The Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) is the tight ring of muscle that controls the passage of food from the esophagus to the stomach. Normally, food flows down the esophagus, past the LES, and into the stomach at which point the LES shuts tightly. The stomach then secretes acid to break down food. The stomach, unlike the esophagus, has a protective coating that allows it to handle the acid without incurring any damage. Problems arise when the LES does not shut properly and the food-acid mix spills back up into the esophagus. In this situation, the cells in the esophagus become irritated and damaged by the stomach acid, an uncomfortable sensation that we recognize as GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).
In my work with clients experiencing GERD, we find the underlying contributor(s) to GERD and use dietary interventions, herbal medicine, and supplements to heal the imbalances and get rid of it. It's a quick, easy, and painless process, but one that is dragged out when the client smokes. Why? Because smoking contributes to and worsens GERD in the following ways:
- The nicotine in cigarettes relaxes the LES, making smokers far more susceptible to experiencing GERD.
- Smoking damages the mucosal lining of the esophagus, leaving the esophageal tissue more exposed to acid and vulnerable to damage.
- Smoking makes the stomach secrete more acid, which, when coupled with the relaxed LES, makes smokers much more likely to reflux acid up into the esophagus.
- Saliva contains bicarbonate, a substance that helps neutralize acid. Smoking reduces saliva production, so when you are experiencing GERD, there is less saliva to swallow to reduce some of the damage.
In other words, smoking is a cause of GERD, smoking exacerbates GERD, and smoking prolongs GERD.
The good news is that smokers experience a significant reduction in GERD symptoms as soon as they quit. There are many ways to soothe the symptoms of GERD, but the most effective thing you can do is quit smoking. You will either cure your GERD or experience much less of it, and if the latter, it's very easy to implement a few things to get relief from any remaining symptoms.