I was giving a talk at a vocal health forum recently. The room was filled with singers and singing teachers. After the forum a number people came to complaining of acid reflux and how taking antacids prescribed by their doctor, was having no benefit. I have also worked with several singers in the past with acid issues but this problem is in no way exclusive to singers. Because acid reflux is very detrimental to a singers voice, singers are far more likely to seek help rather than suffer in silence like many people do who do not feel so protective about their throats.
Acid reflux is quite simply stomach acid coming up the oesophagus (throat) rather than staying in the stomach. The acid in the stomach is incredibly strong and is there to kill off bacteria and other nasties in our food as well as helping to break down our food before it passes in to the intestines for absorption.
Acid reflux is generally considered an excess acid problem where too much of the stomach acid forces its way back up the throat, irritating the tissues and causing burping and an uncomfortable burning sensation. The same symptoms can also come for too little stomach acid. As you can see in the diagram, there is a sphincter at the top of the stomach. When the stomach has food in it, acid is added to the contents of the stomach and that top sphincter should jam shut so nothing can escape back up. If your body does not produce enough acid., the opening does not close properly, allowing acid to leak back up the throat.
Other symptoms of low stomach acid include bloating, as your food will not be getting broken down properly so will be fermenting in the gut; foul-smelling wind; poor bowel functioning – usually constipation; bad breath; feeling heavy and full for a long time after eating and if this condition goes on for some time you will become fatigued and run down as your absorption of nutrients from your food will be seriously impaired, potentially leading to much more serious aliments.
There are 2 simple tests you can do to get a good idea if your digestive issues and/or heart burn are caused by too little stomach acid. Firstly, get out the good old apple cider vinegar? (ACV) – see a past blog for more on this great health tonic. Use a high quality, unpasteurised ACV. Take 1 tablespoon in some water with your first mouthful of food. This will help generate a balanced amount of stomach acid and make your sphincter shut properly. If you find you feel better after a meal using the ACV, it is very likely you have low acid. If you feel worse, you are probably producing too much stomach acid.
Another test, add a level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to a glass of water and drink on an empty stomach. The bicarb will react with your stomach acid and cause gases to be produced. If after a few minutes you do NOT start to burp, your acid levels are low.
Remedies include taking a betaine and pepsin supplement – this supplies hydrochloric acid to your stomach; use ACV when you eat; have a broad spectrum digestive enzyme to help breakdown your food and CHEW, CHEW, CHEW – this will stimulate stomach acid production.