Drink, Chew, Breathe

I have a Barrett’s Oesophagus. This is a condition of the lower end of the oesophagus where repeated overflow of the acid from the stomach gradually irritates the lining of the oesophagus creating a sensitive, inflamed area which over time remodels itself to become more like the lining of the stomach. It is thought this adaptation is an attempt to cope better with the presence of excess acid. The process can continue to extend up the oesophagus and there may be a heightened risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

I see quite a few mates with this or a similar gastric problem such as an ulcer or GORD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease). Various things can cause and/or aggravate the symptoms of pain, belching, heartburn and reflux (a sensation of swallowed food trying to make its way back up again). There are a variety of remedies ranging from over the counter antacid preparations, to prescription medication to neutralise the acid  and finally surgery to repair damage.

Or you can manage it yourself using my Drink, Chew, Breathe program. While this may not completely relieve the need for medication I believe it will help many and hopefully reduce the risk of the Barrett’s changes extending further up the oesophagus.

Drink – lots and lots of water. Water dilutes acid and cold water is for treating burns. One glass every two hours through the day at least. Don’t wait until you are thirsty, get in the habit of sipping repeatedly. Prior to any meal drink a glass of still water, and keep it topped up to sip through the meal. When finished, take another glass.

Chew – food will pass more easily and quickly if it is thoroughly destroyed by your teeth. Chew until there is nothing left to chew. Not only will this ease the demand for stomach acid to break down the food, it will slow your eating. I used to be an express eater, now I strive to finish last. Slowing your eating and more thorough chewing will also reduce gastric filling as the processing and emptying will be faster even if more food is still arriving. Like all habits, it is difficult to change, so here are some hints:

  • put your cutlery down between mouthfuls
  • consciously taste, feel and enjoy your food, focus on it, savour it
  • take a sip of water after every five or so mouthfuls
  • do not pick up your cutlery until your mouth is completely empty
There are also some things to avoid:
  • don’t eat while distracted – office desk, reading, TV, watching sport
  • don’t eat on the run (or walk)
  • avoid drinking carbonated water or other fizzy drinks while eating (and probably always)
Breathe – Whilst eating, be sure to breathe slowly and evenly. This can be done during chewing, and be sure to breathe out just prior to swallowing so you are not gulping air as well. Picking up your cutlery is a good cue to breathe.  Movement of the diaphragm muscle (through which the oesophagus passes) not only moves air in and out of the lungs, but also ‘massages’ the stomach and oesophagus as it relaxes (rises) and tenses (flattens down). During periods of gastric discomfort or reflux symptoms, take a few moments for some deeper, relaxed breathing but only in a standing or upright sitting posture.  This works particularly well if you notice your symptoms are worse during emotional stress reactions. When pressured for time, aggravated by traffic, let down by others (or self) or conflicted by circumstances the settling process of slow, deep breathing may help.

Alongside this program there is the usual process of identifying and reducing those foods or drinks that aggravate your gastric reflux or pain. Spicy, bulky or fizzy intakes are often implicated. For me it is onions, and it doesn’t seem to matter if it is raw salad onion, baked, caramelized or fried onion.

Final thought, and it is not original but still works a treat, is for when you have reflux or pain after a trigger. HONEY – a teaspoon or two of honey is an effective anti-irritant and acid neutraliser. The less processed the honey the better for this effect. It is also an antibiotic and given that stomach ulcers have been shown to be due to a bacterial infection it just might help ongoing management if taken regularly (take care if you are diabetic).


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