Heartburn, or acid reflux, is an issue that many of my patients experience alongside their primary complaint. It can either be an occasional annoying side effect following a spicy meal, or it can become a chronic, debilitating problem.
In some circles it is thought that stomach bacteria cause ulcers and heartburn, for which antibiotics can be prescribed. One problem with this line of reasoning is that many ulcer/heartburn sufferers don’t actually have helicobacter pylori infections, and at least 50% of people have this type of bacteria in their guts without any stomach symptoms whatsoever.
Another explanation for heartburn is that the stomach lining is producing too much acid, for which hydrogen-blocking drugs are prescribed. This approach can have problematic side effects, because overly lowering stomach acids can lead to the poor absorption of calcium and proteins, among other unhealthy side effects. Antacids also buffer the acid, offering temporary relief, but this can also lead to poor dietary absorption over time.
As a Chiropractor I always strive to understand the underlying cause. Why would the brain tell the stomach lining to produce too much acid? The brain’s communication system with organs is meant to offer a state of balance, or homeostasis, governed by an innate intelligence that brings harmony to the whole body. Why would this intelligence suddenly break down when determining sufficient acid production? Using drugs and antacids to manipulate your body’s acid balance just doesn’t feel like a good long-term strategy. Also, it would be difficult to establish how many drugs would be required to create optimal acid levels for each individual.
Chiropractic is an option to consider when it comes to relieving heartburn symptoms. The basic thought is this: Between every vertebra in your spine, a nerve courses its way through, supplying the body’s organs, tissues and cells. At the top of your stomach there is a muscle that keeps acid from erupting into your esophagus. The nerve supplying this muscle arrives from the seventh vertebra in the mid-back. If this nerve is being pinched or strained in the spine, the sphincter muscle can weaken, allowing acid into the delicate esophagus and causing reflux or heartburn.
My treatment plan is to begin improving spinal alignment throughout the spine, especially in the thoracic region, which generally improves reflux symptoms. I also offer nutritional recommendations that can drastically improve stomach and digestive health. Certain foods should be avoided, and I like to recommend probiotics so that the patient’s digestive system is loaded with good, healthy bacteria.
In certain cases, a deeper investigation may be required. A scope can help examine the level of ulceration deep in the esophagus, determine if there is a hernia, or rule out other sinister causes. However, in many cases, a trip to your Chiropractor may be all you need to address and improve your heartburn symptoms.