If you've felt the familiar, irritating ache of acid reflux, you've also likely dug around to find out what might be causing it. There are common culprits for sure, but could your hormones be one of them? Progesterone, acid reflux and menstrual cycles can go together, for starters.
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Progesterone Can Prompt Reflux
There actually is a connection between progesterone and acid reflux, but first, some basics: Progesterone is a hormone that rises in the body during pregnancy and during the second half of the menstrual cycle, closer to when your period starts, according to the Endocrine Society.
Progesterone allows the lining of the uterus to thicken, says Jason R. Rubinov, MD, medical director of the Gastroenterology Center of New York and a clinical instructor of medicine with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. This helps the body get ready for a fertilized egg. If that doesn't happen, progesterone levels go down, and a menstrual period begins.
Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux, is what happens when what's in your stomach doesn't flow through your system the way it should, but heads back up into your throat through your esophagus, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). If that sounds like it could be painful, that's because it can: It can cause heartburn, plus a bitter, uncomfortable taste in your mouth.
Progesterone can also relax the lower esophageal sphincter, which is the muscle between the esophagus and stomach that helps the food and acid in your stomach stay where it belongs. If it's not functioning right, it can lead to acid reflux, Dr. Rubinov says.
This means that progesterone can indeed bring on or worsen reflux, including around the time you get your period. It's also why acid reflux is a common issue during pregnancy.
Acid Reflux and Other Hormones
As it turns out, estrogen, another hormone, can also play a role in acid reflux because it can also decrease the tone of the lower esophageal sphincter, according to the Endocrine Society. That decrease in muscle tone can promote acid reflux, Dr. Rubinov says. This is why acid reflux sometimes occurs with hormone therapy, which is used by some people around menopause, or with a group of medicines called selective estrogen receptor modulators, he says.
People who are postmenopausal don't typically have a hormone-related increase in acid reflux, unless they're using hormone therapy, Dr. Rubinov says. "At menopause, progesterone levels fall, which means that their effects on the lower esophageal sphincter decline as well."
Acid Reflux and Other Factors
Of course, there are other factors besides hormones that can contribute to acid reflux too, according to the NLM, such as health conditions and certain foods and drinks.
A weight increase may also lead to acid reflux because it can up the pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter, making it less likely to stay closed when it should, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
And while some medications might cause acid reflux, hypothyroidism medications don't appear to, even though acid reflux seems to be more common in people with the condition, Dr. Rubinov says.
3 Steps to Manage Acid Reflux
If you find that you get acid reflux more frequently around your period or other times, here are a few tips from Harvard to help manage and prevent it:
- Avoid foods that trigger acid reflux. These may include garlic, onions, fatty foods and spicy foods, as well as chocolate, coffee and alcohol.
- Don't snooze after eating. Lying down too soon after you eat could cause acid from your stomach to go the wrong way. Try to finish eating three hours before you sleep, and avoid post-meal naps, as tempting as they may be.
- Ask your doctor if any medications you're taking could contribute to acid reflux. Postmenopausal estrogen, bisphosphonates taken to raise bone density and anti-inflammatory pain relievers are among some culprits that can irritate your esophagus and contribute to acid reflux.
Read more: The 9 Best Natural Remedies for Heartburn
- Endocrine Society: “Progesterone and Progestins”
- Jason R. Rubinov, MD, medical director, Gastroenterology Center of New York; clinical instructor of medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and GERD: What’s the Difference?”
- Endocrine Society: “What Is Estrogen?”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Heartburn”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “9 Ways to Relieve Acid Reflux Without Medication”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.