GORD, or Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease, is a condition affecting approximately 11% of the Australian population and is defined by having two episodes of reflux per week consistently (1).
Reflux is a condition that can also come under the terms, heartburn, and some people will even describe it as indigestion. It is due to the contents of the stomach coming back up into the oesophagus where it can cause a burning sensation in the chest or throat (2).
When talking about reflux we need to understand the acid-alkaline scale or pH scale. The scale is 0-14. With 0 being completely acidic and 14 being completely alkaline.
The normal stomach acid acidity should sit between 1.5-3. Any number higher than that will suggest that the stomach acid is too low. We are now finding that a lot of reflux cases are actually not acid reflux cases at all, rather more neutral or even alkaline reflux. Which can sound very unusual to people suffering with acid reflux, as it feels like just that: acid (3).
From a Naturopathic perspective, we work to balance stomach acid, whether that means to increase the pH or decrease the pH of the stomach acid. The most important part of treatment when looking at GORD is to consider the lower oesophageal sphincter. Commonly in people suffering from GORD the muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus is loose, allowing the contents of the stomach to travel up into the oesophagus. Toning this muscle and strengthening it, alongside correcting stomach acid levels will be key when reducing GORD.
Stomach acid is so important because it is one of the initial stages of digestion, kickstarting the rest of the digestive process to occur, as well as helping with the optimal breakdown and absorption of foods. If we are not breaking our food down properly in our stomach the rest of the digestive process will be compromised. For this reason we often see that people suffering with GORD will also have compromised digestion, suffering from either diarrhoea or constipation as well as bloating(4).
Nervous system and stomach acid production
The nervous system has great control over the release of stomach acid. For this reason, stress on the body can really impact stomach acid production and subsequently impact digestive function(5). Relaxing around your food, taking the time to eat it away from screens, chewing your food and smelling your food will all help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which will enable optimal stomach acid to be produced.
What you can do now to support healthy stomach acid?
Relax - Chew your food, smell your food, eat your meals away from screens. All of these things signal to your stomach that food is coming and will help it prepare for digestion to occur.
Protein and zinc - These are both required to produce stomach acid. If you are not eating enough protein or zinc it is going to be harder for you body to produce adequate stomach acid (6).
Eat more bitter foods. Foods such as rocket, dandelion greens & lemon, all of these foods stimulate the bitter receptors of the tongue, which help to signal to your stomach that food is coming.
G Miller, C Wong, A pollock 2015. “Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) in Australian general practice patients”, Australian Family Physician, Volume 44, No.10, October, Pages 701-704.
S Yarandi, S Nasseri-Moghaddam, P Mostajabi, and R Malekzadeh 2010, “Overlapping gastroesophageal reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome: Increased dysfunctional symptoms”, World Journal of Gastroenterology, 16(10): 1232–1238. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v16.i9.1232E M Song, H Kyung Jung, J Min Jung 2012, “The Association Between Reflux Oesophagus and Psychosocial Stress”, Digestive Diseases and Sciences, DOI:10.1007/s10620-012-2377-z
S Skrovanek, K DiGuilio, R Bailey, W Huntington, R Urbas, B Mayilvaganan, G Mercogliano, and J M Mullin 2014, “Zinc and Gastrointestinal Disease”, World Journal Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology., Nov 15; 5(4): 496–513. doi: 10.4291/wjgp.v5.i4.496