As of now, gastroesophageal reflux disease or acid reflux is thought to occur due to the damage done to the esophagus by gastric acids that move upwards from the stomach. However, the latest research conducted done at the Utah Southwestern Medical Center shows that this may not be the case.
The study points to the fact that cytokines, which are immune system cells that cause inflammation, may be playing a big role in damaging the esophagus and resulting in heartburn.
Dr. Rhonda Souza, who lead the research, has said that these findings may change the way conventional acid reflux treatment is done. At present, acid reflux patients are given drugs that prevent the production of gastric acids in the stomach. However, if acid reflux is an immune-mediated injury as these studies show, then it will be better to create drugs that prevent cytokines from attracting inflammatory cells to the esophagus.
Is acid reflux really the result of an acid burn?
In the research published in the December 2009 issue of Gastroenterology, scientists studied acid reflux in rats. The condition of acid reflux was operatively created in the rats by connecting the duodenum to the esophagus to allow gastric acids to permissively enter the esophagus. However, researchers found that contrary to the expectations, inflammation of the esophagus did not occur immediately.
Dr. Rhonda Souza stated that the findings contradicted what was popularly believed – that acid reflux is result of acid burn, for if this was the case, then heartburn should have immediately started in rats, as gastric acids were freely entering their esophagus.
Even after three days of the operation, there were no clear signs of damage done to the esophagus’s surface cells. Only after a closer inspection were scientists able to notice inflammatory cells appearing in the deeper layers of the esophagus. The damage to the esophagus’s surface began only after three weeks of the operation – the time taken by inflammatory cells to rise to the esophagus’s surface layer.
It was concluded that the acid itself does not lead to tissue damage associated with acid reflux, but that instead, the damage is caused by the inflammatory reaction in the esophagus that the gastric acid triggers.
This research also supports the popular belief – stress leads to acid reflux. Previous studies done on how stress affects our body have shown that continuous stress weakens the immune system, thereby increasing the chances of developing various diseases.
If you have acid reflux, you may want to check out our natural Acid Reflux Guide
by Scott Davis