What Causes Acid Reflux?

by Dr. David Williams
Filed Under: Acid Reflux, Digestive Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Discover what could be causing your acid reflux problems

So, what causes acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?

Well, at the bottom of the esophagus, where it attaches to the stomach, there’s a small circular band of muscle called the esophageal sphincter that separates the two. It could be compared to a rubber band that relaxes to let food pass into the stomach but tightens afterward to keep the acids and digesting food from moving back up into the esophagus.

Location of the esophageal sphincter muscleLocation of stomach sphincter muscle

There are several things that can adversely affect the ability of the sphincter muscle to function properly and therefore allow stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus and result in heartburn pain.

Hiatal Hernia

Sometimes part of the stomach actually pushes up through the diaphragm, the muscle that surrounds the esophageal sphincter. It happens at the hole where the esophagus normally passes through. This is referred to as a hiatal hernia and it can result in acid reflux problems because the diaphragm helps close off the sphincter muscle, which is the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus. Fortunately, I have an easy method to correct a hiatal hernia.

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Certain Foods and Drinks

Research has shown that some foods and drinks can relax the ring-like sphincter muscle that helps keep stomach acid from refluxing or moving up into the esophagus. In particular, chocolate, peppermint, high-fat foods, coffee, and alcohol have all been shown to relax this sphincter muscle and contribute to acid reflux problems. Carbonated soft drinks have also been linked to acid reflux.

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Smoking

In Norway, they discovered that someone who smokes has almost double the risk of having acid reflux—which isn’t a big surprise since smoking is associated with other poor health habits (such as the consumption of fried and fatty foods) that can contribute to acid reflux problems.

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Some Medications

Aspirin in particular is a noted culprit when it comes to heartburn. Other drugs that can contribute to acid reflux problems include the rest of the NSAID family, calcium channel blockers and beta blockers used to treat high blood pressure, bisphosphonates used for osteoporosis, and certain sleep aids.

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Fluoridated Water

Doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences have reported that higher levels of fluoride in drinking water correlate with increased dyspepsia symptoms, which include excessive acid following meals.

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Eating Before Bed

Everyone knows that the stomach secretes digestive acids with every meal, but you may not realize that from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., it secretes two to three times more acid than at any other time. Why this occurs is still somewhat of a mystery. Some researchers think it may be part of a cleansing process that helps destroy any residual pathogens. No one is sure. What is certain is that nighttime acid production can contribute to nighttime acid reflux problems, particularly when meals are eaten late in the day or immediately before lying down for bed.

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More Dr. Williams Advice on Acid Reflux

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