Gastroesophageal reflux, how much stress matters

The link between stress and gastroesophageal reflux exists, but it is not direct. Stressful conditions are only an aggravating factor.

In particularly difficult times the symptoms of the return of gastric contents in the stomach may increase, but stress cannot be considered a direct cause of reflux.

More and more often we talk about stress in relation to gastroesophageal reflux. But how important is this psychophysical factor in determining the return of acid from the stomach?

It is now certain that stress aggravates the symptoms of reflux, but the link seems to be only indirect. In other words, stress cannot be considered a cause of gastroesophageal reflux.

The real causes

Reflux consists of the ascent of the acidic contents of the stomach into the esophagus.

Since the wall of the latter is not equipped with defense mechanisms that protect it from gastric juices, reflux causes burning that is the symptom of irritation and inflammation caused by the acidity of the material that goes up into the esophagus.

Generally, the passage of gastric contents into the esophagus is prevented by the esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle tissue located between the two organs, which closes after the passage of food.

A defect in its closure or the presence of a hernia (hiatal hernia) can lead to the return to the esophagus of what has passed into the stomach, now mixed with gastric juices.

To aggravate the situation may contribute:

  • stress
  • smoke
  • improper nutrition
  • some bad habits (such as lying down immediately after eating).

From the point of view of nutrition it may be useful to take into account the foods allowed and those that would be preferable to avoid:

Permitted foods Foods to avoid
Dough Butter, cream
Rice Bacon
Cereals Grilled sausages, grilled ribs and fatty cuts of beef or pork
Potatoes Garlic and onion
Parsley, basil, oregano, sage and rosemary Chili pepper, paprika, pepper, ginger, cinnamon,
nutmeg, curry
Cheeses, fresh or seasoned (ricotta, grana, tender goat cheese, primosale) Blue cheeses (gorgonzola, roquefort, blue) and dark (fontina, taleggio, brie, tomini).
Olive oil Chinese, Indian, Maghreb, Mexican cuisine
Lean cured meats (bresaola, raw ham, natural cooked) Soy sauce, wasabi
Sour fruits, in small doses (citrus, pineapple, kiwi, some berries)

Supporting stress

Several hypotheses have been formulated regarding the mechanisms by which the link between stress and gastroesophageal reflux is established.

We know that stress can induce an increase in appetite, a tendency to choose unhealthy foods and sleep disorders. In addition, those who smoke or drink alcohol tend to exaggerate in moments of particular tension. All factors that negatively affect digestion.

In addition, when you are in a situation of stress or danger, as a defense the body implements the so-called “fight or flight” response. This corresponds to a redirection of energy to the muscles, lungs and heart.

At the expense of digestion, which slows down. The stomach is in lack of oxygen and enzymes necessary for digestive processes and, as a result, acidity increases.

All the factors described above can directly cause an increase in acid secretions in the stomach, a relaxation of the esophageal sphincter and, therefore, acid reflux. However, studies that have attempted to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship have not provided any significant results.

Rather, it has been shown that stress can increase the sensitivity of the esophagus to small amounts of acid. And it has been seen that those who suffer from reflux and, at the same time, chronic anxiety are more prone to an aggravation of symptoms during periods of stress.

Eliminate stress to relieve symptoms

Therefore it is clear that, in any case, the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux can be alleviated by reducing stress. Relaxation methods such as yoga, tai-chi, and meditation can help in this regard, even if they are not the ultimate therapy.

To counteract gastric hyperacidity, however, it is necessary to resort to drugs such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which directly inhibit the production of acid by the stomach, now also available as over-the-counter drugs.

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *