Do one of or both your parent/s suffer from acid reflux? If so, you might be wondering is acid reflux genetic? The answer is yes, to some extent. There are several studies that show acid reflux or GERD can be inherited. But that’s not the only way you’ll get acid reflux disease. While your genes may be to blame for your heartburn symptoms, the truth is that environmental factors play an equal part in the development of acid reflux disease.
Can You Inherit GERD?
It’s true that heartburn runs in some families. If your father, mother, sibling or twin suffers from GERD, chances are that you could have inherited the same genes. However, it’s also possible that acid reflux runs in families because of a shared environment and lifestyle which may contain the same heartburn promoting risk factors.
Several twin studies have been done across the globe to establish the link between acid reflux and genetics. A study done in the United Kingdom following 1,960 pairs of twins found that genetic factors play a 43% chance in the development of GERD. A study published in Gastroenterology Journal in 2002 studied twins from the Swedish Twin Registry to find that GERD is more commonly seen in identical twins, as compared to fraternal twins. Heritability accounted for 31% of the liability to reflux disease in this population. Another research published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics Journal in 2007 studied twins from the Minnesota Twin Registry to find similar results. The correlation between GERD, IBS and genes was stronger in identical twins as compared to fraternal twins. This suggests that genetics may play a role in causing acid reflux.
Other serious complications of GERD, such as Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer may also have a genetic link. Researchers from University of Cambridge, United Kingdom found a genetic link in familial Barrett esophagus and adenocarcinoma of the gastroesophageal junction. In this study, seven members of a single family suffered from Barrett’s esophagus, while two of them also had adenocarcinoma of the gastroesophageal junction. A different member of the same family had esophageal ulcerations with dysplasia, while another had esophageal stricture. This suggested the heritable nature of gastroesophageal reflux disease in this family. Researchers at Department of Gastroenterology, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield, have found familial clustering of reflux symptoms. It is seen in relatives of patients with
- Reflux symptoms and increased esophageal acid exposure, and
- Barrett’s esophagus.
While studies have established the hereditable component to GERD, there is an increasing need to further discover the genes that control susceptibility to GERD. This will provide improved diagnostics and new pharmacological agents for improved treatment. Scientists have identified one gene – ABAT or 4-aminobutyrate aminotransferase as a genetic risk factor for GERD, but more research is needed in this area.
Genes cannot be ignored when it comes to risk for developing GERD. However, genes alone don’t determine whether you will inherit the disease or not, as certain environmental and lifestyle risk factors play an equal (if not greater) role in the development of GERD.
Environmental Factors May Be More To Blame For GERD
Don’t simply blame your genes for your GERD, your love for beer and spicy Mexican food may be equally to blame here! Even if GERD doesn’t run in your family, certain lifestyle and environmental factors could be the reason why you suffer from acid reflux.
Obesity has been established as an independent predictor of GERD symptoms. Studies have established that even if you are a normal-weight person who has gained only a moderate amount of weight recently, you become more susceptible to acid reflux. Excess fat, especially around the abdomen, exerts reverse pressure on the stomach which pushes the lower esophageal sphincter (a muscular lid between the esophagus and stomach) open, sloshing acid back up the esophagus.
Chronic stress is also associated with GERD. Other factors that trigger acid reflux are smoking, excess intake of caffeine and alcohol, poor diet, and sleep deprivation. Certain commonly-used prescription drugs decrease the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) pressure and may potentially exacerbate or precipitate GERD symptoms.
Lifestyle Changes Can Go A Long Way Towards Managing and Treating Acid Reflux
Even though acid reflux can be hereditary, as seen above, there could be other reasons for your recent heartburn woes. Making a few lifestyle changes can bring relief from acid reflux symptoms as well as its frequency, regardless of whether you have inherited the disease or not.
- If you aren’t doing this already, maintain a Food Dairy to identify your GERD-triggers. This will go a long way towards creating a heartburn-friendly diet to alleviate symptoms. Common GERD food triggers are tomatoes, citrus fruits, fatty foods, spicy foods and fried foods.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages as these exacerbate acid reflux symptoms
- Lose weight. Dropping just 10% of your current bodyweight can bring significant relief from GERD symptoms and can also reduce the frequency of acid reflux attacks.
- If you smoke, give it up. Nicotine in cigarettes relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach contents to rise back into the esophagus.
- Avoid chocolates, as these contain theobromine which also relaxes the esophageal sphincter, causing reflux.
- Pay special attention to portion sizes. Eating a large meal is a sure way to exacerbate heartburn symptoms as it puts extra stress on the digestive system. Split your 3 main meals into 6 smaller meals to begin with.
- Get good quality sleep. Try to maintain a healthy schedule for eating and sleeping. Eat your meals at the same time every day, and allow a two-hour gap between meal-time and sleep-time. Sleeping immediately after eating allows the contents of the stomach to easily travel back up the esophagus, causing heartburn.
- Exercise is great for GERD sufferers. Try including regular gentle exercise in your daily schedule, such as walking, which alleviates stomach pressure from bloating and gas. It can also reduce the likelihood of developing GERD by helping maintain a healthy weight. A gentle 20-minute walk post meals can be especially helpful in boosting digestion.
- Mix a spoonful of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water and drink this half an hour before your meals to aid healthy digestion.
- Instead of antacids and PPIs, try natural supplements for acid reflux. We recommend Zinc Carnosine, Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice, Mastic Gum, Raft Forming Alginates, Picrorhiza kurroa, Betaine and Pepsin.
While sufficient research data has established the genetic influence in GERD, having a hereditary risk doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop the condition and live with it for the rest of your life. Your health is in your hands. Act now:
- Change your lifestyle to adopt healthier eating practices.
- Commit to a regular exercise regimen, improve your sleep pattern and quality.
- Practice stress relief.
These simple lifestyle changes can go a long way towards managing or treating your acid reflux to improve the quality of your life.