason for acid reflux. There can be many reasons including structural changes brought about by a hiatal hernia and of course, pregnancy.
But for millions of people who regularly struggle with acid reflux, there’s hope in dietary changes!
Wouldn’t it be nice if more scientific research studied the influence of food on our digestive system and offered real food solutions instead of more drug therapies?
Maybe because there’s no money in natural therapies.
WHY LOW STOMACH ACID IS A FORM OF INFLAMMATION
Though inflammation in the tissues of the esophagus is not the true cause of acid reflux, low stomach acid is in many ways a symptom of general inflammation in the body.
More and more doctors believe general inflammation in the body is the root of many common diseases.
Because stomach acid is required to break down our food, a deficiency in the short-term can lead to bloating in the stomach, belching, nausea, bad breath, gas, gastritis and yes, acid reflux.
Over the long-term, chronically low stomach acid from the overuse of PPIs can lead to a greater risk of infection (source), nutrient deficiencies (source), bone loss (source) and hip fractures (source), to name a few.
So what’s the true cause of low stomach acid?
As with all things, there’s rarely a simple answer. Stress, environmental toxins, infections and hypothyroidism can play a role.
But as a Nutritional Therapist, I think poor diet is the most widespread factor because I’ve seen so many improvements when dietary changes are made.
HOW TO HEAL LOW STOMACH ACID NATURALLY WITH FOOD
First things first, you must remove all pro-inflammatory processed foods.
Because processed food is now so woven into the fabric of our culture, millions of people no longer know the difference between real food and processed food.
Most people today know that foods high in refined sugar are highly processed. But most people don’t know that most grain-based foods are also highly problematic. This flies in the face of conventional dietary advice to “eat more whole grains” but there’s a HUGE difference between modern grains, which are not properly prepared for optimal digestion and traditionally prepared grains, which are.
Traditionally, cultures fermented, sprouted and soaked grains to neutralize some of their inflammatory and hard-to-digest characteristics. But few companies do this anymore.
Americans eat A LOT of grain-based foods, to put it mildly.
If this topic is new to you, Sally Fallon does a nice job explaining the difference between modern and traditional grains in this article.
This is why in my book, step 1 of my protocol is to go grain-free for 30 days.
It’s kind of like killing two birds with one stone. Because so many grain-based foods also are high in sugar by going fully grain-free for 30 days, you’ll be restricting the two most inflammatory foods in the modern diet.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. But that’s a good start. Here’s a short list of other common pro-inflammatory foods:
Bad fats from nut and seed oils, especially corn, cottonseed, canola and soybean oils
trans fats such as partially hydrogenated oils (common in processed foods, especially snack products)
soy (with the exception of traditionally prepared version like miso, natto and soy sauce)
food additives and preservatives such as MSG, food colorings, etc.
RESTORE WITH REAL FOOD
Once you’ve removed pro-inflammatory foods, you want to also bring in gut-healing foods which help restore the proper digestive environment to prevent acid reflux.
The three most important are healthy fats, bone broths and fermented foods. These are key pillars in every traditional culture on the planet and have many anti-inflammatory properties.
Dairy can be helpful for some, if unpasteurized, but harmful for many. And of course, fresh fruits and vegetables are important too but seriously, who doesn’t know that?
In my book, I detail the many pillars of a real food diet. All of these are anti-inflammatory and very helpful to restore proper digestive capacity which of course includes proper acid production in the stomach.
If you’d like a more thorough explanation for WHY these foods are so beneficial check out my book, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, which also includes meal plans and recipes for how to make things like bone broths and fermented foods.
Finally, though this food approach works wonders for most, many who have been on acid blockers for extended periods will often have a very difficult time stopping PPI therapy due to the long-term suppression of stomach acid, which causes the vicious rebound effect explained above. If that describes you, here’s an approach for how to wean off acid blockers.
A recent study about the real cause of GERD suggested that acid reflux is NOT the true culprit. While it is certainly a factor in the symptoms of acid reflux, there is a deeper cause for WHY acid refluxes into the esophagus.