Chronic indigestion and heartburnPosted: December 16, 2011 | Author: onhc | Filed under: Blog | Comments Off on Chronic indigestion and heartburn
Chronic Indigestion and Heartburn
Taking a closer look
Wyler Hecht, N.D., L.Ac.
December certainly brings out delicious, decadent food! With the cheer, good will, and festive celebration, some will end up with the not-so-welcome holiday bonus of indigestion and heartburn. The more smorgasbord parties we attend, the more likely we are to leave with a night of discomfort ahead. Symptoms of indigestion include belching, feeling unusually full or bloated, and possibly heartburn–a gnawing, and often times, burning pain between the navel and the base of the sternum. Occasional indigestion is usually not a concern, but if symptoms become chronic, especially if heartburn is a recurring symptom, it is important to find the cause and take steps to fix it. Chronic heartburn can be a sign of underlying health concerns, and, if left untreated, can cause additional problems.
To better understand heartburn it is important to understand how the digestive system works. Think of your gastrointestinal track as a long tube that starts at your mouth and ends at your anus. When food enters the mouth it is shuttled through the tube–first through the esophagus, then into the stomach, the small intestine, and finally, the large intestine. In order to properly digest food so that its nutrients can be absorbed through the lining of the tube, the complex digestive process must work well throughout the entire tube. As food is broken down into its nutritive components, muscular valves close off different portions of the tube while chemical processes of metabolism are carried out at each stage. A common problem area lies between the esophagus and the stomach, at the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES opens to allow chewed food to pass through to the stomach, and closes to prevent reverse movement. If this valve loses muscular integrity, stomach acid, important for the digestive processes in the stomach and small intestine, can reflux backwards into the esophagus causing heartburn.
The acidic environment of the stomach plays a critical role in protein digestion, killing harmful bacteria, stimulating the release of pancreatic enzymes, and in the absorption of key nutrients, including minerals, important for bone health, and vitamin B12, important for nerve function. The acidity of the stomach fluids also signals the LES to close properly thus preventing reflux. If we understand the importance of stomach acid it is easy to understand why blocking it with a drug might not be the best way to treat the problem. While reaching for an antacid several times a year is an acceptable quick fix for occasional indigestion, prolonged use can cause more serious digestive disorders and increase the risk of diseases such as osteoporosis, food poisoning, and bacterial infections in the stomach and small intestines.
There are numerous causes of chronic indigestion, acid reflux, and heartburn, and the causes vary from one person to another. Most causes can be remedied without drug therapy. If you have been on acid-manipulating medications for longer than 2 months I encourage you to seek help in finding and treating the cause of your symptoms. Your long-term health may depend on it.