Acid reflux is a common health issue. Drinking antacids out of the bottle isn’t an entirely unusual sight. This can indeed give temporary relief but doesn’t always solve the cause of this problem. Probiotics seem to be becoming a popular approach in the fight against acid reflux and GERD.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux or also referred to as heartburn, dyspepsia, indigestion, or pyrosis is an ailment that affects millions of Americans. This condition occurs when stomach acid travels up to the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach.
Acid reflux symptoms include:
- A burning sensation in the chest after eating
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
- Chronic cough
- Bad breath
- Hoarse voice
Acid reflux is often treated with things like antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPI), but, as we’ll see later in this article, probiotics may also provide some relief.
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disorder that affects approximately 20-30% of people living in North America and occurs when acid from the stomach flows back into the esophagus. The symptoms of GERD are similar to acid reflux, but acid reflux is not a chronic disease. If GERD is left untreated, serious health complications can arise. GERD can cause reflux esophagitis, esophageal strictures, Barrett’s esophagus, and a heightened risk for adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. It is possible to treat GERD if acid is suppressed for 2 to 8 weeks.
Symptoms of GERD include:
- Heartburn with or without regurgitation
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- The sensation of a lump in the throat
- Sore throat
- Irritation of the respiratory tract
For those with GERD, it is recommended to avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) because these medications interfere with the mucosal protection mechanism. Slow gastric emptying may also cause GERD due to increased gastric pressure in the stomach. Certain medications have also been shown to cause GERD due to reducing LES pressure and delay in gastric emptying as well as causing inflammation.
How Does Probiotics Help with Acid Reflux and GERD?
The benefits of using probiotic strains for reflux are strongly supported by recent research. In fact, in one of the most comprehensive research studies to date, the use of probiotics was highly effective in treating gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This 2020 systematic review found that nearly 80% of patients experienced relief when using probiotics for acid reflux.
Probiotic supplementation successfully alleviated their symptoms of GERD, including:
- Excessive burping
Adults are not the only population who appear to benefit from probiotics for acid reflux, as infants with reflux symptoms showed a significant reduction in their episodes after taking a probiotic, Lactobacillus reuteri, for three months.
What Type of Probiotics Helps in Acid Reflux and GERD?
The best probiotics for acid reflux will vary because different probiotic strains are suited to different people depending on the underlying cause. For example, specific strains are particularly helpful for dysbiosis, whereas some are more suited for pregnancy, and some are best for H. pylori. If this is the cause for you then jump to the next section to find out the best probiotics for H. pylori.
Firstly, for those who have acid reflux or gastritis due to dysbiosis from antibiotic use or a poor diet, taking a probiotic supplement may be beneficial. Supplementation with Lactobacillus acidophilus may be considered to help restore the health of the gut microbiome following antibiotic therapy and in general to replenish the gut with beneficial bacteria which will help to address the microbial imbalance in dysbiosis.
The probiotic strain Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 has been shown in human clinical trials to reduce GI symptoms such as regurgitation, nausea, and vomiting whilst improving gut microbial composition. Symptoms such as these are common alongside acid reflux and gastritis, meaning that this strain could be of interest to many sufferers, to support the overall health of the GI tract.
Probiotics may be taken alongside an antacid and won’t affect how this works. However, it is important to try to ascertain the root cause of the problem and then use a combination of approaches to address this cause. This may involve testing, being aware of your triggers in your food and drink choices, dealing with your stress levels, and finding out what your stomach acid levels are. A multi-pronged approach is likely to be best and may indeed benefit from including a probiotic for acid reflux or gastritis.