This article was originally published on May 11th, 2018 and its content was updated on July 1st, 2020.
Gastroesophageal reflux (often referred to as just "reflux," "GERD" or even "heartburn"), is defined as the backflow of food or stomach acid from the stomach up into the esophagus and is a condition many of us have likely experienced once or twice over the years. In fact, up to 25% of the general population is said to suffer gastrointestinal conditions resulting in heartburn at least one time per month.1
And while typical treatments include a wide assortment of over-the-counter acid-blocking drugs such as antacids and proton pump inhibitors ('PPIs'), drugs of this nature have also been linked to negative side effects including gut dysbiosis as well as other more serious health conditions.2 Beyond that, frequent bouts of heartburn or acid reflux could be a signal that other health issues are occurring in the body, and even more specifically in the gut.
This article is going to explain how heartburn affects the digestive tract and cover the possible acid reflux symptoms to be aware of. Our experts will also cover tips on how to improve digestive health to relieve heartburn symptoms in the future.
The Acid Reflux - Gut Dysbiosis Connection
Dysbiosis is a condition that occurs when there is an imbalance between good bacteria and bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. There are two ways acid reflux and gut dysbiosis are linked. The first is that heartburn or reflux actually might be a symptom of an unbalanced gut microbiome. In fact, this reflux could be your body trying to tell you that something bigger is happening in your body that needs to be addressed. The second link is that over-the-counter reflux medications, such as antacids and PPIs can actually cause gut microflora imbalance and reduce the number of healthy bacteria in your system.
- Acid reflux can be caused by gut dysbiosis
Your frequent bouts of heartburn might be your body telling you bigger things are happening in your body, specifically in your gut. The catchall term 'leaky gut' is used when we have persistent symptoms of gas / bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and even indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux or GERD and any of these symptoms are a sign of an imbalance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. It's most common for acid reflux to be viewed of as an excess amount of stomach acid, but in fact, it's usually the opposite - not enough acid to digest food is a major contributor to leaky gut, which can influence your digestive health.
- Acid reflux medication can cause gut dysbiosis
PPIs have been shown to have the potential to alter the normal microbiota of the gut. This change starts in the esophagus where the drugs modify esophageal bacteria and then continues into the stomach, small bowel and colon, altering the bacteria that is typically naturally present.2 PPIs change the diversity of gut bacteria and specifically, studies have shown that the differences between PPI users and non-users are consistently associated with changes that lead to a less healthy gut microbiome.3 Essentially, these drugs are wiping out good and bad bacteria in your body in their effort to remedy the absence of acid in the stomach, resulting in further problems with digestion.
How to Support Your Gut & Reduce Reflux Symptoms
The good news? Now that you know how reflux and gut dysbiosis are intricately connected, you can start to work on supporting your body through lifestyle, dietary and nutritional efforts that will help to bring balance back to your gut flora and mitigate the symptoms of acid reflux.
- Avoid trigger foods & drinks
Some foods and drinks can exacerbate reflux symptoms. When dealing with a bad stretch of heartburn, consider eliminating carbonated beverages, alcohol, caffeine, coffee, acidic juices & sauces, and spicy foods. Switching to a clean diet can help reduce symptoms and regulate your microbiome.
- Increase probiotics
It's always good to incorporate probiotic-rich foods into your day but you should consider maintaining a healthy microbiome with a daily probiotic supplement such as drinkable Bio-K+ or Bio-K+ capsules. While you can take a daily maintenance dose of Bio-K+ 12.5 billion CFUs, if you've been taking PPI or antacid drugs or are frequently suffering from reflux symptoms, you might consider a higher dose to optimize your intestinal flora, choosing either the Bio-K+ 25 Billion or 50 Billion.
- Optimizing Your Stomach Acid
It is often believed that too much stomach acid is the reason for acid reflux, which has many people reaching for antacids to control it. However, it's not always the case of 'too much'; for a lot of people, it is a case of too little stomach acid that can be the cause of symptoms.
Having enough stomach acid is essential for properly digesting your food and making sure levels of bad gut bacteria stay in check. In fact, it is believed that too little stomach acid might have links to SIBO. On the other hand, too much stomach acid isn't good either and can put you at risk for developing an ulcer. The tricky part about determining if your stomach acid is too low or too high is that symptoms often present in a similar fashion.
Whatever side of the spectrum you are on, your symptoms of acid reflux are a sign that your digestive system is telling you something. It's best to work with your healthcare practitioner to determine a plan that is right for you.
- Rest & Digest
In general, slowing down and being more mindful of eating can help with reflux. Try to avoid eating on-the-go or in a frantic and stressed state of mind. Additionally, stop eating 2-3 hours before bed to allow your body ample time to fully digest your last meal and prevent heartburn as a result of lying down and trying to sleep.
If you've ever experienced a bout of heartburn, you know exactly how uncomfortable this common malady can be. And, if you regularly suffer from this ailment, you know how frustrating it can be to chomp down on antacids regularly just for short-term relief. But if you carefully consider your diet and your lifestyle, you'll see that even minor changes can yield significant results. Focusing on foods that promote a healthy gut, supplementing with probiotics, and getting plenty of rest will all move you closer to a happy microbiome. Your digestive system will thank you, and you'll notice that you don't need to keep your antacids close at hand anymore.
If you're thinking about trying Bio-K+ and wondering about the benefits of probiotics for women and men, visit our website to learn more.
This article is for information purposes only. Always check with your healthcare practitioner before starting or stopping a medication or supplement.