New Insights on How Stress Causes Acid Indigestion

September 29, 2011 | Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

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 New Insights on How Stress Causes Acid Indigestion
Scientists are gaining a new understanding of the stress-hormone cortisol and its relationship to bile. The great majority of people with “acid indigestion” actually have “bile acid indigestion” and not “stomach acid indigestion.” Thus, a better understanding of this issue can help a person to correct symptoms of indigestion at the source and not rely on dangerous acid-blocking medication to suppress symptoms and further worsen underlying problems.

One of the functions of cortisol is to elevate when you are stressed in order to mobilize energetic resources and act as an anti-inflammatory hormone that naturally suppresses your immune system while enabling your body to go faster (like oil in a car engine). In addition to this stress management role, cortisol performs other important duties, such as turning on all the light switches in your body in the morning so that you can go from a sleep state to an energized, active state. Thus, the greater the degree of tiredness or poor mood you feel in the morning, the greater the stress your cortisol system and adrenal glands, which produce cortisol, are under.

It now turns out that another normal function of cortisol is to help prepare your body to digest food. When you get hungry, your body starts to make cortisol. This cortisol communicates to your liver, telling your liver to fill up your gall bladder with bile so that you can digest the fats that will be in the upcoming meal. When you eat, the bile is released into your small intestine to perform vital roles in digestion. When the bile reaches the end of your small intestine, the bile salts are extracted out of the bile and sent via a special blood supply back to your liver to be used again. This is called bile acid recycling and is normal. Because cholesterol is also in the bile, it is also recycled. Higher fiber intake can help absorb cholesterol and bile salts, which is why fiber helps lower cholesterol. Too much cholesterol in the diet, along with too little fiber, can promote cholesterol overload, which is a problem for some but not the main reason cholesterol is elevated for most people.

This new study proves for the first time how cortisol controls the recycling of bile acids. Obviously, if you get too stressed out, you will be making excess bile and sending it to your gall bladder, a system that can get overloaded. This will cause excess bile to dump into your small intestine and start refluxing back towards your stomach. This will cause heat or burning across your lower ribcage, as bile moves backwards through your small intestine and into your stomach.

I have previously reported that most “acid indigestion” is actually “bile acid indigestion,” so this new understanding of cortisol function helps explain how this happens and speaks to the importance of using nutrition and life management skills to keep your stress level manageable to help improve the health of your digestive tract.

I have also previously reported that another primary reason for this “bile acid indigestion” is that your liver is making extra bile to get rid of extra cholesterol as a defense mechanism against being poisoned by too much food. One of the simplest remedies for this is to follow The Five Rules of The Leptin Diet which will oftentimes fix the problem, clearing up indigestion.

More difficult indigestion can be addressed by:
1) Increased fiber and friendly flora to help correct imbalances in the small intestine, along with the use of digestive enzymes.
2) Regular aerobic exercise that helps to condition your cortisol system to be more fit.
3) Stress management skills and stress management nutrition that helps you feel energized yet calmer and more in control.
4) Nutrients such as guggulsterones, which help calm down excess bile due to food overload.

Acid suppressing medication of any kind is quite dangerous to use over the long haul as the system for managing your digestive health. I don’t have a problem with short term or occasional use, but all that means is pay more attention to the red flag staring you in the face and figure out how to solve your actual problems. Dumping fire retardant on a forest fire is no way to manage the health of the forest.

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