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If you’re a post-menopausal woman, you may be taking hormones to help slow bone loss and prevent osteoporosis.
Fragile bones increase your chance of fractures and the complications that go with them. Hormone replacement therapy is one way women can choose to reverse this process.
But did you know that one hormone in particular is putting you at risk for another condition that has nothing to do with your bones, but carries its own set of health risks and long-term consequences?
Not just “heartburn”
Having heartburn after a meal is not uncommon…
But gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD for short) — also known as acid reflux — is more than just an annoying case of heartburn following a dinner full of rich foods.
It’s a chronic condition that can have serious, long-term health consequences.
GERD occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus on a regular basis.
This happens because a ring of muscle at the base of the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter, does not close properly, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus.
If you have GERD, you may experience:
- Bad breath
- Sore throat
- Dental erosion
- Trouble swallowing
- Bloody stools
- Hiccups and coughing
- Bitter taste
Left untreated, GERD can lead to:
- Esophageal ulcers – bleeding sores that can become infected
- Esophageal stricture – narrowing of the esophagus that makes swallowing difficult
- Barrett’s esophagus – a pre-cancerous condition
- Esophageal cancer
Hormone replacement and GERD
The list of medications associated with GERD includes antihistamines, asthma medications and sedatives.
But over the last decade, research has established another definite connection: hormone replacement, especially estrogen, is directly related to developing gastrointestinal reflux disease.
In one study, women who were taking estrogen-only hormones had a 66 percent higher risk of developing GERD, and those taking a combination of estrogen and progesterone raised their risk by 41 percent.
What’s the connection?
Estrogen increases levels of nitric oxide in the blood. Nitric oxide causes muscles to relax and is, in fact, great for arterial health because it promotes better blood pressure.
But when the lower esophageal sphincter muscle relaxes, stomach acid is free to enter the esophagus more easily.
How to prevent GERD while on estrogen
If you are on hormone replacement therapy, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk of developing gastrointestinal reflux disease or to ease symptoms if you do have GERD.
Some people follow doctor’s advice and try acid reflux prescription medicines known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs. But there’s a problem with this route…
Fortunately, there are other options…
Combine your hormones. If possible, combine estrogen with progesterone. This lowers the risk of GERD.
Coat the throat. Each time stomach acid passes through the esophagus, it damages it. You can slow this damage by coating your throat with smooth, slippery substances. Some good choices are:
- Licorice in the form of licorice root tea or deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), a chewable supplement
- Aloe vera in the form of juice, gel, powder, softgels or capsules
- Slippery elm in the form of tea, capsule, lozenge or powder
- Marshmallow root in the form of tea or capsule
- Throat coat tea that contains licorice, slippery elm, and marshmallow root
Other factors that contribute to GERD, that you can change, include:
- Being overweight and overeating
- Eating before bed
- Not eating enough fiber
These are within your control, so do what you can to manage your health in order to lower your chances of developing GERD.
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- What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)? — HowToTreatHeartburn.com
- The effect of estrogen replacement therapy on plasma nitric oxide and endothelin-1 levels in postmenopausal women — Annals of Internal Medicine
- Symptoms & Causes of GER & GERD — The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
- Hormone replacement therapy is associated with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a retrospective cohort study — BMC Gastroenterology
- Hormone replacement therapy and incidence of hormone-dependent cancers in the Norwegian Women and Cancer study — International Journal of Cancer
- Obesity and Estrogen as Risk Factors for Gastroesophageal Reflux Symptoms — JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association
- Postmenopausal hormone use and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux — Archives of Internal Medicine
- HRT Use Raises Risk of Stomach Trouble — Washington Post
- Postmenopausal Hormone Use and Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux — JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association
- Selective estrogen receptor modulators — Drugs.com
- Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs) — Breastcancer.org