Indigestion, reflux, heartburn, GERD/GORD – call it what you like but the short of if is that acid from the stomach goes in the wrong direction and irritates the oesophagus (the piece of plumbing between the mouth and stomach). There are many reasons why this may happen, often “too much stomach acid” is blamed but it must also bypass a sphincter in the lower oesophagus as well.
Some of the usual suspects in indigestion are: allergies, drug side effects (especially painkillers like NSAIDs), pregnancy hormones and pressure and stomach ulcers.
Reflux is almost as common in babies and infants as it is in adults but the symptoms of vomiting, crying, coughing, hiccoughing etc may often go undiagnosed. In 20-41% of infants diagnosed with Gastroesophageal reflux there is evidence of a cows milk allergy or intolerance. Food allergies are always suspected in babies with this condition.
In adults symptoms include – pain behind the breast bone, actual stomach acid rising in the oesophagus causing pain and irritation, a tickle at the back of the throat, persistent cough and hoarseness. The last two symptoms, when unaccompanied by an awareness of the others is sometimes termed “silent reflux” and may be misdiagnosed as asthma (though as reflux is a very common symptom, many asthmatics may have reflux as well).
Like babies’ food allergies are always likely in adults with reflux, however after a lifetime of eating an irritant food, the symptoms may appear stronger and more recalcitrant. Once you have reflux it is likely a whole host of foods will aggravate your condition – the most common are coffee (even decaf), chilli, alcohol and what I call “flour plus fat” (eg: pies, pastry, pasta, cakes, biscuits). But there are often other foods that may be your individual trigger – so a food diary is a good tool in tracking down the culprits.
Smoking is a big no-no. It severely aggravates this condition and could be a potential catalyst in upping the odds in developing cancer of the oesophagus.
And in case you skipped over it 2 paragraphs before – alcohol makes reflux really worse. If you want some relief from your symptoms, a little “detox” time makes good sense.
If indigestion disturbs your sleep try raising the head of your bed to make it harder for the acid to flow back
Don’t eat for at least 2 hours before exercising
Watch your posture
Eat at a table, don’t multitask
Keep a food diary to track – food, drinks, stress, activities and symptoms
Follow the food guidelines above and consider having a break from dairy foods as well
Try good quality herbal teas: meadowsweet, liquorice, chamomile – 2-4 cups a day
Try 1-2 teaspoons of slippery elm powder mixed with water or mashed banana – before breakfast and before bed, or as required
Try a little diluted fresh cabbage and/or potato juice (strange but true)
Chew on a cell salt or tissue salt made from potassium and iron phosphate to relieve symptoms
Caveat: Long term, uncontrolled reflux can lead to permanent changes to the cells in the oesophagus, a condition known as Barrett Oesophagus. This carries a small risk factor of developing into oesophageal cancer. If you have severe reflux and wish not to take pharmaceutical drugs, you are advised to follow strict diet and lifestyle guidelines and have the appropriate diagnostic tests as recommended by your gastroenterologist.