GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disorder aka heart burn) is a condition of the lower esophagus, the tube that transfers food from the mouth to the stomach. At the lower end of the esophagus is a band of muscle which is responsible for closing the esophagus off from the stomach when food is being digested in the stomach itself.
Because of the acidic nature of the fluid in the stomach, if the esophagus is not protected during digestion, the lower end of the esophagus can become irritated (burned) due to the acid in the stomach rising up (reflux) into the esophagus itself causing a condition commonly referred to as heartburn (which doesn’t involve the heart at all, rather the esophagus).
This may occur for a variety of reasons, including ongoing inflammation in the stomach causing fluid to move up into the esophagus, and/or relaxation of the band of muscle at the base of the esophagus, also allowing acid to move upwards.
Whilst occasional bouts of reflux are likely not significant, ongoing heartburn can cause damage to the esophagus (inflammation), scar tissue formation, and if allowed to continue untreated, cancer of the esophagus.
Management of reflux/heartburn typically involves the use of drugs which are designed to decrease the acidic nature of the stomach contents (proton pump inhibitors PPIs) and therefore minimize the tendency for the esophagus to become irritated.
These medications however come with side effects, which include increased risk for Vitamin B12 deficiencies, iron deficiencies, pneumonia, gastric/bowel infections, and fractures, amongst others, resulting in the more recent medical research suggesting that the safest and most effective way of dealing with GERD maybe through diet and not through the use of medication.
Check the following 6 minute you tube clip on both the short and long term effects of reflux:
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