Acid, Heartburn and Digestion

A few nights after starting the SCD, I woke in the early hours wanting to vomit with acid burning in my chest. It was very painful, and continued into the next day.  I couldn’t figure out what I had done to cause this but I must have done something as these things don’t just happen for no reason.

I decided to do a bit of research to find out what was going on, and hoped to identify a way to solve it.

Food is digested in two ways; in our stomachs and in our intestine. The job of the stomach is to digest proteins (e.g. meat). It does this by producing hydrochloric acid (AKA HCL) and pepsin (an enzyme) that breaks down the protein.

So what causes heartburn or indigestion?  When we eat meat, as an example, it enters our stomach and the acid and enzymes start working on it.  A build up of pressure in the stomach can cause malfunction of the lower oesophageal sphincter (little door at the top of our stomach), which then allows acid from our stomach into our oesophagus (tube from our mouths to our stomach), causing all sorts of pain.  When I woke up that night feeling sick, this is exactly what I felt in my stomach; a great pressure like it was going to burst.

The diagram below is taken from this website and shows all the important parts referenced above.

cfhg574digtra_010

Acid reflux is not caused by too much acid; on the contrary it’s believed that heartburn and acid reflux is caused by LOW stomach acid, which encourages overgrowth of bacteria and malabsorption of carbohydrates (remember, our old friend SUGAR AKA carbohydrate?).  Therefore, reducing your carbohydrate intake should help resolve the problem over time, however other factors may be affecting the pressure in your stomach, and these issues can be easily and quickly addressed:

  • Don’t lie down after eating: leave at least 4 hours after eating before you go to bed, and lie on your left side when in bed;
  • Don’t consume fatty foods: high fat meals and fried foods tend to delay stomach emptying, building pressure, thereby increasing the risk of reflux;
  • Don’t over-eat: get smaller plates and know your portion sizes – this is a useful visual guide to portion sizes;
  • Don’t bend over or slouch after eating: stay upright for 4 hours after eating.

Obesity is another cause.  The extra weight has the same effect as lying down after eating.

Looking at the above, and being able to discount some of the possible causes, I think my problem was caused by too much fat in my diet during the previous day; having moved to a low-carb diet for health reasons, I was enjoying my fried breakfast and meat feasts a little too much, so I paid for it.

If you don’t think any of the above have caused your issue, then finding the cause may need to involve visits to the doctor.

  • GERD (GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease) is heartburn happening so often there is serious risk of damage to the oesophagus. There are diets out there to help this condition, but being a food nazi I’m avoiding recommending some of them because although they may be low fat, they are still carbohydrate packed and use packet ingredients in some of their recipes.  I do however recommend the SCD – just be conscious of your fat intake.
  • Stomach ulcers can be caused by an overgrowth of a bacteria called Helicobacter Pylori, which can be obliterated with a course of multiple antibiotics; it worked for me back in my 20s. However, it doesn’t work for everyone (like my Dad), and knowing what I do now about bacteria and carbohydrates, I wonder if it was my diet that had caused the issue in the first place.  Had I changed my diet, could I have rid myself of the bacteria and the issue without antibiotics?

As we get older the amount of hydrochloric acid we produce can decrease, meaning these stomach issues will only increase with age unless we start looking after ourselves now and ensure we eat a healthy balanced diet.

The recipe below is easy on the stomach and includes ginger, which is a great digestion aid.  Make this soup and you’ll have a healthy lunch for three or so days.

Recipe

Ginger & Butternut Squash Soup

  • Half thumb of ginger (about 25g), peeled and sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • Half a red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped to thumb sized pieces
  • 500ml of vegetable or chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste (I like LOTS of pepper)

Instructions:

  1. Put everything in a stock pot.
  2. Bring to the boil, then turn to simmer until the butternut squash is soft.
  3. Add seasoning.
  4. Blend with a stick blender or blend in batches in a jug blender.
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