If your heartburn is worse, estrogen could be to blame

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?

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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
  • Asthma
  • Sore throat
  • Dental erosion
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Bloody stools
  • Laryngitis
  • 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.

Taking estrogen isn’t the only problem

Hormone replacement treatments offer great benefit as well as great risk. The same is true of a class of drugs known as selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs.

SERMs are used to treat breast cancer. They block estrogen receptors in breast tissue, so cancerous cells don’t receive the signal to reproduce.

As the name implies, though, they are selective. This means that a SERM that block’s estrogen’s action in breast cancer cells may actually increase estrogen in other organs.

When this happens in the stomach, that estrogen increases the likelihood of GERD just as much as the estrogen you’re taking with HRT.

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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…

Some PPIs are capable increasing stroke risk by as much as 94 percent

They can also set you up for increased risk of heart attack and ruin your kidneys.

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
  • Smoking
  • Eating before bed
  • Not eating enough fiber
  • Stress

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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Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.