If you suffer from heartburn — also referred to as Acid Reflux Disease or Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) depending on the severity of your systems — then you’ve most likely read up extensively on how to treat it. Most of the time this includes reducing stress, increasing restful sleep, and eliminating certain foods. Yet, there’s one avenue that has had proven results but gets lost behind the more obvious remedies — the health of your microbiota, or, more commonly known as, gut bacteria.
If you’re experiencing heartburn or other symptoms, make sure to contact your medical professional before actively changing your diet or lifestyle!
The Down and Dirty on Heartburn and Microbiota
Before googling “ways to reduce heartburn”, it’s important to understand what heartburn is and the most common reasons the body experiences it. Luckily, I’ve done the hard part for you! Here’s a quick and dirty rundown of heartburn, and, while I’m at it, here’s a quick rundown of what the microbiome is.
What is heartburn?
The term “heartburn” stems from the location and experience of the symptoms, which almost always includes a burning pain in the upper chest near your heart, downward, and, most commonly, originates just below your breastbone. This is also referred to as your esophagus, more specifically the Lower Esophageal Sphincter, which is why the technical term for reoccurring heartburn is Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Heartburn is caused when acid produced in the stomach “travels up your esophagus irritates the esophagus lining and causes discomfort including mild to severe heartburn, stomach ache, nausea, and, in severe cases, vomiting.”
What is the gut microbiota?
Gut microbiota “is fundamental to the breakdown and absorption of nutrients,” allowing food to be digestible, nutrients to be used appropriately, and it also “secretes beneficial chemicals as a natural part of their metabolic cycle.” Basically, your gut microbiota project manages any food you consume. Microbiota “consists of 10 to 100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells harbored by each person, primarily bacteria in the gut.” That’s a lot of microbes inhabiting your body. With that said, that huge number should provide an inkling that they these bacteria are incredibly important to your health. While the study of the microbiota is not new, the first scientist taking a swing back in 1680, breakthroughs of relevancy between microbiota and overall health is something of a new field.
Inflammation: Major Culprit Between Gut Microbiota Health and Heartburn Symptoms
When something is off, the relationship status of these three things is it’s complicated. Yet, with a healthy microbiota, inflammation goes down, and heartburn symptoms decrease. Yet, due to the delicate assemblage of the digestive system and the gut, it can be difficult to see through the discomfort and pain of the amazingly coordinated connection between these body systems.
What is Inflammation?
In general terms, inflammation is the body’s immune response to a potentially harmful stimulant, such as a broken bone, large wound, virus, fungi, or even bacteria. When under attack, the body releases inflammatory mediators, which expand blood vessels in the tissue, release healing defense cells, and cause irritating pain to alert you to the area of injury. While inflammation is an incredibly natural and necessary bodily function, in certain circumstances the immune system may fight against its own cells by mistake causing unnecessary inflammation.
How Unhealthy Microbiota Causes Inflammation Which Leads to Heartburn
Recently, researchers have started to question the causes of Acid Reflux Disease, as seen in this recent JAMA Network study, which hypothesizes that inflammation may be a cause of heartburn.
Yet, what causes digestive inflammation?
While there are serious medical reasons for digestive system inflammation — such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Leaky Gut Syndrome, and Crohn’s Disease, all of which require immediate medical attention — a recently developed theory for digestive inflammation is unhealthy microbiota. As mentioned above, microbiota leads the charge when processing consumed food in your gut. If something is awry with your microbiota, it’s more difficult for your gut to process food and eliminate unwanted waste, which can cause digestive system inflammation. In return, this digestive inflammation leads to bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and, in some cases, heartburn.
Improving Heartburn by Improving the Gut Microbiota
If you’re tired of taking the over-the-counter heartburn relief medication or chewing down antacids, you may want to speak with your doctor about improving the health of your microbiota. Luckily, microbiota health depends heavily on getting the right types of foods that will bolster healthy bacteria. The trick is threefold: diversity in types of foods, incorporate live cultures, and go raw!
Simple Sauerkraut/One Green Planet
Simply put, probiotic is a fancy name for healthy bacteria which matches that of the human body. While cultivating a healthy environment of good bacteria is essential for overall health, recent studies show that too much bad bacteria — generally obtained through diet — may lead to poor health and may even be the cause of chronic conditions such as heartburn. Therefore, incorporating healthy probiotics into your diet is a great way to not only get healthy but also improve your digestive health and help alleviate heartburn symptoms.
A few great sources of natural healthy probiotics include these easy recipes for Simple Sauerkraut, Crispy Flavorful Pickles, and Immunity Boosting Miso Soup, or these homemade kombucha and kimchi recipes. Another great way to get those healthy bacteria is via probiotic supplements such as this doctor recommended Garden of Life Probiotic Supplements ($30.34 via Amazon).
Fermented Carrots With Turmeric and Mustard/One Green Planet
Fermented products are foods that have been preserved through the fermentation process — think pickled vegetables or dill pickles or sauerkraut. The process of fermentation gives the food product a boost in nutritional value, a longer shelf life, and, most importantly, healthy probiotics. As mentioned above, probiotics are live microorganisms that aid in healthy digestion. Luckily, making your own fermented foods is incredibly easy, such as this Simple Fermented Vegetables recipe, this Fermented Carrots With Turmeric and Mustard recipe, or even this Fermented Broccoli recipe.
With that said, we don’t all have the time to make our own fermented items. If you’re buying fermented items online, make sure to get all-natural products, low-sugar products such as Bubbies Sauerkraut (double 25 oz pack for only $27.37) or these fermented, raw, and probiotic-rich Garlic Dill Pickles ($10.25 for 24oz).
Chopped Detox Salad/One Green Planet
While probiotics and fermented foods help boost microbiota health, it’s important to also focus on foods that decrease inflammation. Fight your heartburn from both angles! Many processed foods lead to inflammation due to the chemical makeup changes during processing. The major culprits include vegetable oils (such as canola, safflower, sunflower oils, etc.) and high volumes of sugar.
Therefore, try decreasing these processed foods and increasing your intake of raw fruits and veggies and healthy oils!
Not only do raw veggies pack more nutrients, they also provide a plentiful resource for inflammation fighters such as antioxidants and high amounts of fiber, which feeds a healthy gut. Salads are great meals to add a helping of raw veggies, such as this Crunchy Fresh Broccoli Quinoa Salad or this loaded Chopped Detox Salad. Also, try to incorporate natural fatty oils instead of processed vegetable oils such as Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($19.94 for 68oz), Garden of Life Extra Virgin Coconut Oil ($6.82 for 14 oz), or this Organic Unrefined Peanut Oil ($19.99 for 16oz).
Download our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook, to find a plethora of incredibly tasty, healthy, and plant-based recipes to help you on your way to a heartburn free life! The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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