Can acid reflux be a menopause symptom?
A good question on International Reflux Day
Digestive problems can be part of our menopause experience. About 12 years ago I started to have bouts of acid reflux and heartburn to the point that the pain would shoot up under my armpits.
Studies have shown that menopausal women are three times as likely to suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) than premenopausal women or men.
Reflux causes acid to rise up into your oesophagus. It’s generally much more extreme than heartburn in and of itself, and over time, can cause erosion and damage to your oesophagus.
What are the symptoms of acid reflux?
Burning sensations in your stomach, chest, or throat
Oftentimes you may have a bad, sour, or bitter taste in your mouth
Bad breath, and a need to chew gum or suck on mints all the time
Stomach pain, which ranges from sever or burning stomach pain to the sensation of the burning rising up your throat
Lump in your throat that never seems to go away
Nausea or trouble swallowing (like you have to focus to help food go down)
Why are we suffering?
Falling oestrogen in menopause can affect the production of acid in the stomach, often leading to over-production, and when this happens you can start to get a lot of indigestion, wind, and feeling of fullness, as well discomfort and pain.
As we age we can develop a weak lower oesophagal sphincter. A sphincter is a closure muscle. After you swallow, it should close to keep the food in your stomach, but it can be stuck open or open easily, allowing food to rise up into your oesophagus.
Stress can also affect stomach digestion. Too often it's not being picked up as a specific menopause symptom. Women are going to the doctor, and they are being prescribed antacids or what's called PPIs. In fact a third of Americans are on some type of acid blocker—This is exactly what happened to me at the gastroenterologist along with a fair dose of gaslighting - PPI’s for a year or longer.
I choose to go another route as on researching PPI’s I was alarmed at their long-term side effects. PPI’s can interfere with the absorption of minerals such as magnesium and calcium. And these are both vital minerals. If you're low in calcium and magnesium, this can have an impact on bone strength and low magnesium is linked to increased anxiety, palpitations, and poor sleep.
But as with all things hormonal the opposite can happen and falling oestrogen can mean we are not producing enough acid. Over or under-production will end up causing the same symptoms. So, again, if you take antacids, you may then be making your symptoms even worse.
What Can Help to Ease Acid Reflux?
Over the years I have tried a variety of ways to ease my acid reflux. Here are some lifestyle habits and more that worked for me and that have become integrated into my life. Today I notice a marked improvement and have occasional bouts but the heartburn is a thing of the past and I only get occasional acid in my throat at nighttime which is unpleasant but I can trace the source of it.
Identifying trigger foods. For me that was too much gluten and carbs in general, any fried foods, fatty foods late at night including yummy Greek yoghurt, confectionary, too many nuts, and sparkly drinks - yes no champagne or bubbly water for me. Your triggers might be different so it is a matter of elimination.
No one ever really wants to change their diet drastically, but there are a few obvious things you can adjust to make sure you’re giving your body the rest it needs.
But also arm yourself with some awesome foods to eat so that you can get back on the path to health and remember what it feels like to feel good! Try to eat cooling vegetables, such as celery and cucumber and lettuce. These cool your stomach down and balance acid production. Also adding more bitter foods, such as leafy green vegetables, romaine or arugula, can really help.
Stress is a trigger of many gut issues. When I was selling two properties and renovating another while living in it my acid reflux went sky high. Not helped by having no kitchen so an over-reliance on packaged and processed food.
Practising ways to support a relaxation response will not make you feel emotionally calmer but will also heal your gut. This of course makes logical sense since the vagus nerve, our biggest parasympathetic nerve (soothing/calming), runs from the gut to the brain. Plus we know that hypnotherapy methods are having impressive results for IBS sufferers. Check out Nerva Gut Hypnotherapy
Other Things That Helped Me
I found acupuncture, Qigong and keeping my weight down helped a lot. Best of all retraining my lower oesophagal sphincter to close properly with iQoro
I prescribe certain Qigong routines like ‘Rowing the Boat Across the Lake’ done 5 times a day alongside herbs like Xiang Sha Liu Jun (Six Noble Tonic) one of the most popular and well-regarded classical formulas in the Chinese medicine canon. It contains a core of herbs including citrus sinensis, pinellia root, amomum and cyperus root that relieve acid reflux, GERD, bloating, gastritis, inflammation, gastric ulcers, and flatulence.
Watch your workout positions: movements that affect your abdomen can cause reflux. Crunches, sit-ups, leg lifts, headstands, downward dog and other poses should be done carefully if at all. Never exercise on a full stomach.
Sleep with your head elevated above your feet. A wedge-shaped foam lift will work much better than stacking pillows. Or, attach risers to the feet at the head of your bed.
Herbs are really great because by taking them, you are retraining your stomach on how to work properly. And once your stomach is working well again, you don’t have to keep taking herbs. Unlike drugs.
Work on the lower oesophagal sphincter to relax it and help it re-learn how to close properly. For that, a neuromuscular retraining device called iQoro has been amazing. It was developed in Sweden by a clinical team. It stimulates nerve pathways and 148 muscles in the swallowing and respiratory processes if done as per instruction within 6 months most people have their acid reflux under control.
MY TAKEAWAY IS THAT THERE ARE DRUG-FREE APPROACHES THAT CAN HELP US.
Life long PPI’s and Surgery are not Inevitable
Newsround of all things menopause
The global menopause market is expected to reach US$24.4 billion by 2030, expanding at an annual rate of 5.29 per cent, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. There are some great things but also a lot of menowashing of products that have limited value but a high ticket. Remember there is no panacea so use your judgement
This week on the Thriving Thru Menopause podcast Lesley Michaels Equity Warrior and supporter of marginalised women for decades.
Lesley and I talk about patriarchy and internalized misogyny which makes women turn on each other. If you notice how polarising the menopause debate can be you’ll get it. The unhelpful polarities exist in every aspect of health and wellness, (mental health and SSRI’s anyone?) But in menopause there this added dimension of patriarchy being the absolute women here to women’s disadvantage.
Lesley raises the importance of connection, communication and educating each other. Best of all her quote ‘How Can I Use My Privilege Today to Support Another Woman’ I am carrying that one with me going forward.
I have been quieter on social lately and feeling the need to cocoon a bit. 7th November was Li Dong the start of winter in the natural calendar. At the beginning of winter, we are now in Yin time. It’s not the time to be running around and busting a gut. Enjoy casseroles, and socialise a bit and if you feel like being quieter on days that is totally understandable. Remember perimenopause is the start of autumn and winter in our lives when we want to be with ourselves, rest more and shed what doesn’t serve us. Honour that Clarissa x