Heartburn is commonly thought be a symptom of too much stomach acid, however this can often be inaccurate or only a small piece of the picture.
The symptoms of heartburn can include a burning sensation behind your sternum (breast bone), a persistent cough, and an increased frequency of developing cavities.
Commonly known triggers include bending forward, lying down, stress, hiatal hernia, some medications, and spicy foods. However, did you also know that eating too quickly, low stomach acid, and consuming caffeine or alcohol can also be the culprits? Let’s look closer at these 3 things…
The speed at which you eat is a common factor to many digestive complaints. You may not realize how important your teeth are for digestion; your teeth are meant to pulverize your food in to a paste, mixing food with your saliva that is rich in enzymes. Once you swallow, your stomach is smooth and slippery… there are no gears to break up chunks of food! The more work your stomach has to do, the longer the food remains there and the more likely you are to experience troublesome symptoms.
While most people associate heartburn with too much stomach acid, in many cases it is due to insufficient production of stomach acid. How do I know this? Because when I support/encourage patients' levels of acid the burning in most cases goes away!
There is a tight sphincter at the top of your stomach which is intended to only allow food to move one way: down. Ingesting coffee, chocolate or alcohol can interfere with how strongly this sphincter closes; if it gets too lax then contents from your stomach can easily move upward. The functionality of this sphincter is also effected by the presence of a hiatal hernia; speak to your chiropractor or osteopath about a simple maneuver to correct this.
While medications for reducing stomach acid can be appropriate for some people, in many cases it is not a good long-term solution. For example, proton pump inhibitors have been shown in studies to reduce the absorption of nutrients such as calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and magnesium. Deficiency syndromes, such as osteoporosis, may result following long-term use.
Here are some steps you can take to support your digestion*:
- Chew well: each mouthful should be liquid before you swallow
- STOP to eat: sit down and focus on eating. If you are in 'GO!' mode then your blood flow and nervous system are focused on tending to your muscles, heart and lungs, and are not focused on your digestive system; bloating, heartburn or cramps may ensue.
- Apple cider vinegar: test your digestion by swallowing 1Tbsp the next time you experience digestive upset. Within 1 minute you will either notice your symptoms are better, worse, or no change. Share your results with your naturopathic doctor (ND), who will know what the best next step is for you and your digestive health.
*These are general suggestions and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Discuss this with your qualified healthcare practitioner, especially if you are pregnant, taking medications or dealing with a chronic disease.