Focus on Mental Health to Reduce Heartburn
Heartburn from acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can seriously interfere with your quality of life. It can make the very thought of eating or drinking a trigger food a source of distress. Going to bed at night can start to become something you dread because you know a burning stomach and chest will be keeping you up for a large chunk of the night. Not only are these symptoms annoying, acid reflux can lead to inflammation in the esophagus which, if left unchecked, can have more concerning consequences.
Acid reflux is often a stubborn thing to manage. It requires tackling the situation from a number of different angles. Mindfulness mediation is one of those angles that is starting to be explored by researchers. While there are multiple promising studies on mindfulness for IBS, research on how mindfulness can improve acid reflux symptoms is still emerging. Hopefully more, larger studies will be coming out in the near future. That being said, there is minimal risk in starting mindfulness meditation, and much to be gained even beyond potential benefits to your reflux symptoms.
A number of studies have found an association between acid reflux symptoms and anxiety. Researchers are proposing that stress and anxiety management should be included into treatment plans for acid reflux. As a naturopathic doctor with a practice that focuses strongly on mental health, I constantly see improvements in digestive symptoms when strategies like mindfulness meditation are prescribed to patients.
But how can stress and anxiety lead to acid reflux? Acid reflux can happen when the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus is not working well enough. The barrier is not doing a good job of staying closed when it should, so acid sloshes back up from the stomach to the esophagus. It’s possible that increased anxiety and stress can interfere with the effectiveness of this barrier. High stress and anxiety could also make you more sensitive to the sensation of acid in the esophagus.
In practice, I encourage all of my patients with these symptoms to practice at least 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation and deep belly breathing daily. I also encourage additional meditation or belly breathing during episodes of heartburn. When combined with other recommendations, adding stress management into the mix may be a key way to get a better handle on heartburn.