It occurs when the sphincter muscle at the bottom of the esophagus fails to close properly, allowing stomach acid to travel back up from the stomach to the esophagus.
People experiencing acid reflux often complain of a burning pain known as heartburn. While this can happen to anyone, if it occurs more often than twice per week you are considered to have acid reflux.
There are many causes of acid reflux, many of which are environmental factors that can easily be controlled. However, some causes are not as easily reduced and in some cases, there is no apparent cause.
The most common cause of acid reflux is one’s diet. Certain foods are known to increase the likelihood of experiencing acid reflux.
According to Dr. Jamie Kaufman, Dr. Jordan Stern and Chef Marc Bauer, the number one food that causes acid reflux is chocolate.
This is because it has a high fat content and contains both caffeine and cocoa. In their book Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure, the other foods mentioned that cause acid reflux include:
- Caffeine, especially coffee, tea and sodas, is a leader cause of acid reflux
- Alcohol, even though most alcoholic beverages are not acidic, they believe alcohol relaxes the sphincter muscle at the bottom of the esophagus
- Soda and other carbonated beverages since the bubbles expand in one’s stomach and push the contents upward
- Any high-fat foods, especially high-fat dairy and meat products since they take longer for the stomach to break them down
- Anything fried as it increases heartburn
What foods cause acid reflux?
Other foods that have been shown to increase the risk of acid reflux are:
- Citrus foods
- Spicy foods
- Eating too much salt
- Eating an inadequate amount of fiber
Another cause of acid reflux is a condition called hiatal hernia. This occurs when there is a hole in the diaphragm, which allows the upper part of the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter move above the diaphragm. Since the diaphragm is usually responsible for helping to keep the stomach acid in the actual stomach, if the stomach moves above the diaphragm the acid can travel up into your esophagus much easier.
This condition is most common in individuals over 50 years old and rarely requires treatment. However, it can cause acid reflux which would need to be treated. A hiatal hernia is typically caused by excessive coughing, vomiting or exertion. Conditions such as pregnancy and obesity can make the hernia worse.
There are a number of risk factors that can increase the risk of experiencing acid reflux, including:
- Eating large meals
- Eating too close to bedtime
- Eating too quickly
- Being overweight
- Laying down immediately after a meal
- Smoking, which is believed to weaken the valve at the bottom of the esophagus
All of these risk factors can be controlled or eliminated to prevent acid reflux from occurs. Some risk factors cannot be easily controlled. They are pregnancy and certain medications.
Acid reflux is a very common symptom of pregnancy, mainly due to the added pressure the growing fetus applies to the internal organs. Some medications, such as antihistamines, painkillers, antidepressants and sedatives have been shown to have acid reflux as a side effect.
According to Jonathon V. Wright, MD, patients with persistence acid reflux actually do not create enough stomach acid. Following this belief is quite the opposite of most doctors, who believe that too much stomach acid is the problem. While antacids, the number one type of medication used to treat acid reflux, would be the best choice for too much stomach acid, it can actually be counterproductive if the patient has too little stomach acid.
Instead, Dr. Wright believes the main cause of acid reflux is a “leaky valve” that essentially cannot shut properly between the stomach and the esophagus and lets the acid go back up. This can happen for a variety of reasons, many of which were mentioned above. They include too little stomach acid produced naturally, excessive exercise, hiatal hernia, pregnancy and smoking.
Acid reflux is a common ailment with a handful of common causes. Patients who experience this discomfort can usually trace it back to a diet that contains triggering foods, lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking or being overweight or a medical condition, such as pregnancy and hiatal hernia.
Please keep in mind that the causes listed here are not inclusive of every risk factor or condition that may cause acid reflux. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should always consult the advice of a medical professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.