My question, ” why is there so much Gastric reflux in the population” or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a great place to start this morning. I believe, as many practitioner do, that the digestive system is the foundation of health. When the GI System balance is upset it starts a snow ball type effect toward poor health. Again, in this case there is a lot of conflicting information about causes and treatment.
To answer my question though is to say we are a society that loves to eat but we often don’t take the time to eat. We hurry around in our lives and rarely take the time to relax going into our days, during and at the end of our day. At breakfast we are thinking about what we need to do and then off hurrying to work or school. At lunch, we may again not have much time and still be mentally in the middle of what we have been doing. Then at dinner we are tired and often are not able again to decompress before starting the evening meal. All this hurry also leads to poorer choice for meals, fast foods, packaged processed foods, easy and quick to make. Furthermore, not being mentally present while eating leads to overeating which is in and of itself stressful to the digestive tract. These actions when they become habit take their toll on us. Because we are eating under stressed conditions.
Stress and really secondarily food choices, though important, is the most common underlying cause of GERD. Here is how it works. We have 2 parts to our nervous system that function involuntarily. That is we don’t have to think about it for it to work, like heart beating, breathing while sleeping, temperature regulation and digestion. The part that is activated while we are stressed is what many people know as the ” fight or flight” response. Were the heart and respiration pick up, blood flow is shunted to muscle and brain in preparation for survival action. The blood and stimulation is shunted away from relatively unimportant tasks such as digestion. Thoughts of anything else but immediate survival is secondary. Thus the second part of this involuntary system is dubbed the “feed and breed” part. When we are relaxed feeling less stress, we are in that mode for good digestion. Digestive juices flow and the body is prepared to repair and restore.
When we are eating during stress, the acids we need in our stomachs to digest are not being pumped out in sufficient amounts. Food stays in the stomach until it gets to a stage of digestion where it is ready to move on down the track. It has to reach a acidic pH. If because of stress we don’t make enough digestive enzymes the food sits in the stomach until it starts to ferment, until the acids of fermentation reach a high enough acidity to signal it is time to move on. Fermentation takes longer to start and so causes irritation to the upper stomach valve leading to the esophagus. When this valve is irritated it retracts allowing the contents to escape causing reflux. Sometimes this is diagnosed as Gastric Paresis and therefore the cause of GERD. Fermentation is not good, it also causes gas and bloating, gastric irritation and you don’t get the nutrients out of your food. It can also lead to constipation and or diarrhea as well. So it is caused by not enough digestive acids not too much stomach acids as over the counter medication ads would have you believe. They show the guy running around stressed with their stomach spewing acid everywhere. But if you remember, what is your body’s natural response to stress? It is to decrease digestive function. The medications work because they are neutralizing the acids of fermentation. This does nothing to improve digestion. These medications in fact stop digestion and promote stomach emptying, so decreasing food assimilation and promoting food to be passed through the digestive tract that is not in its proper state. No wonder we feel more tired, irritable and just don’t feel good which leads to feeling more stress.
Although there are other complicating issues that perpetuate GERD, especially long stand GERD, stress is often the instigator.
So, you ask what can I do about my stress, it is my life?? Well, start by just being present with your food. Take one minute before you eat to take a couple of deep breaths, look at your food, be grateful for your food, taste your food, chew your food. Take a deep breath on your way to eating and during your day is a very easy thing that can have great impact. We live in a fast paced society that expects alot of us but we always have our breath.
Next time I will talk more advanced causes and cures for digestive dis-ease.
hope you have a great day!!!