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What Really Causes Acid Reflux Heartburn and GERD

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 03/25/2024

Acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD are all difficult conditions that can make everyday life very painful.

Learn about what causes issues in the esophagus and what solutions you can implement to improve your overall well=being.

Understanding Acid Reflux, Heartburn & GERD

If you've ever experienced a burning sensation in your chest or throat after eating, you're likely dealing with acid reflux. This condition is often mistaken for heartburn, which is one of its symptoms.

What is Acid Reflux?

Backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), can cause discomfort and damage to its lining over time.

What is Heartburn?

Contrary to popular belief, heartburn isn't a disease but rather an uncomfortable symptom characterized by a burning pain behind your breastbone that may worsen at night or after meals.

Defining Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Moving beyond occasional bouts of heartburn and acid reflux lies Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). It's important to note that not everyone who experiences frequent episodes has GERD.

However, if these instances persist more than twice weekly and there are other signs, like difficulty swallowing food, it could indicate this chronic digestive disorder. One common misconception about these conditions revolves around excessive stomach acidity.

However, research suggests otherwise, indicating low-stomach-acidity disorders are just as prevalent. Next, we'll delve deeper into conventional treatments for such conditions and their potential side effects, so stay tuned.

Conventional Treatments and Their Side Effects

The management of acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD often involves the use of conventional medications.

Common Medications for Acid-related Conditions

Antacids like Tums or Mylanta are frequently used to neutralize stomach acid. H2 receptor blockers, like Zantac or Pepcid AC, can reduce the production of stomach acid.

Potent drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), including Prilosec OTC and Nexium 24HR, also limit this production in a more long-term manner.

Potential Risks Associated with Long-term Use

Worries are mounting about the adverse effects of these medications, particularly when taken for extended periods.

Achlorhydria - a condition where no stomach acid is produced - has been linked to prolonged usage of PPIs. This leads to poor digestion and absorption problems, causing malnutrition despite eating nutrient-rich foods.

Additionally, it increases susceptibility to infections due to its role in immunity by killing off harmful bacteria ingested through food intake. Studies have shown that chronic users may be at risk for kidney disease and bone fractures, among other health issues.

Therefore, patients must understand potential risks before deciding on any treatment plan and discussing alternatives if necessary. This information should not replace professional medical advice, so consult your healthcare provider first.

Unveiling Achlorhydria

Achlorhydria, a lesser-known condition, often flies under the radar in discussions about digestive health. This ailment refers to an absence of hydrochloric acid in your stomach's gastric secretions - a critical component for optimal digestion.

Causes of Achlorhydria

The causes behind achlorhydria are multifaceted and can range from bacterial infections to nutrient deficiencies. One common culprit that wreaks havoc on our gut lining leads to decreased production of stomach acid over time.

Additionally, inadequate levels of essential nutrients - both crucial for maintaining healthy acidity levels - may also contribute to developing this disorder.

Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

Attention to early warning signs is critical when tackling any health issue head-on, including achlorhydria.

Ironically enough, though, these symptoms might seem familiar as they closely resemble those associated with GERD or heartburn, such as bloating after meals or experiencing discomfort while swallowing food.

Other indicators could include frequent bouts of nausea and vomiting, especially if accompanied by unexplained weight loss, which should prompt immediate medical consultation.

Rethinking the Role of Stomach Acid in Digestion

Often, it is assumed that too much stomach acid is the cause of digestive ailments such as heartburn and GERD; however, what if insufficient levels are to blame? The issue isn't having too much acid, but not having enough.

The Importance of Maintaining Optimal Stomach Acidity Levels

Your stomach's acidity levels, measured by pH, play an essential role in digestion. A healthy stomach maintains a pH between 1.5 and 3.5, which is highly acidic. This high acidity helps break down food into nutrients your body can absorb.

If these levels are disrupted, you may experience indigestion or malnutrition due to poor nutrient absorption.

Beyond Diet: Other Factors Affecting Your Gut Health

Dietary choices often get blamed for causing acid reflux or GERD symptoms. However, other factors also contribute to maintaining optimal gut health.

Sedentary lifestyle habits such as lack of exercise could lead to slower digestion, thereby increasing the chances of developing these conditions.

Studies have shown how regular physical activity aids digestion by speeding up movement within the gastrointestinal tract.

Thus reducing the possibility of any build-up occurring along the way, which might otherwise trigger unwanted reactions inside our bodies, including those associated with low-stomach-acid disorders like heartburns, etc.

Certain medications (e.g., NSAIDs) or medical conditions (like H. pylori infection) can disrupt this balance as well, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Remedies for Treating These Conditions

If you're struggling with acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD, there are alternative treatments that could help control your symptoms. These solutions aim to restore the natural acidity levels in your gut and alleviate discomfort associated with low-stomach-acid disorders.

How Apple Cider Vinegar Can Help Manage Your Symptoms

Apple cider vinegar (ACV), a popular home remedy, has been known to offer relief from these conditions. The acetic acid present in ACV can increase stomach acidity and improve digestion. This might sound counterintuitive, but remember, we've established earlier that it's often too little, not too much stomach acid causing issues.

Betaine Hydrochloride - An Effective Alternative Remedy?

Besides apple cider vinegar, betaine hydrochloride (HCl) is another promising solution. HCL supplements have shown potential as they mimic the acidic environment of the stomach, helping break down food more efficiently.

Always consult a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.

That Boost Gut Health And Aid Digestion

Your diet is pivotal in managing acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD symptoms. The proper nutrients can boost your gut health and aid digestion, potentially reducing these uncomfortable conditions.

Foods Rich In Magnesium And Zinc To Incorporate Into Your Diet

Magnesium is essential for many bodily functions, including muscle movements and the conversion of food into energy. Include green leafy vegetables like spinach, nuts like almonds or cashews, and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds.

On the other hand, zinc helps with protein synthesis and wound healing; it's also crucial for taste perception, which affects our appetite.

Oysters are an excellent source of zinc, but if you're not a fan, lean meats, particularly beef, lamb, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, etc., are good alternatives to consider incorporating into your meals regularly.

Potassium-Packed Produce For Better Digestive Health

Potassium aids nerve function while helping regulate fluid balance within our bodies, promoting better digestive health overall.

This mineral is abundantly present inside avocados and mushrooms, amongst various other plants.

Incorporating these nutrient-rich foods into your daily meal plans could make all the difference when managing acid-related disorders effectively without relying solely on medication alone.

Does GERD Affect Digestion?

Yes, GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) can indeed affect digestion. GERD is a condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing heartburn and irritation. When this happens, it can disrupt the normal digestive process.

The frequent backflow of stomach acid can lead to inflammation in the esophagus, making it uncomfortable and challenging to swallow food. This discomfort may result in people avoiding certain foods or eating less, impacting overall digestion.

Additionally, GERD can cause delayed stomach emptying, leading to a feeling of fullness and bloating after meals. This delayed emptying can slow down the digestion of food, potentially causing discomfort and digestive issues.

To speed up digestion and support digestive health, individuals with GERD can make some lifestyle adjustments. Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day instead of large meals can help reduce the burden on the digestive system.

Chewing food thoroughly and eating slowly can also aid in digestion. Avoiding trigger foods that can worsen GERD symptoms, such as spicy foods, citrus fruits, caffeine, and fatty or greasy foods, is crucial.

Managing stress, staying hydrated, and incorporating fiber-rich foods can promote healthy digestion.

If GERD symptoms persist or worsen, seeking medical advice from a healthcare professional to explore potential treatment options and manage digestive concerns effectively is essential.


Acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD can significantly impact everyday life, causing discomfort and potential complications if left unmanaged.

Conventional treatments may come with risks and side effects, highlighting the importance of exploring alternative remedies and lifestyle modifications.

Maintaining optimal stomach acidity levels, through dietary adjustments and supplementation if necessary, plays a key role in managing acid-related disorders. Furthermore, addressing factors beyond diet, such as exercise habits and stress levels, can also support digestive health and alleviate symptoms.

Ultimately, finding personalized strategies to manage acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD is essential for enhancing quality of life and promoting long-term wellness.

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