By naturopath Margaret Jasinska
Heartburn is a common problem that can produce a lot of discomfort, and cause some serious damage to the oesophagus and stomach if it persists long term. Over time, the abrasive stomach acid can cause reflux oesophagitis (inflammation of the oesophagus). The condition is sometimes a symptom of GORD. This stands for Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease.
Heartburn may produce a burning discomfort behind the breast bone which may extend up into the throat. Sometimes the symptoms are a lot more subtle, and a person doesn’t realise they have a digestive problem. If reflux occurs during sleep when you are horizontal, you may awaken with a sore throat or a husky voice and an irritating cough.
Heartburn is caused by the acid contents of the stomach regurgitating or flowing backwards into the oesophagus. The lining of the oesophagus is not designed to handle these high acid conditions, which leads to inflammation, and in severe cases, scarring and ulceration of the lining of the oesophagus.
Heartburn needs to be addressed because it’s a risk factor for oesophageal cancer. Oesophageal cancer rates are currently rising at a frightening pace. The stomach produces a lot of hydrochloric acid during eating and for good reason, because without it, you cannot digest proteins efficiently and you will not absorb calcium and other minerals from foods. There is a circular muscle around the lower oesophagus, which divides it from the stomach, and this normally remains contracted to prevent back flow of stomach acid. During swallowing, this muscle normally relaxes, allowing food to pass from the oesophagus into the stomach, after which it should remain contracted. If this circular muscle becomes weakened or too relaxed, heartburn can occur after meals.
If you are overweight and/or have a fatty liver, this will cause too much pressure on the stomach, and heartburn can become worse. Reversing a fatty liver is an effective way of relieving or preventing heartburn. If you need help with this, see Dr Cabot’s book Fatty Liver: You Can Reverse It.
If you suffer with long standing heartburn, it is important to see your gastroenterologist regularly, because prolonged exposure of the fragile oesophageal lining to acid can result in an increased risk of oesophageal cancer, severe scarring and narrowing (stricture formation).