Are you a smoker who persistently suffers from heartburn despite exercising and losing weight? Your smoking could be the real culprit of your heartburn!
Research suggests that smokers are more likely to suffer from heartburn than non-smokers. Heartburn is the burning feeling in the chest, caused when the stomach contents flow back into the esophagus or food pipe. Chronic heartburn is called GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease), which can eventually lead to bleeding ulcers in the digestive tract. If unchecked over a very long period of time, it can even lead to cells in the food pipe or esophagus turning cancerous.
But How Does Smoking cause this? Here’s how it works.
Nicotine Affects the Esophageal Function
Studies undertaken to evaluate the effect of nicotine on the food pipe conclude that nicotine tends to relax the muscles of the food pipe. The lower esophageal sphincter or LES regulates the passage of food into the stomach and prevents acid from sloshing back up. Smoking causes the esophageal sphincter to relax too much, resulting in the acid splashing back into the esophagus and causing heartburn.
Tobacco Reduces Salivation
In a study conducted on smokers and non-smokers, it was found that smoking leads to dysregulation of saliva production. Smokers typically feel their mouths are more dry during periods of excess smoking. Saliva has chemicals called bicarbonates that help neutralize the stomach acids. Saliva also helps coat the esophagus and is known to lessen the effect of acid reflux. Smokers are at a disadvantage since their quality and quantity of saliva production is compromised and this contributes to acid reflux.
Smoking Decreases Stomach Acid Secretion
In a study undertaken to determine the effect of smoking on stomach acid secretion, it was found that “cigarette smoking decreased gastric acid secretion and gastric mucosal blood flow. The increased incidence of gastric ulcers seen in smokers may be related to this reduction in gastric mucosal blood flow.” Not many of us know that acid reflux is not merely “too much acid” but actually a condition of having “too little acid in the right place”. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) shuts tight when there is enough acid in the stomach; this is nature’s way of preventing the stomach acid from sloshing back up the food pipe. When there is insufficient acid secretion in the stomach, the LES becomes loose, allowing whatever little acid there is to slosh back up, causing heartburn. Another study conducted also indicated that there is an increase in bile reflux in cigarette smokers and n reduction in the healing of gastric ulcers.
Smoking Affects The Esophageal Lining
Smoking is known to harm the mucus membranes which protect the esophagus from acid damage. This results in increase in heartburn as the esophagus is not able to function appropriately.
Smoking Slows Down Digestion
Smokers are known to have slow digestion, which means that insufficient digestion causes the food to remain unprocessed. The longer food and acid are present in the digestive tract, the greater the chances of bad bacteria fermenting them and causing gas and acid reflux.
A study of the available peer reviewed literature on the subject showed that that smoking increases the chances of GERD and that people who suffer from GERD and heartburn would benefit if they lost weight and quit smoking.
Trying to kick the habit can be difficult. However, just remember that acid reflux or heartburn is only one of the many health issues that smoking brings. Consult your local support group or seek help from centers for tobacco control.