When I was younger, I never fully understood what reflux , meant. I did know, one thing, and that was that my father would often regurgitate his food. When he did, my sisters and I would always scrunch our lips and noses in disgust . His behavior, sadly, became quite normal in my household. I knew that he drank alcohol, ate bad food, chewed way too much Big Red gum, and smoked. It never phased me that it could ever become something dangerous. I also never suspected that it would be a condition I might face in the future.
In the early 90's my parent's went away on a trip to Mexico. As a typical teen, I never really paid much attention to what my parent's did. I mean, they were adults. Even if I had an opinion about their health, why would they take my concerns seriously? The majority of my time was spent thinking about boys, music, school, and friends. But.... when my parent's got back from vacation, I knew something was very wrong. My father, who was always strong and full of life, seemed gaunt. After my mother insisted that my dad go to the hospital, he found out that he had gallbladder cancer. My dad admitted to my family, later , that he had been suffering for some time, and passed it off as gallstones. My dad always viewed life as a place to have fun and be social. He always placed his friends' needs before his own.
Learning of his diagnosis, I thought it would be an easy fix. The doctors will take out my dad's gallbladder, which I was told he could live without, and be done. Good ole dad back in working order. Well.. not so much. My mom had a hard conversation with my siblings and I one day. She told us that the cancer in my father's gallbladder went through his bile duct and into his stomach. He was now confirmed with stage 4 stomach cancer, which was deemed incurable. Before his death, nine months later, I thought of all the joy and light he brought into the world, but also all of his years of addiction and poor choices.
I felt guilty for blaming him and thinking of how he might have contributed to ending his life so prematurely, at 46. Yet, was I a teen making all of the best decisions myself? I never figured that acid reflux would ever be in my vocabulary. I ate very healthy, exercised, and stopped smoking years before I entered perimenopause. Reflux, is for 'those' people, like my dad, that abuse their throat and stomach.
One day, I visited my ENT for a cold. He suggested using a scope to look inside my sinuses. After reversing the unpleasant, plastic noodle out of my nose and throat he stated, "You're all good, but I did see some signs of reflux." Reflux! What! Me? How could this be? It occurred to me, at that very moment, that not only was I capable of aging, but that reflux affects midlife women, too.
What I learned is that women are 3% more likely to develop reflux and GERD, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (chronic reflux), in perimenopause. Entering midlife there had been signs and yet, I ignored them too! A few times at dinner, I would get the sensation that something was stuck in my throat. Other times, after eating Mexican food at my favorite restaurant, I would notice heartburn. One time I belched so often, I thought I could win a world record! It never occurred to me that my fluctuating hormones could be influencing these symptoms. After all, didn't perimenopause mean hot flashes and brain fog? Both high or low hormone levels can cause indigestion, chest or stomach pain, flatulence, or acid reflux. If the sphincter ( ring of muscle connecting the esophagus to the stomach )weakens or relaxes too much, acid can back flow up to the throat. This can lead to erosion, inflammation, ulcers, Barretts esophagus ( precancerous), or esophageal cancer. Some research hypothesizes that because women have slower emptying time, that acid may stay in our stomachs longer.
Determined to get rid of this horrid condition, for fear of ending up like my dad, I followed a few of these natural treatments to help me overcome this disease. Some, I was already doing. They are listed below...
Sit up tall while eating and never slouch.
Chew all of your food slowly and throughly.
Cut out or limit any alcohol ( including wine). Sorry ladies!
Trade spicy, fried, and processed food for lightly seasoned fresh food and lemon water.
Stop smoking or vaping ,if you do so.
Stop eating 2-3 hours before bedtime. (Not always easy, but super helpful)
It may not always be easy or preventable to avoid acid reflux or GERD, but there are ways to naturally manage it. I was super happy to find out on a follow-up ENT visit, that the simple changes I had made, were effective. If you or a loved one is struggling with reflux in midlife, contact your doctor immediately. Our mouth and stomach are connected and any problem in one area can cause issues in another. Should you need support coping with symptoms of reflux or wish to set goals to combat hormone imbalance issues contact me for a free consultation at www.dinacallahancoaching.com.
Stay healthy and happy!
Durwald, E. May 14, 2020. "Can acid reflux be a symptom of menopause", A.Vogel. August 21, 2022. < https:// www.avogel.co.uk/health/menopause/videos/can-acid-reflux-be-a-symptom-of-menopause/.