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In my experience and according to medical advice I’ve sought in the past, heartburn can be caused by extreme lack of movement. (as an aside, isn’t there a single word that means “tendency to not move or exercise”?)

Why is this the case? What mechanism links the two variables?

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No current literature in my review supports a direct relationship between an 'extreme' lack of movement with heartburn. The single word you are referring to regarding the tendency not to move or exercise is called being 'sedentary.'1

For accuracy purposes, let us define heartburn. Heartburn is more accurately referred to as dyspepsia or indigestion.2 This is the uncomfortable feeling in the upper abdominal region, commonly described as burning or bloating in character.2 In some cases, individuals with heartburn also complain of the burning sensation traveling as far up as their mouth. This is caused by regurgitation of stomach acid, commonly seen in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).3

Although there is known research linking obesity to GERD and increased incidence of indigestion,4 it would be a false (illusory) correlation to link a sedentary lifestyle to obesity which is related to the increased incidence of GERD or indigestion, based on the literature. Instead, other outside factors may be involved including diet habits, which have been found to increase indigestion and GERD,3 as well as a positive link to obesity.

On a theoretical note, one thing that comes to mind in an attempt to address the link you are trying to make between indigestion/GERD is the association between the autonomic nervous system. The nervous system can be categorized in many different ways. One way is through sympathetic and parasympathetic responses (within the autonomic category).5 Consider that at any one point in time, you are either in a sympathetic mode, parasympathetic mode, or within a degree of one. The sympathetic mode is also known as 'fight or flight,' and the parasympathetic mode is also known as 'rest and digest.'5 If you feel threatened, or are playing a sport, you are in sympathetic mode. After you eat, sometimes you may feel tired; this would be an example of being in a parasympathetic mode. If you are sedentary, then you are predominantly in parasympathetic mode, which plays a large role in your digestive system being stimulated. Part of that stimulation would include secretion (or hypersecretion) and production of stomach acid. Excess stomach acid, in the absence of food content, may result in indigestion and/or reflux. Again this is a theoretical link that has not been observed in statistical or published literature that can be directly cited.

References

  1. Sedentary Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster. Accessed April 3, 2023. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sedentary
  2. Definition of INDIGESTION. Published March 29, 2023. Accessed April 3, 2023. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/indigestion
  3. Antunes C, Aleem A, Curtis SA. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2023. Accessed April 3, 2023. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441938/
  4. Hampel H, Abraham NS, El-Serag HB. Meta-analysis: obesity and the risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease and its complications. Ann Intern Med. 2005 Aug 02;143(3):199-211.
  5. McCorry LK. Physiology of the Autonomic Nervous System. Am J Pharm Educ. 2007;71(4):78. Accessed April 3, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1959222/

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