Salt and Acid Reflux: Does Salt Trigger Heartburn?

salt may trigger heartburn

Many of us must have heard that eating too much salt can lead to many health issues, including kidney stones, hypertension and stomach cancer (1),(2),(3).

However, ” Consuming salt can potentially lead to heartburn ”  presumably wasn’t one of the health impacts of excessive salt consumption that you have heard.

Is it really possible that eating salt can trigger heartburn in people with acid reflux?

Well, in this article we are going to find out whether or not salt is the culprit in causing acid reflux. Please keep on reading…

Does Salt Trigger Heartburn? The Short Answer…

If you need a short and straight answer, you don’t have to wait until the end! Here it is…

Yes, eating salt may give you heartburn! This is especially true if you consume too much salt. 

Please note that not only table salt but also salty foods such as pizza, pasta sauce or red meat can also trigger heartburn (4),(5).

At that point, it is quite important to emphasise the fact that if you are a healthy person who normally doesn’t experience heartburn, then eating salt wouldn’t make you develop acid reflux disease. Yet, excessive consumption of salt may lead you to other, maybe more serious, health conditions.

 

Why is Salt Consumption Linked to Heartburn?

Above, we have said, “Eating table salt or salty foods may cause heartburn in people with acid reflux”. The question is based on what we have said that?


The first reason is the patient’s self-reports. Some acid reflux sufferers are known to experience heartburn after consuming salty foods.

You might be one of those who often get heartburn after consuming table salt or salty foods. If this is the case, you might be questioning whether eating salt triggers acid reflux symptoms…


The second reason is the studies carried out to discover whether or not salt is an acid reflux trigger. We will be analysing these studies in the rest of the article. However, ahead of time, it needs to be said that the majority of these studies concluded that salt may cause heartburn.

Yet, these studies failed to explain in what way salt triggers heartburn. So, it is necessary to say that more research is needed to understand the exact effect of salt on acid reflux disease…


The third reason is related to the fact that many people suffer from acid reflux in countries where the majority of the population consume too much salt (sodium); Turkey, U.S.A and South America can be given as examples (67), (89), (1011).

However, it can’t alone prove that since they consume more salt than the recommended amount, acid reflux disease is common in these countries or regions.

 

What is Acid Reflux?

Before going deeper to find out why salt or salty foods is associated with acid reflux, it will be useful to explain the disease briefly.

Acid reflux occurs when the Lower Esophageal Sphincter muscle, aka LES, ( located at the bottom of the food pipe ) relaxes at the wrong time (12),(13).

When LES relaxes when it should not, stomach acid rises back up to the oesophagus ( the food pipe ), causing some symptoms, mostly a burning sensation, known as heartburn.

In fact, heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux. For this reason, acid reflux and heartburn are used interchangeably by many people (14),(15).

Everyone can experience acid reflux. However, if the symptoms occur regularly, it may indicate GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or chronic acid reflux).

According to the Cleveland Clinic; having heartburn more than twice a week over a period of several weeks may indicate GERD, namely chronic acid reflux (16).

 

Acid Reflux and Diet

There are many factors and conditions that can cause you to develop acid reflux. It can be an underlying medical condition such as hiatal hernia, or bacteria such as helicobacter pylori, or structural problems in the stomach or in the food pipe (17),(18),(19).

However, in most cases, certain foods and drinks trigger acid reflux or aggravate the condition.

It is important for you to detect the foods and drinks that you think giving you heartburn. In doing so, you can eliminate or at least minimise the consumption of these food items, thus preventing acid reflux from happening constantly.

In short, what you consume (your diet) plays a crucial role in the management of GERD.

The problem is though when it comes to acid reflux each case might be different from the other. That is to say; food triggers can be different for each individual.

For instance, coffee can cause heartburn in some acid reflux sufferers; whereas many people with acid reflux are known to enjoy coffee without getting heartburn (20),(21).

This applies to salt as well. Eating table salt or salty foods may be giving you heartburn. However, it doesn’t mean that, for instance, your friend  – who also has acid reflux – will experience heartburn as well after eating salt.

Bear in mind, even foods that are considered quite healthy such as walnuts, garlic or tomatoes can trigger heartburn let alone salt that is linked to many diseases when consumed excessively.

 

Studies on Acid Reflux and Salt Consumption

It is always crucial to listen to what experts and studies (if there is any) have to say on a particular topic.

Above, we have said “Eating salt may trigger heartburn in some people with acid reflux”. Now, it is time to support this piece of information with scientific studies.

Here are the major studies carried out in different countries to discover the impact of salt consumption on acid reflux.

 

1-) Norwegian Study on Acid Reflux and Salt Consumption

A Norwegian study, carried out in 2004, discovered that those who regularly use extra table salt are 70 per cent more likely to develop acid reflux disease than those who never add salt to their meals.

3153 ( the number of participants who reported severe heartburn ) and 40, 210 ( the number of participants without any acid reflux symptoms).

Researchers evaluated all participants based on their exposure to tobacco smoking, alcohol, coffee, tea, table salt, cereal fibres and physical exercise.

Results showed a positive correlation between tobacco smoking and salt consumption with acid reflux symptoms. Moreover; eating dietary fibres and being physical active appeared to reduce the risk of developing GERD.

 

2-) Dutch Study on Acid Reflux and Salt Consumption

In 2006 Dutch study researchers aimed to find out whether or not high consumption of table salt affects GERD symptoms.

10 healthy male subjects participated in the study. Each was given either 5g sodium chloride or placebo capsules each day for a week. Afterwards, necessary measurements carried out.

Results revealed that there was no difference between those who took sodium chloride and those who took placebo capsules in terms of acid reflux symptoms.

However, researchers also found that high sodium consumption reduced the pressure in the lower esophagal sphincter (LES). Remember that the LES has to stay tight to prevent stomach content from going up. But, the study found that salt may relax the LES muscle by reducing its pressure.

Although reduced LES pressure may not affect healthy individuals in terms of acid reflux, it can cause those who have chronic acid reflux disease to experience heartburn more frequently.

 

3- ) Chinese Study on Acid Reflux and Salt Consumption

In a 2013 study, Chinese researchers aimed to find out whether there was a relationship between nutrients and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

It was an observational study. Newly diagnosed 268 acid reflux patients and 269 healthy subjects were recruited.

To find out the potential impact of diet on acid reflux disease, researchers evaluated the dietary intake of the participants in the previous year by using a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ).

Results revealed that there was a positive correlation between acid reflux disease and the consumption of calcium, meat, oils, and salt.

According to the results; there was a negative relationship between GERD and high intake of protein, carbohydrate, calories from protein (%), vitamin C, grains and potatoes, fruits and eggs.

 

How to Know Whether Salt Gives You Heartburn? 

As mentioned above, when it comes to acid reflux each case can be different. Certain food that triggers your acid reflux symptoms may cause no problem for another acid reflux patient and vice versa. As such, it is important to detect personal food triggers.

If you want to know whether salt triggers heartburn in you, you should keep a food diary. Please also not forget that many foods – although we don’t realise – contain too much sodium.

If you realise that you often experience after eating salt or salty foods, try to minimise your daily intake for a while. If your symptoms get better, you may convert to a low sodium diet to prevent acid reflux. This can also reduce the risk of developing some diseases that happen due to high salt consumption.

 

How Much Salt You Should Consume a Day?

Whether or not salt triggers heartburn or not, salt consumption is essential for our bodies. This is because sodium is essential for many bodily functions from nutrition absorption to transmission of nerve impulses (22).

According to FDA (U.S Food & Drug Administration); adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (23). That is to say, no more than 1 teaspoon of table salt.

Please note that eating too much salt may also worsen gastritis, which is another stomach condition (24),(25).

Conclusion

The studies that we analysed in this article suggested that high consumption of salt may lead to heartburn. However, although the results are positive, many of these studies don’t tell us the mechanism of salt aggravating acid reflux.

That leaves us saying that more research is necessary on the relationship between sodium and acid reflux.

Though, if you often get heartburn after eating salty foods, it is probable that salt trigger heartburn in you.

It is always healthy not to eat too much salt as it can lead to cardiovascular problems let alone heartburn.

Acid reflux, too, can lead to more serious problems if it becomes chronic. Luckily, there are ways to control your reflux symptoms; losing weight, eating healthy, quitting smoking and doing exercise are some of the most effective ones.

Speaking of exercise, don’t forget walking is an ideal exercise for acid reflux sufferers.

However, if you get heartburn for more than 2 days for several weeks you may have developed GERD. In this case, we heavily recommend you talk to a gastroenterologist, who deals with digestive problems, including acid reflux.

Your physician will detect the underlying reason and apply the best treatment accordingly.


 

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