In our inaugural post, our co-founder, Lucas, talked about his struggles with acid reflux, and how his digestive issues were catalyzed by an untreated affliction – his bulimia. Being a young man, he hadn’t ever thought of bulimia as something people of his gender struggle with. Fearing stigma and judgment from his peers, he kept his issues hidden from the world, but he developed GERD, partly due to the damage caused by years of vomiting.
Here at Wonderbelly, our mission is to help build a world where no one has to go through what Lucas went through. Because the truth is, we all have issues with the state of our mental health from time to time – and the physical symptoms that come with them. The connection between Bulimia and acid reflux is only one example of how the mind and body are linked. The truth is, we’re only beginning to talk openly as a society about the relationship between physical and mental health (and about mental health more generally), and scientists, psychologists and physicians still have work to do to fully connect the dots.
Let’s start with a major culprit that plays an almost universal role in a number of our collective health issues – stress. As we talked about in our piece about heartburn, scientists are beginning to prove the correlation between stress and the production of excess stomach acid, which contributes to acid reflux. With the multi-headed hydra of the pandemic, inflation, and our 24/7 work culture, social media, Ukraine, etc., the prevalence of acid-reflux related gut problems is on the rise. The American College of Gastroenterology says that over 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month – and nearly 15 million on a daily basis. GERD, which is a more chronic form of acid reflux, now affects an estimated 20-30% of the population of Western countries.1
Why are some of the wealthiest countries on earth experiencing so much gut trouble? Our cultural addiction to stress and workaholism certainly appears to be a factor, but another issue is what we’re putting into our bodies: alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, high salt intake, fried and spicy foods and large meals – all of these things exacerbate acid reflux.2Another contributing factor for heartburn and GERD are certain medications, which can irritate the esophagus or LES (lower esophageal sphincter) – such as painkillers, sedatives, and antidepressants.3 Having a higher body weight and lower levels of exercise are other risk factors of heartburn.4 Ironically, certain high-intensity workouts can also trigger acid reflux, but we’ll talk about how to exercise with acid reflux in a future post.
There seems to be a vicious cycle, because the stress of modern life worsens heartburn…and the things we consume to with stress also worsen heartburn. It starts to beg the question: which came first, the spicy fried chicken or the huevos rancheros? The answer seems to be that it’s a two-way street: from the reasons why we put things into our bodies to how we’re affected by what we eat, drink, medicate and self-medicate with. You should trust your doctor and their desire to help you, but a physician’s primary job is to treat your existing health problems and symptoms – they have little control over your diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices, which often created the problems in the first place. (Psychiatrists are a notable exception because it’s their job to treat your mental problems, but even they can’t make you eat your vegetables.) Being from a family of wonderful medical doctors myself, I can tell you how much of their work ends up being a therapist and listening ear… a similar refrain I hear from my friends that are hairstylists and bartenders.
Help us continue that conversation by joining our Guts & Butts community. You’re not alone, and hearing and sharing our stories can help make the world a little happier and healthier… from the inside out. Let’s kick some acid – and smash some outdated stigmas together, while we’re at it.