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Understanding the Connection Between GERD and IBS

7 minute read


IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common digestive disorder affecting the large intestine. With uncomfortable symptoms such as cramping, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, IBS can be a nuisance, but it does not cause inflammation or permanent damage.

However, there is evidence that IBS is linked to acid reflux, and more importantly, your overall gut health can be a big factor too. Understanding how these things are connected will help you optimize your daily habits and take action to prevent or mitigate the problem.

The Acid Reflux-IBS Relationship

The muscles in your large intestine or colon are responsible for moving food through the digestive tract, absorbing nutrients, and pushing everything not essential out through excretion.

With IBS these muscles do not function as efficiently and irregular bowel movements are the result. When your digestive tract ceases to function optimally, you experience the uncomfortable symptoms of IBS.

Food and waste need to move through your digestive tract at just the right speed to maintain optimal digestive health. Moving too fast can cause diarrhea and an inability to absorb essential nutrients from the food, and moving too slow causes constipation.

IBS is considered to be a functional disorder with very real symptoms but not often identifiable causes. Stress, however, seems to play a big role in exacerbating IBS.

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a disease associated with acid reflux and causes serious damage to your esophagus over time.

When stomach acid backs up, it causes the lower esophageal sphincter to function poorly. This sphincter is the gateway between your stomach and esophagus and when relaxed, acid can easily flow back into your esophagus.

Because the tissues of your esophagus are thin and sensitive, they are easily damaged by the strong stomach acids. You typically feel a burning pain in your chest and a sour taste in your throat. As unpleasant as these symptoms are, the damage being done to your esophageal lining is much worse.

IBS and acid reflux are often found together, which tells us that they are similar in terms of disease mechanisms, but there is no evidence as to whether one condition causes another. 

The exact connection between IBS and acid reflux continues to evade researchers, making their relationship complicated at best. More is known about GERD, which makes it easier to study. However, when environmental and individual factors are at play, both conditions are more complex than they first appear.

Individuals with both conditions report having poor sleep habits and more abdominal pains than those who just have one of either of these conditions. This tells us that there is no causal relationship because you can have one without the other. That said, when both conditions are present, your health is definitely at much greater risk.

IBS can be controlled with certain dietary modifications and this is thought to help relieve symptoms of both conditions. Along with minimizing stress, you should also avoid these well-known triggers:

♦ Caffeinated drinks

♦ Garlic and onions

♦ Spicy foods

♦ Chocolate

♦ Citrus fruit and juices

♦ Alcohol

♦ High-fat or fried foods

♦ Tomato-based foods


Controlling Acid Reflux and IBS

Medications are available to help control symptoms of both IBS and acid reflux or GERD. Proton-pump inhibitors and antacids help minimize the stomach acid, which prevents excess from leaking back into your esophagus.

You can also treat constipation and diarrhea with a host of over-the-counter medications. The most successful treatment option, however, has been diet modifications and more natural remedies.

Foods to Include

Knowing the list of trigger foods is one thing, but adding foods to your diet that help to promote digestive health and prevent acid reflux is also important.

A diet high in protein and low in fat is recommended. Less fat reduces the required amount of acid needed for digestion and protein and fiber help to keep you full so you don’t overeat.

Overeating not only makes you feel full and bloated, but it causes acid to backup, making it easier to reach your esophagus.

Probiotic Therapies

The use of probiotic supplements and foods help support healthy digestion goes a long way in preventing acid reflux and IBS. Probiotics help maintain a healthy balance within your gut, so the beneficial flora can take care of you.

| Related: Are Probiotics the Best Natural Way to Burn Belly Fat |

Any imbalance allows pathogens to take over the area, which triggers widespread inflammation that causes or exacerbates acid reflux, GERD and IBS discomfort.

Lose Weight

Acid reflux can happen to anyone just by eating too much of your favorite meal one night. Regular heartburn is a sign of a problem and is related to constant overeating and obesity.

The more weight you have, specifically fat around your abdomen, the more pressure is placed on your stomach. The pressure pushes stomach contents and acid back through the esophageal sphincter.

Regular exercise and a balanced diet can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, which in turn will reduce your risk for acid reflux and IBS.

No More Smoking

Smoking is a known contributor to heartburn, as it damages the esophageal sphincter. The more you smoke, the weaker this becomes, and your exposure to acid reflux and damaging stomach acid increases.

Tobacco also irritates the lining of your intestinal wall, which leads to the development of IBS. More frequent heartburn will not only be uncomfortable, but the continual damage to your digestive tract may end up becoming irreversible.

Stay Relaxed

Stress contributes to both IBS and acid reflux. The presence of these conditions, in turn, causes stress, and you end up in a never-ending negative cycle. Relaxing both your mind and body will benefit your digestive health as all the involved muscles can take it a little easier.

Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing are all great ways to relax and prevent stress research has linked to IBS and reflux.

The Bottom Line

While there is no known link between the two, these conditions often appear together. One is bad, but both together can seriously impact your health.

The good news for you is that they can easily be treated with a similar diet and lifestyle changes. With the recommendations above, you can kill two digestive birds with one stone and keep your digestive tract intact from the esophagus to the colon.

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