Can Microbes Help with Heartburn?

Microbes, a community of microscopic organisms that abound everywhere on Earth, can help with a number of serious health problems including heartburn

What is Heartburn?

While occasional heartburn can happen to anyone at least 20% of the population, especially those in the Western hemisphere, suffer from severe heartburn on a regular basis. 

A painful burning sensation around the chest or throat area, heartburn happens when gastric acid travels up the esophagus, the tract that connects the throat to the stomach.

Frequent heartburn (technically known as "pyrosis," also commonly known as "acid reflux") can occur at any stage in life and be linked to Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). This is when a muscle at the end of the esophagus doesn't close properly. 

What Causes Heartburn?

The causes of heartburn are complex.

Certain hormonal changes, such as those that take place during pregnancy or as the body ages, have been linked to heartburn.

Weight gain and smoking can also lead to reduced esophageal sphincter pressure, which enables acid from the stomach to travel more easily into the esophagus. 

Some sufferers find certain foods may trigger heartburn too. While the link between food and heartburn has yet to be extensively clinically evaluated, some find reducing their intake of acid-forming foods can help alleviate symptoms.

Common acid-forming foods include: salt, chocolate, spicy foods, carbonated drinks, caffeine (apart from Cultured Coffee!) and alcohol. 

Is It Heartburn?

The symptoms of heartburn can be confused with gastritis, which is when the lining of the stomach and peripheral systems become inflamed. A serious condition in itself, gastritis can be linked to similar health factors as heartburn but also microbial imbalances of helicobacter pylori.

These microbes are naturally resident in the walls of the stomach lining in about two thirds of the population. If the mucus and walls of the digestive system become weakened or damaged (through poor diet, stress or other health factors) helicobacter pylori can take hold and trigger inflammation in the body tissue. This inflammation, combined with extra irritation during digestion, may lead to severe heartburn-like symptoms.   

Treating Heartburn

There are a number of ways to treat heartburn. Some opt for a tailored diet that reduces acid intake or take medication that neutralizes stomach acid.

Since heartburn can also be linked to reduced sphincter pressure, avoiding eating shortly before bedtime can help prevent acid from the digestion process leaking upwards when we lay down. 

How Microbes Help with Heartburn?

While an imbalance of natural microbes, as in the case of gastritis, may cause heartburn-like symptoms, they can also play very helpful role in healing our digestive symptoms and making food less likely to trigger heartburn in the first place. 

Healing The Digestive System

Ingesting a range of natural microbes can help fortify our body's natural defenses including the lining of the digestive tract, which reduces the symptoms of heartburn and gastritis.

Foods that have been fermented by microbes using anaerobic fermentation, which produces lactic acid as a bi-product, are especially useful in this context. Not only do the microbes help restore a healthy microbial balance but lactic acid helps to control the overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria.  

By eating these kinds of food as part of a balanced, healthy diet, we introduce billions of beneficial microbes into the gut and stomach. These microbes are then capable of managing the overgrowth of harmful microbes like helicobacter, thereby reducing inflammation.  

Making Food Easier to Digest

By reducing the level of stomach irritants in food and drink, microbes can play a useful role in managing heartburn

eatCultured, for example, produces the world's first whole bean coffee using natural microbes to alter plant acids (natural biochemical compounds) in coffee beans that can trigger stomach irritation for many coffee drinkers. By fermenting green coffee beans before roasting, microbes convert acids in the beans into a form that's easier to digest, which results in less stomach irritation.

Similarly microbes can reduce levels of common irritants in a range of food through fermentation as well as increasing its nutritional value (including protein content). 


To learn more about our work with natural microbes to craft healthier foods for you and the planet, head to our blog.
To sample heartburn-friendly Cultured Coffee, check out our store for more!  


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