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Acid reflux: Hard to stomach it?
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Acid reflux: Hard to stomach it?

Simple but recurrent bouts of acid reflux or acidity, if ignored, may cause more damage to our body than we realise

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According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), ‘Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER) or acid reflux happens when stomach contents come back up into the oesophagus. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a more severe and long-lasting condition in which GER causes repeated symptoms or leads to complications over time.’

For most of us, it is an uneasy feeling in the stomach or a burning sensation in the chest after an oily, spicy or heavy meal — a very common complaint that a glass of cold milk or an antacid can quickly fix.

But here’s a surprising fact. Despite 1.03 billion people suffering from the condition globally, there is no consensus on its global prevalence as per a study.

The statistics that are available on the complications it has on an individual’s health coupled with the societal and economic burdens it brings, highlight the need for this condition to receive more global awareness.

Why acid reflux shouldn’t be ignored

“I have been suffering from acid reflux for almost a year now. Earlier I was able to manage acidity through natural remedies for acid reflux with a glass of buttermilk or a piece of jaggery. But after some time, the home remedy for acid reflux stopped helping and the discomfort worsened,” recalls Ranjini Iyer, a 36-year-old technical writer from Bengaluru.

Iyer eventually consulted a physician and was diagnosed with GERD.

The stomach is protected with a lining that shields it from the strong acid produced to digest the food. However, the oesophagus or the food pipe isn’t. Hence when the contents from the stomach backflow into the oesophagus, either due to a weakened Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES), or excessive production of stomach acid, they irritate the lining of the oesophagus and lead to GERD.

Untreated GERD can create further complications like oesophagitis, oesophagal ulcers, oesophageal cancer and aspiration pneumonia.

Is there a fix?

“Acid reflux is a broad terminology and what people consider as acidity, maybe a symptom of a different problem. Generally, people go for over-the-counter antacids or acid blockers, but I strongly recommend expert consultation especially when symptoms are not relieved with these medications or keep recurring after these medications are stopped,” says Dr Rohith M, consultant surgical gastroenterologist, Prakriya hospitals, Bengaluru.

Iyer was prescribed antacids to neutralise the acid and H2 blockers to reduce the production of acid in the stomach, to contain her reflux. The doctor also asked her to modify her dietary habits.

“Acid reflux is a curable disease. Certain people are cured through dietary modifications, while some require long-term medication, and a few may even require surgery if medications and diet don’t help,” adds Dr Rohith M

“What boggled me initially the most was why I had acid reflux in the first place. I was not consuming very oily or spicy food regularly and am a strict vegetarian,” says Iyer who had to eventually consult a dietitian. It was only then she learned that the reason for her reflux was excessive caffeine intake and long gaps between meals.

According to Mubaraka Palanpurwala a senior dietitian from Bengaluru, diet plays a crucial role in managing acid reflux treatment at home and it’s not only about oily and spicy food. Alcohol, coffee, carbonated drinks and citrus juices can all be triggers.

“The key is to crack the pH code. Although it’s very difficult to alter the pH of the body, consumption of alkaline foods can help reduce the overall acidity. Also, the intake of acidic and alkaline foods must be balanced, and so should the physical activity. Getting dehydrated due to excessive workouts or leading a very sedentary lifestyle can cause a pH imbalance in the body, triggering acid reflux,” she adds.

The lifestyle changes Palanpurwala suggests are eating smaller frequent meals, having a longer gap between dinner and sleep time, sleeping on the left side to decrease acid exposure to the oesophagus, elevating the head while sleeping and avoiding smoking.

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Stressed mind, stressed stomach?

A study conducted on 1,217 firefighters in Korea to examine the psychological factors of acid reflux indicated a definitive correlation between anxiety levels and GERD.

GERD was observed in 32.2 percent of subjects.

Subjects with GERD showed higher depressive symptoms, anxiety, occupational stress scores and lower self-esteem when compared to GERD negative subjects.

“Oh yes! I can say that for myself. Whenever I am stressed out, I drink more coffee and tend to skip meals. That perks up my acidity,” says Iyer.

“Homeopathy for acid reflux has a very good scope in treating conditions that are caused due to lifestyle disorders. Stress triggers acid reflux most of the time. Our treatment encapsulates the personality of the person and treats him/her at that level. This is how we take care of the physical complaints effectively because they are nothing but an outward picture of the internal imbalance,” says Dr Sherebanu M Milky, a consulting homeopath and nutrigenetic counsellor from Bengaluru.

Research also suggests that one effective natural acidity remedies to reduce stress levels in people may be through yoga.

“Digestive system is positively influenced by the parasympathetic nervous system and yogic practices like sheetali pranayama, sheetkari pranayama, sadanta and Brahmari pranayama are useful in stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system,” confirms Dr V Venugopal, assistant medical officer/ lecturer, department of yoga, Govt Yoga and Naturopathy Medical College, Chennai.

To summarise:

  • Acid reflux is curable
  • If untreated, it can lead to GERD and other serious complications
  • Medication, diet, stress and lifestyle management help in managing acid reflux effectively
  • Alternative treatments and therapies like yoga and homeopathy are also beneficial
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