Heartburn linked to anxiety, depression and sleeplessness? Is this a stretch of the imagination or actually true?
What if I told you that heartburn isn’t about too much acid, but too little?
I’ve just been listening to a series on gut-brain health where many medical practitioners spoke about the link between heartburn and mental/brain health. Here’s what I learned:
How Heartburn Happens
Heartburn is the result of a malfunctioning lower aesophageal valve. This valve is supposed to close as soon as food has passed through; when it doesn’t, the result is heartburn. Experts believe that gastric distention (bloating) pushes the stomach contents, including acid, back through this valve and up into the aesophagus.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
The stomach needs an acidic environment (a pH of around 3) in order to digest food properly and maintain the right balance of bacteria in the gut. When the gut is too alkaline (a pH of around 5), the wrong types of bacteria start to thrive. Acid-suppressing drugs drive the pH up, creating the perfect environment for a bacterial overgrowth. One of the bacteria that goes into overdrive is H pylori. When out of balance these bacteria not only shut down acid production, they also affect the lining of the stomach.
That’s not all. When the pH is high, it affects digestive enzymes; these enzymes affect the breakdown of proteins and carbohydrates.
When carbs aren’t properly broken down, they ferment in the gut and (guess what?) create gas. This increases abdominal pressure, which leads to acid reflux.
There’s a similar issue with proteins. Low hydrochloric acid leads to low pepsin. Without enough pepsin, proteins are not properly broken down into amino acids and peptides.
In both instances, food that is not properly digested leads to a leaky gut – which, as we know from last week’s email, sets off an autoimmune response in the body.
This is where we start to see the link between heartburn, leaky gut, depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Research shows that gut issues such as dysbiosis (an imbalance of bacteria) and leaky gut directly influence brain health and mood.
How to Heal Heartburn?
These experts do not recommend antacids, PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) or any other medications to lower stomach acidity – because too much acidity is not the problem. Quite the opposite! And whilst these may offer short-term relief for your heartburn, they’re not addressing the cause.
So what do these experts recommend? They suggest replacing nutrients, enzymes and even stomach acid to help get the stomach digesting properly. One important way to do this is through probiotics and probiotic-rich foods, which restore both beneficial bacteria and the lining of the gut.
They also recommend dealing with stress. When the body goes into fight or flight mode, the gut shuts down. This affects digestion.
And while we don’t offer medical advice here, we can share some helpful tips for those of you who suffer from mild heartburn from time to time. Here are some:
Try to avoid simple carbohydrates and sugars, especially fructose.
Too much fibre can be a problem when the gut is compromised; using FODMAPS as a guideline may be helpful.
An overgrowth of H pylori is often associated with heartburn – although you can’t be sure of that without a proper diagnosis.
Hydrochloric acid with pepsin or another acid-stable protease is often recommended to help improve the acidity in the stomach. When doing this, it is important to avoid all NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or other anti-inflammatory medications.
Bitter herbs have also been shown to aid in digestion. Dandelion, fennel, ginger, milk thistle, goldenseal root, wormwood and others can help. Drinking bitters has the same effect.
Apple cider vinegar and raw sauerkraut have also been known to help relieve symptoms of heartburn, but only when the stomach lining has been repaired.
It has been shown that deglycyrrhizinated licorice (licorice minus the glycyrrhizin, a compound that can raise blood pressure and lower potassium levels) can help soothe and heal the lining of the gut.
There you have it. This information may be quite different to what you’ve heard before. We get that. But if your heartburn just won’t go away, it’s time you knew the truth.