A heavy meal, stress and sleeping immediately after eating are an ideal for acidity.
What is acidity?
Acidity is a term loosely used to describe symptoms of indigestion like burping, belching, feeling of fullness (bloating), heartburn (acid reflux) and flatulence (passing of gas from the rear end). At some time or the other, we have all experienced some or all of these symptoms. In medical parlance, the term “acid reflux disease” is used to describe the above.
Why does acidity occur?
Food and liquids pass from the mouth to the food pipe (oesophagus). At the lower end of the food pipe, a constricting band of tissue called a sphincter separates the oesophagus from the stomach and prevents regurgitation of food upwards. The stomach has special acid producing cells which secrete acid in response to food entering it. The lining of the stomach is tough enough to prevent the acid from corroding it. However this protective layer is absent in the oesophagus so if the sphincter is loose, acid enters the food pipe resulting in a burning sensation- what we call heartburn.
Common causes of ‘gas or flatulence’
The most common causes of gas or indigestion are – you guessed it, related to the food we choose! Down a double cheeseburger, throw in a cola drink and top it up with a sundae and you’ve got a recipe for indigestion. Legumes; vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli; beverages like tea, coffee and fizzy drinks and yes – even chocolate become acidity enablers. The reason for this is that caffeine relaxes the sphincter, thus promoting reflux.
- There’s a reason why doctors are always advising that dinner should be scheduled at least 2.5 hours before bedtime. A bulging stomach combined with gravity can definitely cause acid going upwards into the food pipe, finally leading to heartburn.
- If you’re prone to acidity, avoid smoking, spicy food and alcoholic spirits.
- Second-hand smoke is as damaging as smoking yourself, so avoid smoky surroundings as far as possible.
- Spicy curries and piping hot liquids like soups are a no-no.
- Eat citrus fruits with caution.
- The myth that cold milk relieves heartburn is untrue.
- The same goes for wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks and these must be avoided.
- An added problem is the fried snacks that generally accompany liquor.
- Take it easy. Stress can aggravate the problem by increasing acid production in the stomach.
- Taking small meals at regular intervals is a must to avoid acid build-up, which occurs if you go hungry for hours together.
Why can’t we just pop an antacid when we have acidity?
Antacids are one of the most commonly sold over-the-counter drugs in India and America. To pop one occasionally is fine, but if the symptoms are persistent, you need to see a physician to diagnose the underlying problem. Long-standing untreated reflux disease commonly leads to a “Peptic Ulcer” which can happen in the stomach or duodenum (first part of small intestine).
Alarm Bells Ringing!
If you suffer from heartburn or indigestion regularly, its time to see a doctor. Importantly, note that heartburn caused by simple acid reflux is normally worse AFTER meals. If heartburn is worse BEFORE meals, it may be a symptom of Peptic Ulcer.
Antacids – Best Bets!
Most common effective antacids have a mixture of aluminium hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide. Liquid preparations are generally more effective, if less convenient. A once daily capsule is best had 30 minutes before breakfast or lunch. Antacids also provide prompt relief in case of an ulcer. The humble ‘isabgol’ or pysillium husk is a natural remedy to regulate the bowel.
Written by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, General Physician
Photograph by Julien Tromeur, via sxc.hu