Are Probiotics Effective For Acid Reflux?

by Katie Stone, ND June 04, 2020 5 min read

Are Probiotics Effective For Acid Reflux?

If you suffer from a burning feeling in your chest or throat after eating, you may have acid reflux. And you’re not alone.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Digestive Diseases, over 25 million people suffer from reflux symptoms daily.

In fact, the reflux medication Nexium is the second-highest selling drug behind Lipitor.

Unfortunately, the ready availability of over-the-counter antacids means most people self-medicate without trying to solve the cause of their problem, or even seeing a doctor. 

What Is Acid Reflux?

Reflux occurs when the contents of your stomach splash back up into your esophagus.

Your stomach contents are mixed with hydrochloric acid to break down the food you’ve eaten, so this splashing causes an unpleasant, burning sensation in your chest or throat.

If this continues over a long period of time, it can lead to tissue damage or other complications. The condition is then known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is one of the most common digestive disorders in the world.

If untreated, heartburn and GERD can have serious complications, including scarring, constriction, ulceration, and even cancer of the esophagus. (1)

Symptoms of acid reflux/GERD include:

  • Burning or pain in your esophagus, chest and/or throat
  • Regurgitation of food you’ve eaten
  • Belching
  • Frequently need to clear your throat
  • Nausea
  • Bloating and/or gas
  • Upset stomach
  • Feeling full just after you’ve started eating

What Causes Acid Reflux?

Most people believe that their reflux problem is due to too much stomach acid. After all, surely it’s all that acid that’s causing the burning sensation?

But in many cases, the opposite is true.

Consider the fact that the number of people with heartburn increases with age, and studies have shown that stomach acid secretion actually declines with age.

What’s more, when stomach acid is measured in people suffering from acid reflux, it’s more often low than high. Very few people tend to have excess stomach acid. But because Western medicine is designed to treat the symptom, not the cause, sufferers simply reach for their antacids.

Taking antacids for a problem that isn’t caused by excess acid can potentially make low stomach acid worse.

You don’t have to have excess acid in your stomach to have heartburn. Any amount of acid can cause heartburn because the delicate lining of the stomach isn’t protected against it.

Heartburn and GERD are often caused by too little stomach acid, which may be caused by an imbalance in your gut microbiome.

Acid Reflux and Poor Gut Health

Bacterial and yeast imbalances are major risk factors for acid reflux. When your gut contains more bad microorganisms than good, it can affect your levels of stomach acid and leave you more susceptible to opportunistic pathogens and infections.

Research shows that reflux symptoms are often triggered or worsened by gut dysbiosis and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

SIBO occurs when ‘bad’ bacteria move from the large intestine to the small intestine, where they don’t belong. Here, they begin to ferment carbohydrates. 

This fermentation – along with the bacteria itself – often leads to a range of unpleasant symptoms such as gas, poor gastric motility, pressure in the abdomen, and weakness of the lower esophageal sphincter. These physiological effects all contribute to acid reflux. (2)

Why Treat Acid Reflux With Probiotics

Treating acid reflux should begin by treating the cause, not the symptoms.

This means restoring your body’s natural stomach acid production and eliminating bacterial overgrowth. One of the best ways to do this is through probiotics.

Probiotics work to restore the balance of ‘good’ bacteria in your gut, which in turn allows them to crowd out the bad bacteria and maintain normal digestive function. 

When your gut is lacking in healthy bacteria, it takes longer to break down food. This results in undigested food sitting in your gut where it begins to ferment and cause gas. This gas can push stomach acid up into the esophagus, resulting in reflux.

A meta-analysis in the World Journal of Gastroenterology noted that the use of probiotics in addition to standard reflux treatment helped to eradicate H. pylori (3).

H. pylori is a bacterial infection that can change the environment in your gut, allowing harmful bacteria to survive and reducing stomach acidity even further.

Probiotics are thought to help protect the gut against H. pylori by producing antimicrobial substances that prevent it from growing. Probiotics also compete with H. pylori for space to develop further, as well as helping to stabilize the gut mucosal barrier and reducing inflammation.

Probiotics are also valuable in preventing the dysbiosis that tends to accompany PPI medication.

One study noted that although proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) as usually prescribed to treat the symptoms of acid reflux, one of the most common side-effects observed among PPI users is imbalanced gut flora.

Acid suppression with PPIs has been suggested to be a potential factor in the development of SIBO. (3)

Probiotic supplementation has been shown to reduce the incidence of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in patients with reflux and improve their abdominal symptoms.

The researchers also found that the probiotics increased the amount of time between episodes of reflux.

What Types of Probiotics Help My Acid Reflux?

There are hundreds of different species of probiotics, and each strain can have a slightly different effect on the body.  This means it’s important to know the difference between each species and to look for specific species used in treating acid reflux. 

Researchers have only recently discovered more information about the specific probiotic strains best used to treat reflux.

In a review of 14 studies on probiotic treatments for acid reflux, 11 reported positive benefits. Improvements included reduced regurgitation; less reflux or heartburn, fewer upper gastrointestinal symptoms (such as nausea and gas). (4)

The most helpful species of probiotic for acid reflux is Lactobacillus acidophilus.

This probiotic bacteria is well-tolerated, has been shown repeatedly to help with reflux, and has been researched more than any other probiotic species.

When seeking a probiotic supplement, be sure to choose one that contains a high CFU count (colony-forming units) and a variety of strains.

The most effective probiotic supplements are those made with a delivery system which ensures the bacteria are delivered safely to your gut.  

A probiotic supplement that employs patented time-release tablets can deliver around 60% of probiotic bacteria to your gut, while an ordinary vegetable capsule probiotic may deliver only 4%.  

Probiotics Should Be Your First Call

It’s important to determine the root cause of your reflux problem to address this cause. This may involve testing, as well as being aware of the types of foods that trigger your reflux symptoms.

Depending on the nature of your digestive symptoms, probiotics are an important way to help restore normal digestive function and alleviate your acid reflux.

If you are already taking an antacid, it’s a good idea to take a probiotic supplement alongside it to maintain your gut health and reduce the risk of destroying healthy gut bacteria.

Over time, as the probiotics work to rebalance your gut, you may find that you no longer need the antacids or PPI.

Here are a few key benefits of our probiotic:

  • Time-release tablets that deliver 15 times more bacteria past stomach acid, when compared to regular probiotic capsules.
  • Probiotic bacteria are released slowly over 8-10 hours.
  • 12 probiotic strains chosen for their effect on gut health and immunity.
  • 15 billion CFUs of probiotic bacteria.
  • 60 tablets per bottle (enough for 2 months).
  • Free of nuts, dairy, gluten, soy. Non-GMO and vegan. Made in the USA.

You can read more about our time-release probiotic here.

Katie Stone, ND
Katie Stone, ND



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