Acid reflux happens for a variety of reasons. The first thing you want to do if you suffer it is to rule out the most common causes. The most common causes of acid reflux are well known in the medical community, but not discussed much by everyday people. Dairy intolerances can cause milk, cheeses, and yoghurts to curdle in our stomachs, leading to reflux. This is especially a danger if we have eaten fruit in close proximity to dairy. Alcohol and coffee can both increase the pH of our stomachs so much that we can find their contents not emptying properly. Chili irritates the stomach lining of sensitive people, causing the stomach to attempt to purge. And finally, the most common cause of reflux is simply overeating. Too much food in one go will cause reflux.
But let’s say you eat dairy-free, drink no alcohol or coffee, don’t eat spicy foods, eat moderately, and still suffer reflux. The reflux happens every time you eat, or completely at random, regardless of what foods you have or have not had. Then what? This might be the time to consider eating a low carb, high fat diet.
When we eat too many carbs our stomach pH is altered. Most carbs other than pure sugar are partially or completely indigestible at the stomach level. Any high volume of carbs can sit in our stomachs, increasing their pH, decreasing digestion. This can cause us to become overfull too early, creating reflux even in people who eat moderately. Although simple sugars can be digested fast, they come with their own problems. As simple sugars increase our blood glucose suddenly, when we eat too many of them, we can become hyperglycemic. This results in insulin spikes, normally, and fat retention, followed by the sudden return of hunger. But when our insulin cannot keep pace with the amount of sugar we have eaten, sometimes our bodies will try and evacuate it before even absorbing it. This causes reflux or even vomiting, and is where the idea of “sickly sweet” comes from.
Furthermore, fats actually shrink in our stomachs very quickly. Contrary to popular belief, fats and proteins do not lie in our digestive tract rotting. In fact, our stomach acids are perfectly designed to dissolve all fats and proteins, which our stomach linings are perfectly designed to absorb. This means that eating fats and proteins slows our gut transit, because there just isn’t anything left by the time the meal reaches the halfway point of our small intestines. This is why if we eat only meat, defecation can stop entirely. We’re not digesting it badly: we’re digesting it too well.
When we eat a very fatty meal, full of healthy, natural, whole fats, our bodies digest and dissolve these fats very fast, taking them as fuel as quickly as possible. This means our stomach Ph stays up, and our stomach empties fast. This reduces the chances of our body deciding to evacuate our stomach contents. This means that when we eat meals rich in fats and proteins, we can eat a smaller amount, for more calories, and put less overall pressure on our stomachs. That said, this is not a free license to eat as much fat as you like. Over a certain threshold, we can’t digest any more fats. Then the fat is secreted through our stools. If at any point you experience foul-smelling, oily stools, know that you are eating too much fat. Increase your fiber intake and reduce your fat intake until your stools return to normal.
That said, as one final note, a low carb, high fat diet will not fix every case of unexplained acid reflux. Sometimes acid reflux is due to poor digestion of proteins or fats, usually caused by an ineffective pancreas or gallbladder. Whether you know that you have a pre-existing problem with your pancreas or gallbladder or you’ve never even considered it, this is the time to act. Swap from a low carb, high fat diet to a high protein, low fat diet. If this does not fix it, try a high carb, low fat diet. Always trust your body to tell you what it needs and, when in doubt, consult with a doctor.