What You Should Know about Acid Reflux, Esophagus, and LES

At some time in your life, you will experience acid reflux or stomach problems. Acid reflux occurs when some of the highly acidic stomach content flows back into the esophagus. By understanding the workings of the esophagus and its control valve, the LES, you can make better decisions on how to deal with any stomach disturbances or with acid reflux.

The esophagus is a muscular channel or tube that runs from the back of the throat to the upper part of your stomach. This channel surface is covered with smooth delicate cells called “epithelial cells” The muscles along the esophagus start contracting as food enters the esophagus and propels the food downward toward your stomach. These contractions are called peristalsis. It takes about 5 – 10 seconds for food that you swallow to travel through the esophagus and reach your stomach.

At the end of the esophagus is a closed valve call “Lower Esophageal Sphincter” or LES. This valve or LES relaxes when food reaches it and opens to let food into your stomach. Once food passes through, it closes tightly so that food cannot travel back up or reflux. It is important for this valve to open and close only to let food flow in one direction, into the stomach.

When you have acid reflux, food and acid from the stomach flows back up into the esophagus causing a burning sensation. When acid reflux or heartburn occurs a few times, this is not a serious issue. But, when it occurs over a long period, then it is possible that an esophageal ulcer or cancer can develop.

The closing pressure of the LES value at its resting point is about 20 mm of mercury. When you eat food a signal is sent to the LES valve to open and allow food swallowed to pass into the stomach. As the stomach contracts to process new food, the LES closes to protect the esophagus from harsh stomach acids.

Every once in a while the LES valve might have a decrease closing pressure. The LES valve relaxes beyond normal and the pressure from the stomach gases are enough to open it. When this happens, food and stomach acid can reflux back into the esophagus. This abnormal momentary decrease in LES pressure is called “Transicent LES Relaxations or TLESRs. The amount of times TLESRs happen varies from person to person and researchers are not sure why this happens. Those people who have more frequent TLESRs are more susceptible to acid reflux or heartburn.

It seems to me that these TLESRs can be an interruption or weakening of your defense mechanism or immune system. It is these systems that are responsible for protecting you from disruptions in your body functions. But when physical or emotional forces place a load on your defense and immune systems, not enough energy is available to keep valves shut or valves open as required for normal body functioning.

The simple opening and closing of the LES value is required for good health. Eating excess food or mixing many foods at one meal can increase the pressure in the stomach forcing the LES to open. Your TLESRs times are affected by your eating habits and by your immune system strength. Learn how to eat properly and learn what foods keep your LES valve strong and healthy. These two topics will be covered in additional articles.