- Many people suffer from a myriad of ailments caused by stomach acid that lead to immense pain and suffering.
- For the lucky ones, the adverse conditions are usually short-lived.
- But for others, the ailments may linger over long periods, forcing them to find ways of managing the pain and discomfort.
Many people suffer from a myriad of ailments caused by stomach acid that lead to immense pain and suffering.
For the lucky ones, the adverse conditions are usually short-lived. But for others, the ailments may linger over long periods, forcing them to find ways of managing the pain and discomfort.
Thirty-five-year-old Mercy knows only too well the burden of living with such ailments. She has been battling heartburn and a condition known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) for years.
The condition occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the tube that connects the mouth and stomach (oesophagus).
This backwash (acid reflux) can irritate the lining of the oesophagus, causing pain and discomfort.
"The excess acid causes ulcers that are usually very painful. Whenever I have them, it becomes really hard to swallow food. I lose so much weight as I have to rely mostly on liquids and very soft foods like mashed potatoes," says Mercy.
"The heart burns are more frequent. They cause you to feel as if you are burning on the inside which is terrible!"
To manage the condition, Mercy relies on antacids, which have been helpful.
But they also come with side effects like having a lot of gas (belching), diarrhoea and constipation.
"It's tough going through them. But I have to cope since dealing with acidity issues is a real nightmare," she says.
Mercy's struggles are common among the many Kenyans and individuals world over that grapple with stomach acid complications.
But not all is bleak. Health experts note that embracing certain diet and lifestyle guidelines can go a long way in averting symptoms linked to ‘acidity’ hence reducing the reliance on medication aimed at managing them.
A new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal shows that following certain diet and lifestyle guidelines can substantially reduce GERD or heartburn symptoms, making medication unnecessary for some patients.
The guidelines include having a normal weight, never smoking, indulging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for at least 30 minutes daily and restricting acidic beverages like coffee or tea to two cups each day.
In addition, health experts recommend following a diet regime heavy on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, and poultry.
“This study provides evidence that common and debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms could be well controlled in many cases with diet and lifestyle modifications alone,” says Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who was the senior author of the study.
“Given that there are long-term health effects of GERD and lingering concerns about the side effects of medications used to treat it, lifestyle should be considered the best option for controlling symptoms.”
This study included data from almost 43,000 women aged 42 to 62 who are taking part in the Nurses' Health Study II in the US.
The women were questioned about GERD or heartburn symptoms for about 12 years.
As part of the study, the researchers created a statistical model that allowed them to estimate how likely it was that recommended lifestyle guidelines lowered the risk of experiencing complications.
They found that following all guidelines could reduce GERD symptoms overall by 37 percent.
“The more of the specific guidelines a woman followed, the lower her risk of symptoms,” noted the researchers.
According to the results of the study, adhering to the guidelines also reduced symptoms of GERD and heartburn even among women using common treatments for the condition (such as proton pump inhibitors and H2 receptor antagonists).
"We were particularly interested in the effectiveness of physical activity. This is one of the first studies that has demonstrated its effectiveness in controlling GERD," noted Dr Chan.
This effect, he suggests, could be as a result of the impact of exercise on the movement of food in the digestive tract.
"Being physically active may help with the clearance of stomach acid which causes heartburn symptoms," says Dr Chan.
In addition to the lifestyle guidelines, affected people can also alleviate stomach acidity complications by practising relaxation techniques and eating smaller portions at mealtime.
Having food at least two to three hours before bedtime is also helpful, as it allows digestion to take place early enough.
Once this has happened, acid levels in the stomach usually reduce, thus alleviating complications.
Doctors also recommend wearing loose clothes. Dressing that squeezes the waist usually puts pressure on the belly and the lower part of the oesophagus, hence making GERD or heartburn symptoms worse.
Remedies containing herbs (such as chamomile, liquorice root, marshmallow root and slippery elm) could also help to offer relief.
Most people suffering from GERD tend to complain of frequent heartburns (a burning sensation in the chest) usually after eating, which might be worse at night.
Other symptoms of the condition include chest pain, difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food or sour liquid (leading to a sour or bitter taste at the back of the mouth) and the sensation of a lump in the throat.
In most cases, lifestyle changes alone or combining them with medications are usually enough to prevent and relieve symptoms of GERD.
But sometimes, if they prove unsuccessful, doctors may recommend surgery.