What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux (often called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) is a relatively common condition affecting no less than 14–20% of all adults in the US.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid contents flow back up into the esophagus (the food pipe), causing symptoms like heartburn, regurgitation, bloating, burping, and even vomiting.
These symptoms are caused by the fact that while the stomach lining is very well protected and adapted to the powerful stomach acids, the esophagus is not.
Once the stomach content, including hydrochloric acid – a powerful acid that helps break down food, accesses the esophagus, it can cause local irritation accompanied by awkward and persisting burning sensations and discomfort.
What causes acid reflux, and how is it usually treated?
A circular muscle, acting as a valve at the stomach entrance, is intended to prevent the stomach content from flowing up to the esophagus. This muscle is called the gastroesophageal sphincter. If it fails, stomach contents can get regurgitated into the esophagus, causing irritation and heartburn sensations.
The reason why this sphincter may sometimes fail is not yet clearly determined, but there are speculations that acid reflux may be caused by harmful bacteria overgrowth in the stomach.
These bad bacteria may cause inflammations that inhibit food digestion and lead to putrefaction of ingested food resulting in gas build-ups. These build-ups of gas can ultimately force the contents of the stomach back up towards the esophagus.
The conventional and most widespread ways to treat acid reflux are symptomatic, and symptomatic treatments mainly focus on symptoms instead of causes.
In most cases, acid reflux is treated with acid suppressants, acid blockers, and medications called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). However, all these medications can only decrease stomach acidity levels, thus relieving the symptoms and reducing the damage induced by acid reflux. They do not address the actual causes of acid reflux.
How can Kefir help with acid reflux?
I know it sounds surprising that we can treat a condition caused by problems with stomach acidity with an acidic product like Kefir! Indeed, how can the acidic Kefir beneficially affect and even completely cure acid reflux?
Moreover, Kefir is renowned for its powerful probiotic virtues, mainly related to the lower gastrointestinal tract – the intestines and the bowel. So, how can Kefir affect the stomach, which is the uppermost part of the gastrointestinal tract?
Here’s the clue:
The antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of Kefir come in the first place. The lactic acid bacteria (LAB), abundantly present in Kefir, are recognized for their ability to inhibit the growth of a wide range of harmful bacteria and to reduce inflammations across the entire body.
Yet, harmful bacterial overgrowth and the stomach’s resulting inflammation were among the main suspects causing acid reflux, right?
By attacking the overgrown harmful bacteria and suppressing the inflammation in the stomach, the lactic acid bacteria of Kefir tend to alleviate the symptoms of acid reflux with the long-term potential to cure the disease completely.
Then comes the probiotic power of Kefir. As we know, one of the most prominent benefits of Kefir is its ability to improve digestion by balancing and harmonizing the bacterial population in our entire gastrointestinal tract, the stomach included.
By adding a host of over 50 beneficial bacterial species to our guts, Kefir will ultimately counterbalance the harmful bacteria overgrowth in our stomach that may have caused acid reflux.
A systematic review on the link between acid reflux and probiotics, published in 2020 by The US National Library of Medicine, proved that probiotics have positive effects on acid reflux, and “79% of the included comparisons reported probiotic benefits on the symptoms of GERD” (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).
One of the hypotheses for the occurrence of acid reflux is the relatively decreased stomach acidity level, allowing harmful bacteria to survive the otherwise harshly acidic stomach environment.
Milk Kefir has a special asset in this instance. It has “built-in” protection against stomach acids due to the presence of kefiran covering Kefir’s probiotic bacteria and allowing them to survive the negative effect of stomach acids. Thanks to the protection provided by kefiran, the probiotic bacteria of Kefir are able to outnumber and counteract the negative effects of the overgrowth of any harmful bacteria.
You can learn more about the effect of stomach acids on bacteria in our article titled “Are probiotics destroyed by gastric acids?”
Clarifications and precaution
Despite the undoubtedly positive effects probiotics (Kefir included) may have on Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, GERD is a complex disease that many factors, including physiological ones, may cause.
In some cases, for instance, surgical intervention may be required when acid reflux is caused by a hiatal hernia, since neither medications nor probiotics may have a lasting effect.
If your acid reflux symptoms persist, always consult your medical doctor and conduct a thorough physical exam to confirm a diagnosis and avoid complications.
Acid reflux is a common condition affecting about 14–20% of all adults in the US. It occurs when stomach acid contents flow back up into the food pipe, causing heartburn, regurgitation, burping, and even vomiting.
These awkward sensations are due to the highly acidic stomach content accessing and irritating the esophagus that, unlike the stomach walls, is not protected from powerful stomach acids.
Acid reflux happens when a circular muscle in the upper part of the stomach, called the gastroesophageal sphincter, fails to prevent the stomach content from flowing up to the esophagus. The reason for such failure is not clearly determined, but both autoimmune disorders and physiological factors (such as hiatal hernia) are the primary suspects. There are speculations that acid reflux may be caused by harmful bacteria overgrowth in the stomach.
Acid reflux is usually treated with medications increasing the overall stomach acidity, such as acid blockers or medications known as proton pump inhibitors. However, all these medications can only relieve the symptoms and reduce the damage, instead of addressing the actual causes of acid reflux.
The antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of Kefir can then come to the rescue. The lactic acid bacteria of Kefir are recognized for their ability to inhibit the growth of a wide range of harmful bacteria and to reduce inflammations in the stomach, thus easing the symptoms of acid reflux.
A scientific study from 2020 found that 79% of the cases of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) reported probiotic benefits on the symptoms of this disease.
Yet, it is important to state that GERD is a complex disease that may be caused by many factors, including physiological ones requiring surgical intervention. In case GERD symptoms persist, a consultation with a qualified medical specialist is strongly advised.
- When is it best to drink Kefir against acid reflux? The sensation of discomfort caused by acid reflux is usually worse during bedtime, when the horizontal position of the body facilitates the propagation of stomach acids into the esophagus even further. Therefore, it is recommended to take your dose of Kefir about an hour before bedtime. Besides the soothing effect Kefir will have on your stomach, the amino acid Tryptophan found in Kefir will have a calming effect on your nervous system, which will help you sleep better.