How can stress cause acidity?

The daily requirements of modern times are often hard and require intense physical and mental efforts. An individual reacts to physical and psychological strain that's potentially threatening to one’s health by triggering interconnected neuroendocrine circuits. This reaction allows the body to confront and deal with the challenge and reestablish homeostatic equilibrium. How does this affect heartburn, acidity, or GERD?

Our digestive system and brain are more in sync than you might realize. As an example, the very idea of food may cause the stomach to produce digestive juices or the notion of giving a significant presentation may lead to constipation or uncontrollable bowels. The gut and brain are in continuous communication. This direct connection causes our digestive system to be sensitive to reactions and emotions like stress.

When we are stressed, our brain sends signals to chemicals like adrenaline, dopamine (a hormone which affects mood and is found in the digestive tract) in addition to the stress hormone cortisol to be released. These hormones may cause adverse reactions.

See: How to lower high cortisol levels naturally

Stress negatively impacts our digestive tract in a variety of ways. It can lead to a reduction in oxygen and blood flow to the stomach, cramping, an imbalance in gut inflammation and bacteria. These signs may further develop into gastro intestinal (GI) disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowel disease (IBD), peptic ulcers or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

See: Ayurvedic treatment for GERD

The gut is often known as "the next brain" of the body. If you're having persistent complications of the digestive tract, your body is most likely trying to tell you that there might be a larger problem. Make an appointment with a gastroenterologist who specializes in treating gastrointestinal, liver, and pancreatic disorders to analyze your symptoms.

Can stress really affect GERD?

But while occasional stress may trigger acid reflux symptoms, it is not likely to be the root cause of your chronic heartburn. What stress does definitely do is set your gut into shock, that is why stressful events and acid reflux go together.

Stomach acid production reduces with anxiety and stress. While the stomach produces lesser acid during the time of chronic stress, it's also true that your acid reflux worsens during a stressful situation.  In the world today, our anxiety is no more fleeting, and any stressful situation still puts us at a fight or flight mode. During times of stress, the body diverts away the blood to the brain, the hands, and the legs – not your stomach.


See: Benefits of yoga

As digestion isn’t an essential function, the blood supply to the gut is stunted. Since digesting a meal is not a priority for intense survival, the secretion of all the digestive enzymes and juices decreases with anxiety. This also contributes to lower levels of concentrated stomach acids (HCl). However, because we're still feeding the body under times of stress, the body is then made to create poorer quality stomach acids to somehow manage to digest the meal you've eaten. And because this stomach acid isn't of high quality or concentrated enough to do the job well enough, the body needs to produce even more amounts of the acid to achieve the required digestion.

This increased acid backs up the esophagus, causing heart burn, indigestion and reflux. However, the link between stress and acid reflux does not end here. Further, the LES or the lower esophageal sphincter that functions as a lid between the stomach and the stomach to keep stomach contents (and acids) included, shuts off closely only once the body is producing top quality stomach acids. The amount of acid does not regulate how closely it will shut off. When the LES is closed, digestion typically works well and there is not much scope for indigestion, acid reflux, or heart burn. However, because the stomach is producing a lower grade HCl in greater quantity to achieve the task of digesting your meal, the LES cannot hold all that acid contained, and allows all of the extra acid to flow back into the esophagus.

Any stressful event can bring gastrointestinal troubles, such as a perceived sense of increasing stomach acids, but in victims of chronic stress, living with constant acid reflux getting the harsh reality. With constant stress, the gut finally gets used to only produce poor excellent stomach acids in excess quantities, which makes GERD or heartburn a chronic issue.

With stress there’s also less protective mucus production so stomach acids could possibly injure the delicate lining of the gut, furthering digestive distress and inflammation, causing ulcers, poor nutrient absorption, and finally weight gain. 

Reduce stress for healthy digestion

Reducing stress levels is the key to a happier gut. There are numerous things you can do to decrease stress, enhance gut health, including acidity. Practicing stress-management techniques like exercising regularly, avoiding overtraining, interacting, getting adequate sleep or relaxing may greatly minimize your levels of anxiety.

Along with practicing stress reduction methods, you can encourage your digestive health by altering your dietary habits such as consuming less sugar- as too much sugar can lead to an imbalance in the proportion of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Increasing your consumption of foods which promote digestive health like those rich in probiotics or foods which assist the body in producing digestive enzymes can also be valuable.

If you lead a stressful lifestyle and are tired of acid reflux hampering the quality of your life, lifestyle changes are the key to recovery. Reduce the degree of stress, and you'll have a happier gut.

The conventional treatment to fix acid reflux is PPIs and antacids which can provide temporary relief – but not the root cause. And while prescription medications for GERD and stress can deal with the symptoms; they won't target the real underlying problem, i.e., surplus production of inferior excellent stomach acids due to high levels of anxiety. 

On the other hand, lifestyle changes to lower the stress, healthy eating habits, and some dietary supplements that treat the gut from inside are natural solutions to combating oxidative stress and acid reflux. Acid reflux and anxiety natural remedies like probiotics, apple cider vinegar and nutritional supplements designed to relieve acid reflux symptoms, strengthen the gut.

See: Apple cider vinegar for acidity

Modifying your eating habits to adopt a balanced diet is the ideal approach to help cure your gut. Since tension and acid reflux are closely connected, it's also worth trying working methods to control stress levels in your life to help decrease your risk of conditions like IBS, GERD, heart diseases and depression.

Reduce stress for acidity

To reduce stress & manage acidity, try some of the following simple to do tips:

Adopting coping techniques for handling stress in your life can decrease your risk of conditions like heart disease, stroke, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and depression. The better you cope with stress, the better you will feel.

1. Avoid trigger foods

This is particularly important if you are under stress, as you are going to be more sensitive to heartburn-triggering foods such as caffeine, chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, spicy foods, and fatty foods.

2. Get enough sleep

Stress and sleep form a cycle. Sleep is a natural strain Reducer and less stress may cause better sleep. To help avoid heartburn symptoms as you snooze, keep your head raised.

3. Exercise often

Exercise helps loosen tight muscles, gets you away from the workplace, and releases organic, feel-good hormones. Exercise also can help you to lose weight, which can lower the pressure in your abdomen.

4. Practice relaxation techniques

Try out guided imagery, yoga, tai chi, or relaxing music.

5. Laughter therapy

Watch a funny video clip, show, movie, or a stand-up comedian. Laughter is the best medicine - and one of the most effective natural stress relievers.

6. Pet therapy

If you do not have a pet, consider getting one. Pets give unconditional love, and can help calm and rejuvenate you.

7. Sleep therapy

Get sufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation puts your body under stress, so aim for 8 hours of restful sleep each night.

8. Deep breathing exercises

Yogic breathing exercises are amazing for combating anxiety. Additionally, increased oxygen to the brain will help you calm down when you are feeling that the perceived symptoms of stress-induced GERD.

See: Yoga for GERD

9. Dietary supplements

Your functional medicine expert can guide you to supplements that help alleviate oxidative stress, GERD,  and acid reflux. Eat more foods rich in fiber to help correct imbalances in the digestive system.

10. Walk outdoors

It will help a release feel-good hormone which does wonders for stress relief, and is a excellent way to break free from your workplace or family chores too! A gentle walk post a meal helps regulate glucose levels in diabetics. A gentle walk also stimulates nerve end in the toes that additional aid indigestion.

11. No smoking

Avoid smoking, caffeine, and alcohol because these relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to allow acid easy accessibility to the food pipe. None of all these are good for stress.


Studies in stress caused acidity

What have scientists found?

It is still debatable whether or not stress actually increases the production of stomach acid or creates a worsening in acidity. Currently, many scientists feel that if you are worried, you become more sensitive to smaller amounts of acid in the gut.

1. In 1993, researchers published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology that individuals with acid reflux who had been stressed and nervous reported having more debilitating symptoms associated with acid reflux, but no one showed an increase in gastric acid. To put it differently, though individuals consistently reported feeling more distress, the scientists did not find any increase in total acidity generated.


2. Another study from 2008 added further support to this idea. When researchers exposed individuals with GERD to some stressful sound, they also found that it increased their symptoms by making them more sensitive to acid exposure.


References

1. Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future Sci OA. 2015;1(3):FSO23. Published 2015 Nov 1. doi:10.4155/fso.15.21

2. American Psychological Association. (2013). Stress and Sleep. [Press release].

apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx

3. Bradley LA, et al. (1993). The relationship between stress and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux: The influence of psychological factors.

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8420248

4. Fass R, et al. (2008). The effect of auditory stress on perception of intraesophageal acid in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease. DOI:

doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2007.12.010

5. Haruma K, et al. (2015). Lifestyle factors and efficacy of lifestyle interventions in gastroesophageal reflux disease patients with functional dyspepsia: Primary care perspectives from the LEGEND study. DOI:

doi.org/10.2169/internalmedicine.54.3056

6. Jansson C, et al. (2009). Stressful psychosocial factors and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease: A population-based study in Norway. DOI:

dx.doi.org/10.3109/00365520903401967

7. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). GERD.

mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/basics/alternative-medicine/con-20025201

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