Despite its sometimes misleading name, heartburn is caused by the regurgitation of stomach acid upwards into the oesophagus, not the heart. In addition to heartburn, there are several other symptoms that indicate you have acid damage, including the following:
- Abdominal bloating
- Feeling out of breath
- Post-nasal drip
- Feeling of a lump in the throat
- Feeling that food is not going down/getting stuck
- A sore throat that just appears out of nowhere
- Irritating cough, lasting longer than eight weeks
- Mucous clearing in your throat
- Constant throat-clearing
- Waking up choking
- Burning throat that wakes you up
Millions of people in the UK have gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), the most common form of acid damage. Because there are no obvious external signs of acid damage, you may not know you have it, and your GP may not know you have it, as heartburn and acid reflux are not always present.
Due to the expanding number of symptoms, it can be difficult to get a correct diagnosis of acid reflux and people often just accept symptoms. Many see their GP and are misdiagnosed. It can be hard to determine if the symptoms are due to an allergy, a lung condition, or a digestive issue. It may take a long time to get a correct diagnosis of acid reflux, oesophagitis, Barrett’s Oesopahagus (BA) or, heaven forbid, oesophageal cancer.
Read more about BA in my ‘quick guide’ here .
Oesophageal cancer is the most extreme manifestation of acid damage and there has been huge increase in cases since the 1970s. It looks like oesophageal cancer will soon overtake colon cancer as the most common cancer in America.
Many years ago, the two main causes of developing oesophageal cancer were smoking and alcohol, but since the mid-1990s, this has changed – it’s acid damage that’s increasing the risk of oesophageal cancer.
Why has there been such a rise in cases of reflux, oesophagitis, BA, and oesophageal cancer?
The 1970s and early 1980s saw a huge change in the type of foods available in supermarkets and shops, with the arrival of extremely addictive and unhealthy processed foods, full of fat and sugar, but also dietary acid. Soon after these changes came about, rates of adenocarcinoma (a type of cancer that develops in the glands that line your organs – common forms of adenocarcinoma include breast, stomach, prostate, lung, pancreatic and colorectal cancers) began to surge.
If you are starting to experience any symptoms, it’s extremely important not to delay treatment, not to self-diagnose, or self-treat otherwise you are letting acid damage go unchecked. Acid reflux is the most common non-lung, non-allergy cause of a chronic cough, so don’t just live with what you might consider to be irritating, ongoing symptoms. Get them checked! If you’re still not happy with your GP’s diagnosis and your symptoms are persisting, then get a second opinion, or try and see a private ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant or upper GI consultant.
What is dietary acid and why should I avoid it?
Dietary acid is simply chemicals found in most processed drinks and foods. They are the chemicals that are added to extend the shelf-life of a product, to prevent it from spoiling. However, these chemicals, including sulfuric acid, used to produce high-fructose corn syrup are found in condiments, barbecue sauces, spice mixes, even baby food. You will find dietary acid chemicals in canned and jarred soups, vegetables if they’ve been pickled, marinated or fermented, and in all carbonated beverages and industrially produced fruit juices. You’ll find it in breads, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, salad dressings, yoghurts, sweets, and ANYTHING that contains high-fructose corn syrup. When you consume such foods and drinks on a daily basis, you are encouraging acid damage.
A simple and general rule to avoid acid damage to your stomach, oesophagus and throat is to avoid processed food; the more processed the food is, the more it is going to exacerbate acid damage in your tissues. Successfully avoiding acid damage will help prevent long-term ramifications including Barrett’s Oesophagus and oesophageal cancer.
However, when it comes to managing acid reflux, it’s not just processed food that can cause issues. There are fresh whole foods, considered by nutritional therapists to be healthy, that form part of the Mediterranean diet like wine, citrus fruits, garlic, onion and tomatoes that can be irritants, so you may want to avoid these if you suffer with heartburn, acid reflux, oesophagitis and/or BA.
Keep in mind that you need to eat foods with a pH of 5 or higher. For example, wine has a pH value of from 2.9 – 3.8; carbonated soft drinks (including low-sugar and diet varieties) a pH of around 2.5 (so acidic that no living thing can survive in it overnight, and a fresh orange has a pH of 3. Foods with a pH of below 4 may cause an acid-reflux flare-up.
Avoid caffeine, chocolate, anything that contains mint (mint can loosen the valve at the top of the stomach) as it can cause regurgitation of acid-drenched food up the oesophagus, burning it.
So what can I eat?!
It’s not as bad as it sounds – there are still lots of things you can eat, you just need to be a little creative with your cookery skills, using fresh herbs and seasoning like Himalayan pink salt to add flavour. The elimination of the healthy Mediterranean foods does not need to be forever either, just until the acid damage to your tissues has been healed and then you can begin to gradually re-introduce them.
Include plenty of the following in your diet:
- Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Fish, including salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, tuna
- Brussel sprouts
- All green leafy vegetables
- Brown rice
If you want to learn more about how to reverse your acid reflux and oesophagitis, before it manifests into BA or oesophageal cancer, I can highly recommend you read ‘The Acid Watcher Diet’ by Dr Jonathan Aviv, and follow his 28-day healing programme. It contains lots of healthy, easy-to-prepare, acid-friendly recipes that work immediately to help neutralise the acid and relieve the inflammation.
My supplement protocol to help people who suffer with indigestion and acid reflux is a simple, but effective one, loved by thousands of our Just For Tummies customers.
- Take one of our Live Bacteria probiotic capsules before breakfast and one before bed, with a little water (no hot drinks), and one of our natural Digestive Enzymes tablets just before lunch and one just before dinner. If you’re not eating oily fish at least three times weekly, for their natural anti-inflammatory benefits, especially for the stomach and gut, then I would also recommend that you take one of our high-strength Omega 3 fish oil capsules with food daily. Images and links to products please.
This is the difference our Digestive Enzymes tablets made to Susan’s acid reflux, with the added bonus of them helping to reduce her IBS symptoms and enabling her to enjoy her food again:
*I would like to credit some of the information contained within this blog post to Dr. Jonathan Aviv’s excellent book ‘The Acid Watcher Diet’.
Dr. Jonathan Aviv is a world-renowned physician, surgeon, educator and author. He is the clinical director of the Voice and Swallowing Centre of ENT and Allergy Associates. He is also clinical professor of otolaryngology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
If you have any questions about a digestive and gut health issue, please get in touch.