Although the focus has been on Covid this last year… there are still other health issues that have not gone away. Many are improved with simple treatments and dietary changes and in this series I am going to look at some of the more common issues.
I know that many of you who follow the blog will have seen the following post before but for those new to Smorgasbord, I hope you find useful.
Acidity in the digestive system – Acid Reflux – Stomach Acid, Hiatus Hernia Triggers and Diet
If you suffer from Acid Reflux it is usually not easy to pinpoint the source as it can be the result of issues along the upper digestive tract and also the way we eat our food… For example if you normally bolt your food without chewing sufficiently and coating the food in saliva, the digestive process is not begun until it gets to the stomach.. which is too far along the tract to be effective.
If you suffer from acid reflux regularly and are downing antacids to reduce the effects you are throwing gas on the fire..
The Body is pretty impressive when it comes to processing food but even in struggles with our modern diet.
You usually do not get acid reflux from eating freshly cooked meat, poultry, chicken and vegetables even with a bit of fat on them.
The problem is the amount of processed foods we douse our foods in before putting in our mouths and then not leaving long enough for sweet desserts or even fresh fruit.
Sugars don’t mix well with meats, especially late at night as the body struggles to digest a Vindaloo curry and a couple of glasses of red wine or beer. If you lie down to try and sleep following this combination, the body won’t be able to cope and acid reflux is likely from a mild belch to a very uncomfortable and painful sensation at the top of the stomach or a burning sensation in our oesophogus.
If you suffer from acid relux often then I suggest reading about the process and making sure that you are eating with your body in mind and taking your time.
The digestion of our food starts before it even enters our mouths.
Actually the digestive process starts in the nasal passages – remember how it feels to smell fresh baked bread, the BBQ or a curry. The saliva starts to build up in your mouth – which is why we call it ‘mouth-watering’. As soon as that process begins – we are ready to eat and digest the food. Interestingly enough, people who have a reduced or non-existent ability to smell rarely become obese!
Food has to be chewed before it is presented to the rest of the digestive tract. The tongue will roll the food around the mouth so that the teeth can begin the process of breaking it down into manageable pieces.
One of the key elements of efficient digestion is how we chew our food. Most of us eat far too quickly, not allowing the teeth to produce small enough pieces of food or our saliva and enzymes to carry out their part in the process.
Chewing slowly has the added benefit of allowing a message to get through from the stomach to the brain to tell it that you are full and to stop eating. This not only helps us maintain a healthy weight but it also reduces the stress and pressure on the digestive system.
N.B – If you have elderly relatives it is important to make sure that they have regular dental care and if they have dentures they fit properly. The inability to chew food means that they will tend to drop certain foods from their diet and begin to suffer from nutrient deficiencies, particular B vitamins that are in whole grains and meats.
The salivary glands
The salivary glands at the base of the tongue produce an enzyme called ptyalin that digests starch and a chemical called Lysozyme that sanitises the food to prevent infection both in the mouth and the digestive tract. It is hard to believe but the human adult will produce in the region of 1½ litres of saliva per day consisting of mucous and fluid. It is important that the mouth is kept very moist not only for comfort but to enable us to deal with dry foods allowing it to be chewed more easily. It is also essential once food has been chewed, to ease the next stage of the digestive process when food is swallowed.
There are a number of salivary glands positioned in the mouth the largest being the parotids, in the neck, just in front of the ears. The glands that excrete the most saliva are under the jaw. These are the submandibular glands. And finally, under the tongue in the floor of the mouth are the sublinguals. The amylase enzyme produced by these glands converts the carbohydrate we eat into disaccharide sugars for further processing later in the stomach and intestines. (If you want to witness this in action, wave a cooked sausage in front of a dog’s nose and place their jaw over a basin!)
The oesophagus takes the food down into the stomach by a series of rhythmic contractions of its extremely effective muscles called peristalsis. At the other end of the oesophagus is a sphincter, which opens and closes the opening into the stomach and prevents food from returning upward to the mouth.
The stomach forms a balloon or sac and is the widest part of the digestive tract. The oesophagus enters through the oesophageal sphincter and exits through the pyloric sphincter at the entrance to the duodenum.
Like most of our organs the stomach is made up of specific layers that play a role either in its physical functionality or its chemical contribution to the digestive process.
The external layer of the stomach consists of layers of muscles lying in longitudinal and circular directions to ensure maximum flexibility and strength. This muscle layer is lined with a membrane called the epithelium housing the gastric glands that will produce gastric juice. This juice is a mixture of acid and enzymes without which we would be unable to process food at all or extract the vital nutrients we require to survive. Normally we would produce in the region of 3 litres of gastric juice a day which is perfect for a normal diet but inadequate for the majority of people who eat in excess of their daily requirements on a regular basis. If food is not processed thoroughly it can lead to complications as it enters the intestines causing constipation and in some cases blockages.
Acid reflux and chronic heartburn
Most of us have experienced heartburn at some point in our lives, usually following a really good night out but for many people this digestive problem is a daily occurrence.
The most common cause of heartburn, is acid backing up into the oesophagus from the stomach. Normally this would be prevented by a flap, the Lower Oesophageal Sphincter (LES), at the bottom of the digestive tract that allows food into the stomach but prevents partly digested contents from returning back up into the tube.
If it happens occasionally after a particularly heavy meal or too much alcohol then it is not a major problem but if it is happening frequently then you should go to your doctor and ask him to check for any physical reason for the problem.
The most common symptoms are a feeling that food is caught in the throat producing a choking or gagging reflex. The throat might feel tight and there is a burning in the chest, which could be accompanied by difficulty in swallowing and breathing difficulties.
Apart from a faulty oesophageal sphincter there is a possibility of a hiatus hernia. Hiatal or hiatus hernias are also known as diaphragmatic hernias. They occur when the upper part of the stomach is above the diaphragm, the muscle wall that separates the stomach from the chest. When the muscle tissue around the hiatus becomes weak, the upper part of your stomach may bulge through the diaphragm into your chest cavity. The diaphragm helps the LES keep acid from coming up into the oesophagus. So when a hernia is present, it is easier for the acid to come up.
In this way, a hiatus hernia can cause reflux or heartburn.
This malformation can occur in people of any age and most people over 50 have a small one but it is a more common problem in women and anyone who is overweight.
The typical symptoms are a chest pain just below the breast bone that develops over the period of a few minutes. Some say that it mimics what might be a heart attack, usually it will pass in a few minutes but it can last for 15 minutes or longer. It is very painful and if you have been experiencing this regularly then you should go to your doctor to have it checked.
It is more likely to happen after eating a large meal, topped off with a sugar dessert that has increased the acid in your stomach. Lying down is not a good idea as this makes it easier for the acid to build up and push the top of the stomach through the sphincter as the bottom of the oesophogus.
Try pushing down firmly just below the breast bone and if that eases the symptoms it might well be a hiatus hernia.
There are some foods that have been identified as possible triggers for frequent acid reflux and heartburn attacks and these are:
- Citrus fruits (not lemons)
- Caffeine based drinks – such as coffee, tea and soft drinks
- Fried or fatty foods
- Spicy food
- High sugar intake such as a rich dessert after a heavy meal
If you are a long term sufferer of heartburn and acid reflux, then it is a good idea to eliminate all of the above for two to three weeks and see if there is an improvement by monitoring your symptoms carefully and writing them down each day. That way it is easier to identify if there is a particular food outside of these that is causing you a problem.
Eat little and often to prevent overfilling your stomach at any one time and do not drink excessive fluids immediately before or during a meal.
Take a gentle walk after eating and don’t lie down for two to three hours after eating.
This means eating earlier and it might be helpful to lie slightly propped up in bed when sleeping.
A peptic ulcer is a sore or hole in the lining of the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Look away if you are squeamish.
People of any age can get an ulcer and women are affected just as often as men. The major cause of a peptic ulcer is a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H.Pylori) and it is estimated that over 60% of us over the age of 60 have it, in varying strengths, in our stomachs.
The bacteria weaken the protective mucous coating on the walls of the stomach and the duodenum or small intestine. Acid from the stomach is then allowed to reach the delicate lining underneath the mucous where it irritates the tissue causing a sore or ulcer.
H.Pylori secretes an enzyme that neutralises the stomach acid allowing it to survive and reach the lining and its spiral shaped cells are perfect for burrowing through the mucous and tissues.
The most obvious symptom of an ulcer is a dull ache that is usually intermittent and is most noticeable three or four hours after eating a meal. It can occur when the stomach is also empty which is why many sufferers experience an attack in the middle of the night. Often the act of eating will relieve the symptoms particularly if the food is alkaline forming, rather than acidic, and I have put together a list of foods that are either alkaline or alkaline forming in this chapter.
If the problem is not diagnosed and treated then the symptoms can become very much worse with weight loss, bloating, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
It is important that if the pain becomes very sharp and persistent and there is blood in either stool or vomit that you seek emergency treatment immediately as it could indicate that the ulcer has perforated.
Normally if you have H.Pylori it is treated with antibiotics but you can help reduce the efficiency of the bacteria by including anti-bacterial foods and herbs on a daily basis. One of the alternative therapies that I recommend for Candida is grapefruit seed extract and this taken three times a day before food can be effective. Onions, garlic, shitake mushrooms, Aloe Vera and green tea are also excellent.
Raw Cabbage Juice
If you are in for a culinary treat! Raw cabbage juice has quite the reputation for sealing peptic ulcers. I have experimented when I have had acid on a regular basis some time ago, and I have to say worked well. However, because of the potential dangers of a peptic ulcer, if you have severe pains in the stomach, do not hesitate – go straight to the Doctor.
As an alternative to antacids which I will cover later in the post, cabbage juice for me is the preferable option.
If you do not have a juicer, Wash three large cabbage leaves and chop finely, added to half a litre of cold water in a blender – blend well – strain the juice off and keep in fridge. Drink about 6 oz., 30 minutes before eating lunch and dinner. It takes about 3 days for the acid to subside.
The pulp actually is quite tasty with a little seasoning and a bit of butter to go with your dinner….Plenty on the web about cabbage juice so I suggest you explore.
Whilst we all reach for these when we have had a heavy night of eating and drinking, or in some cases before, they should never be taken long term. Even the FDA who can be slow to react to potential hazards issued warnings. There is an increased risk of bone fractures and dementia – antacids are typically made from the following ingredients – Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), calcium carbonate, aluminium hydroxide, magnesium carbonate and/or magnesium hydroxide – some of which can affect bone density and you should be careful if you already have kidney and liver problems.
There are also concerns for over use of antacids in the digestive process. If you reduce your gastric acid below an optimum level, you are going to reduce its digestive efficiency and this means that food is entering the intestines in the wrong consistency – apart from causing intestinal health problems the nutrients will not be extracted at this stage of the process either. This leads to nutritional deficiency and the diseases associated with that.
- For the occasional heartburn, keep some bicarbonate of soda on hand – one teaspoon in warm water.
- I find that drinking peppermint tea between meals helps me but everyone is individual and you will have to experiment with both diet and lifestyle.
Milk is sometimes recommended to line and reduce the acid in the stomach, but after a couple of hours the milk will turn rancid and add to the acid burden.
©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2021
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-three years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2021
Thanks for visiting and I am always delighted to receive your feedback.. stay safe Sally.