Updated: Feb 10, 2021
In this day and age, with all the junk foods and processed foods at our fingertips, I am sure we all have at some time or the other faced symptoms of Acid Reflux. Heartburn, or GERD. While there may be many solutions you have come across, probiotics may be one that you haven’t considered yet. Well, I am here to provide you with all the details you required to understand why probiotics may be a perfect solution for your symptoms.
So, can probiotics help alleviate my GERD and Acid Reflux symptoms?
GERD can be caused due to either bacterial overgrowth/imbalance (Dysbiosis) or too little stomach acid. probiotics, being the actual good bacteria will directly help in curing bacterial imbalance. Also, bad bacteria in our gut has been associated with lower levels of stomach acid. probiotics will also help in replacing the bad bacteria with good bacteria and thus alleviating symptoms of Acid Reflux.
There have been several studies in the recent past citing success in Treating Acid Reflux with probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, pickles etc. Read on to understand why and how should you incorporate probiotics into your diet if you are facing Acid Reflux.
But First, What Is The Difference Between Acid Reflux And GERD?
They are actually quite overlapping. Simply put GERD is a chronic form of Acid Reflux.
Acid Reflux occurs when a certain muscle in our stomach weakens and this leads to the pushing of stomach acid back up our esophagus (throat pipe for non-science people).
Now when this occurs repeatedly i.e. our acid reflux gets chronic, then it gets classified as GERD!
Simple, yeah? I’m not going to go much into the technical side of what GERD is. I am assuming you already know that now that you’ve seen the headline and are considering probiotics as an option to solve your distress. Well, you’ve come to the right place!
To understand how probiotics might be of help, let’s first understand what causes acid reflux.
What Happens In Our Body That Causes Acid Reflux?
With reference to probiotics, GERD/Acid Reflux can be caused by two of the following reasons;
1. Bacterial overgrowth/imbalance
This happens due to the general lifestyle we follow. Living in the 21st century, our lifestyle is affected by too many factors that lead to poor gut health and gut bacteria. Some of them include:
Too Much Stress
Excess Alcohol & Drug Consumption
Poor Sleeping Habits
Poor Dietary Habits
This study also cited that although obesity is one of the main reasons for esophageal diseases; dietary problems that cause an imbalance in esophageal bacteria are also becoming a more prevalent reason for esophageal diseases such as GERD.
2. Too Little Stomach Acid
Yes! It’s not too much stomach acid, it is too little stomach acid that causes acid reflux!
Some of the reasons you might have less stomach acid are:
Vitamin Deficiency ( Zinc / B-VItamins)
H. Pylori (A specific bacteria that grows in the gut and causes digestive issues)
Too Much Use of PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors are a common treatment for Acid Reflux. Surprisingly, using it excessively can give rise to even more problems)
In fact, the above two causes of acid reflux are also linked to each other themselves. A low stomach acid (which causes acid reflux) can very well be a symptom of an imbalance of gut bacteria! This 2017 study found a correlation between both!
Basically what I am trying to say is that if your Acid Reflux is due to any of the two reasons (arising due to other lifestyle triggers) above, then probiotics will definitely help you alleviate your symptoms!
Probiotics For Acid Reflux & GERD
Wait, But What Are Probiotics?
If you are into health and nutrition, it is likely that you have come across the term ‘probiotics’ recently. But let’s understand what probiotics are and what do they do for our health?
Do you remember about the trillions of bacteria we spoke about above? Well, these bacteria in our gut can be either good bacteria or bad bacteria.
Probiotics are the good bacteria that simply repopulate our gut with themselves by multiplying and keeping the bad bacteria in check! This has benefits beyond measure. From immunity to mental health, our gut bacteria is accredited with having an indispensable effect on every part of our being.
Interested in learning more about Kombucha and its benefits as a probiotic food? Check out this article written by me!
How Will Probiotics Help Acid Reflux?
Let me start by citing a really interesting study. Because of course, science always comes first!
This study showed great potential for the use of probiotics in curing acid reflux in young children. So generally, PPIs or Proton Pump inhibitors are given to children to alleviate symptoms of acid reflux.
But in the above study, 128 children who suffered from GERD were taken. Out of which half were given probiotics along with PPIs, while the other half were given a placebo along with PPIs. The results were absolutely amazing!
After 12 weeks of treatment, dysbiosis was detected among 56.2% of children from the placebo group (36/64), compared to 6.2% of children from the probiotics group (4/64). The probiotics group had a lower prevalence of dysbiosis. It clearly showed the prevalence and need to consider probiotics while treating GERD & Acid Reflux!
But more specifically, let’s see what probiotics can do for us.
1. Improve Gut Bacteria
Gut Bacteria Imbalance/Dysbiosis has been linked with Acid Reflux as one of the disease’s major causes. Probiotics, being the actual good bacteria in the gut, will repopulate our gut and rebalance it with good bacteria.
Once we consume probiotics through external foods, they will multiply and form colonies and in turn, kick out the bad acid reflux causing bacteria!
This study concluded the capability of the commonly consumed probiotic, Yakult, in reducing SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth). But of course, you can have kombucha too!
P.S.- Just as consuming probiotics is important, so is feeding them. Prebiotics, a form of insoluble fiber, is the fodder for our good gut bacteria and helps them grow and multiply in our gut. Here are some great sources of prebiotics!Prebiotic rich food includes Oats, Chicory root, Asparagus, Garlic, etc.
2. Increase Stomach Acid
Contrary to popular belief, Acid Reflux is not caused due to too much stomach acid it is caused due to too little stomach acid. Therefore we must take steps to increase our stomach acid and reduce our Acid Reflux.
Firstly, as mentioned above, one of the reasons for low stomach acid is bacterial overgrowth or imbalance. So if that is the reason for your low stomach acid then as we just read above, probiotics being the good bacteria will definitely lead to an increase in your stomach acid and reduce your acid reflux.
Two of the main benefits of probiotics are that it improves your digestion and also your gut bacteria. Both of these are sure to increase your stomach acid!
Probiotics Can Also Help Alleviate Triggers Of Bacterial Imbalance And Less Stomach Acid
As I was saying above, a majority of the reasons for acid reflux is either too little stomach acid or an imbalance of gut bacteria. And I also mentioned what triggers these issues in our bodies. If I was to break it down, a lot of health issues, including Acid Reflux & GERD, start with poor lifestyle habits such as poor sleep, too much stress, excessive alcohol/drugs/medication and just being old. Yes, unfortunately, being old causes a lot of health issues, as one would expect. BUT! Probiotics can help here too!
I don’t want to get too in-depth on why probiotics and our gut bacteria are so so important for improving our general health issues that arise from leading a poor lifestyle; so I’ll just summarize it.
The gut is that organ of our body that breaks down every single nutrient that we get from the foods we eat and absorbs it for use by our body. Food, very literally, is our body’s fuel! And if we aren’t breaking down and absorbing what we’re supposed to get from food, we are going to face a vast array of health issues across the span of our life.
So where does the solution, to improving our gut and the trillions of bacteria that reside in it, lie? The short answer is Probiotics! The long answer is this article I’ve written covering all you need to know about gut health!
H. Pylori & Probiotics
H. Pylori? Whaaat?
It is likely you’ve not heard about this weird word ‘H. Pylori’ before, but I’m here to keep you informed. H. Pylori is a pathogenic strain of bacteria that causes digestive health issues including GERD & Acid Reflux. Btw, 2/3rd of the world’s population has H. Pylori in their gut, but it doesn’t cause problems for everyone.
H. Pylori lives in your digestive tract and after several years may start causing problems such as stomach ulcers, GERD, and in the worst-case scenario, stomach cancer.
Probiotics for H. Pylori
Back to the future science. The generic therapeutic solution for H. Pylori is using a device known as PPI (Proton Pump Inhibitor) along with antibiotics. The rise of probiotics as a form of alternative therapy is something relatively new. Luckily, there is some science to support it.
So what is the problem with the above solution?
Firstly, recent research has shown that the rate of eradication of H. pylori has reduced as we humans have become more immune and used to antibiotics making them less effective. And of course, I can’t emphasize enough how bad antibiotics actually are for our gut bacteria as it completely kills off all the good bacteria too along with the bad infection-causing bacteria.
The second problem is that with time these proton pump inhibitor devices if used excessively, can actually cause more problems with our digestive health than it can solve.
Back to the science, again. This study done in UAE did an observational controlled study.
They took 4 groups of people infected with H. Pylori. Out of which 3 were given different forms of probiotics while 1 group was given the traditional antibiotics and PPI treatment.
The Results Were Great!
The eradication rate for the traditional standard therapy was 68.9%, and adding the probiotic to traditional therapy, led to a successful rate of eradication of up to 90.8%! Sounds good, right!?
How To Choose A Probiotic?
Although probiotics are the new rage, I am often asked what are probiotics and from where can you get them? Truth be told, you’re already most probably consuming some type of probiotics in your daily life from yogurt or pickles or something alike. But the more fundamental question is what to choose between choosing a probiotic supplement or probiotic foods.
Probiotic Supplements vs Probiotics Foods. What’s the correct choice?
The answer to this lies in your use case. Depending with what intention you’re using probiotics, either as a preventive or a cure, will determine what form of probiotic you should consume!
If Consuming Probiotics As A Preventive; I’d definitely recommend opting for natural foods that are rich in probiotics such as my favorite, kombucha. In general, I love the taste of fermented foods like kimchi, tepache, kefir, etc. But regardless of that too, I think natural probiotic foods are much better because they come with additional nutrients and health which can possibly add great value to your body and being.
If You’re Consuming Probiotics As A Cure For Some Specific Health Issue; I’d firstly recommend consulting a doctor. But in general, if your GERD / Acid Reflux problem isn’t too serious and can be cured through nutrition and dietary changes, as is possible in most scenarios, then you should yet consume probiotics. So unless you have a specific health issue (such as H. Pylori) where you have to take a specific strain of probiotic to alleviate the issue, then only you should go and have a probiotic tablet.
Summing It Up
Well, this has been one long post, but hopefully, I was able to cover all the doubts you might have had on probiotics and its efficacy as a solution to your GERD / Acid Reflux symptoms.
So if you have skimmed through this article, read this last part to understand what I just ranted about!
GERD / Acid Reflux is caused either due to
Too Little Stomach Acid, or
Gut Bacteria Overgrowth / Imbalance
Both of these have their own respective lifestyle based triggers such as poor sleep, excessive stress, etc.
Probiotics, being the good bacteria for our gut, can rebalance gut bacteria and even increase stomach acid as per recent research. And probiotics can also cure a lot of the lifestyle-based triggers that lead to GERD.
Which form of probiotic should you take? Always opt for natural forms of probiotics available in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, tepache etc. However, if you have some specific health issues then, a probiotic pill might just be a better solution for you!
It’s Gut To Be Good!