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Acid Reflux - It's All about the Chemistry

I cannot help being astonished with the fact that any process in the human organism as well as the majority of human diseases can be explained with the help of chemistry. Look at such men’s nightmares as baldness and impotence, for example. The first condition is explained with the excess of chemical substance, known as Dihydrotestosterone in the scalp skin, and the second one - with the lack of nitric oxide in the penis. Isn't it chemistry?

Acid reflux is another example of similarity between human body and chemical laboratory. But in this case it is also mechanics that contributes to the development of the disease, known as acid reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (or simply GERD to prevent your tongue from breaking).

It is a true fact that practically everyone knows about heartburn. Moreover, the majority of people know about this sensation of burning pain in the center of the chest not from medical books or articles, but from their own experience.

In fact, acid reflux is nothing but a heartburn, which became chronic in some people. Doctors qualify the condition as a disease, if a person feels heartburn more than two or three days per week.

First thing to remember is that acid reflux as well as heartburn has nothing to do with a heart. These conditions are explained by the malfunction in the human digestive system and concern esophagus, lower esophageal sphincter and stomach. Now let us translate it. Esophagus is a tube, going from mouth into stomach. So every time a person eats or drinks, the food travels down to stomach via esophagus. Being in this tube, the food is not digested, it is only transported into the stomach.

Stomach is the place, where certain acids and ferments digest or break down all the food into simple compounds, so that a human body could use them as the fuel.

Lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is actually a valve or a door between esophagus and stomach. Its general task lies in letting food from esophagus into the stomach, but not letting acid from stomach into the esophagus.

The problem, known as heartburn, starts when this valve (LES) does not close tightly after the food has entered the stomach or it opens too often when there is no food in the esophagus. In such situation, the stomach acid flows back or refluxes into esophagus.

While the esophagus does not have a protective lining in it (unlike stomach), acid starts to irritate it, causing burning pain. That is called heartburn. When such malfunctions occur regularly, it is called acid reflux or GERD.

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Following the tradition to represent chemical reactions with the help of mathematical equation, the results may look as follows:

(Sphincter malfunction) + (Stomach acid) = Heartburn

(Heartburn) x (2 days a week) = Acid Reflux = GERD

Here is one more interesting fact to end the story about acid reflux. Did you know that the human organism has an internal protective system against heartburn? It is an ordinary swallowing of saliva. The point is that saliva is inherently an alkaline substance; therefore it can neutralize the acid in the esophagus.

Of course, to be fully objective, this system's efficiency can not be compared with the efficiency of special medications in managing heartburn symptoms. But after all, isn't it really all about the chemistry, when even simple saliva swallowing is nothing but a neutralizing reaction between acid and alkali?

Nick


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