Disclosure: I am compensated for purchases made through some links on this site. Click for details.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are microorganisms, live bacteria, and yeasts, that aid in digestion and improve our overall health. Probiotics are considered to be healthy bacteria or good bacteria. There are both good bacteria and bad bacteria in our digestive systems.
Maintaining a proper balance of intestinal bacteria is crucial for digestive health. When the digestive system is functioning properly, overall health improves dramatically.
Probiotics and Acid Reflux
Heartburn is the pain caused by acid irritation in the esophagus. One of the main causes of acid reflux is from impaired digestive functionality. Probiotics improve digestive function and reduce the risk of acid reflux.
Lack of Probiotics Can Lead to Heartburn
How can the lack of probiotics lead to heartburn? When the digestive tract lacks good bacteria, an overgrowth of bad bacteria can occur leading to various digestive conditions that cause acid reflux.
Production of Gas in the Intestines
Bad bacteria produce methane and hydrogen gas in the intestines causing upward pressure on the stomach and ultimately the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a ring of muscle that closes the keep stomach contents from refluxing into the esophagus. Added pressure on the LES can weaken the closer causing acid reflux.
Gas can also lead to belching. As gas produced by bad bacteria passes through the LES so can stomach acid.
Stomach Acid Reduction
Bad bacteria reduce acid levels in the stomach. When suffering from heartburn, a reduction in stomach acid sounds great, but low acid levels can actually cause acid reflux. Adequate acid levels are needed for both proper digestion and to trigger the LES to close. If the LES doesn’t close properly, stomach acid will reflux into the esophagus.
Reduction in Nutrient Absorption
Bad bacteria prevent the synthesis of digestive enzymes needed for breaking down proteins into amino acids and prevent the absorption of nutrients.
The lack of digestive enzymes and nutrients cause the digestive process to be less efficient and slow.
Slowed digestion leads to greater abdominal pressure due to an increase of material in the digestive tract and also to constipation. This added pressure prevents the LES from closing and allows acid to reflux.
Benefits of Probiotics for Heartburn Relief
Digestive issues caused by bacterial imbalance tend to build on each other increasing the instance of disease in the body. How do probiotics bring balance to the digestive system and reduce the instance of heartburn?
Probiotics Prevent Bacterial Overgrowth
Probiotics fight harmful bacteria and yeast infections to prevent and eliminate bacterial infections such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)1 and candida overgrowth.
Probiotics Improve Stomach Acid Levels
Probiotics promote optimal stomach acid levels which will trigger the LES to close and prevent acid reflux. Optimal stomach acid levels also kill harmful bacteria and properly digest food for improved absorption of nutrients.
Probiotics Improve Food and Nutrient Absorption
Probiotics help break down food for easier digestion and increase the absorption of nutrients. These benefits reduce constipation, abdominal pressure, and pressure on the LES thus reducing the chances of acid reflux.
Probiotics Prevent Constipation
Probiotics increase gastrointestinal motility and reduce constipation:
- By eliminating bad bacteria that cause slow, inefficient digestion.
- By optimizing production of stomach acid for breaking down food.
- By improving nutrient absorption and providing the digestive system needed nutrients to function properly.
- By maintaining muscle activity which moves material through the digestive tract.
Probiotics Improve the Immune System
Probiotics boost the immune system by preventing leaky gut and helping with the production of antibodies. An improved immune system helps protect against bad bacteria overgrowth improving digestion and reducing the risk of acid reflux.
Bad bacteria can cause leaky gut by damaging the gastrointestinal tract’s mucous membrane. Leaky gut is a digestive condition where undesirable molecules pass through the wall of the intestine to enter the bloodstream to cause chronic inflammation throughout the entire body.
Chronic inflammation causes conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, migraines, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic inflammation from leaky gut is even thought to cause autism.2
Probiotics Help Prevent Bloating and Belching
Bad bacteria produce gas which can lead to bloating and belching. Bloating and belching weakens the LES leading to acid reflux and heartburn. Probiotics reduce bad bacteria levels leading to less gas and lower risk of weakening the LES.
Probiotics Reduce Body Fat
Optimal bacteria levels created by probiotics not only help with the absorption of nutrients, it’s also been shown that bad bacteria in the digestive tract may influence body metabolism and food cravings. Raising the body’s metabolism and lowering food cravings help reduce excess weight. Obesity and GERD are strongly connected. Excess weight increases abdominal pressure which weakens the LES closure to cause acid reflux.
Taking Probiotics for Heartburn Relief
Probiotic supplements and fermented foods introduce good bacteria into the digestive system. The best source of probiotics is fermented foods and beverages such as buttermilk, kefir, kimchee, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, sour cream, and yogurt.
Probiotic foods should be unpasteurized. Pasteurization kills bacteria. If you can’t find unpasteurized probiotics, try making your own at home. Lacto-fermented foods are simple to make and only require a few basic instruments along with salt, vegetables, and water or you can try your hand at other probiotics foods like yogurt.
Cultured Dairy Products
Cultured dairy products such as buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, and kefir are probiotics which may need to be reintroduced later due to their lactose content. Lactose is a sugar found in dairy that will feed bad bacteria.
Also, cultured dairy products should not be taken if the possibility of heartburn is present. Dairy products can increase acid reflux symptoms. Additional stomach acid will be produced to break down calcium, fat, and protein found in these foods.
Feeding Probiotics to Keep Them Growing
What do probiotics feed on to keep them growing? Prebiotics are the food source for probiotics. Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates available in supplement form and found in foods such as bananas, barley, wheat, oats, flax, beets, carrots, garlic, leeks, legumes, onion, artichokes, asparagus, radishes, and more.
Bad bacteria feed on sugar, processed foods, animal fats, and animal protein. These foods should be kept to a minimum.
Conclusion of Probiotics for Heartburn Relief
Probiotics and prebiotics help keep the digestive system healthy and function properly by keeping bad bacteria in check. A lack of probiotics in the intestines can lead to numerous digestive conditions that can lead to acid reflux and heartburn. For many people, unpasteurized probiotic-rich, fermented foods can eliminate chronic acid reflux and the instance of heartburn, thus eliminating the need for heartburn medications like Proton Pump Inhibitors. If probiotic-rich foods aren’t readily available, probiotic supplements are the next best thing.
1) Matjaž Homan, & Rok Orel. “Are probiotics useful in Helicobacter pylori eradication?.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, World Journal of Gastroenterology , October 7, 2015.