By Patricia Raymond, Michelle Beaver

Quitting smoking is something every doctor recommends. Doctors make those recommendations for overall health purposes, but does quitting smoking impact something as specific as acid reflux? The answer is yes! In fact, it isn’t just the act of smoking that has a link to reflux, but tobacco itself.

Any form of tobacco — from cigarettes to cigars, pipes, chew, or snuff — can trigger acid reflux. So, cutting back (and hopefully quitting tobacco completely) can not only reduce the intensity of your symptoms, but also potentially eliminate reflux from your life altogether.

What exactly is it about smoking and tobacco that can cause acid reflux and increase its severity?

  • Increased acid production: Nicotine has been shown to increase stomach acid production. More stomach acid means a higher chance that some of that acid may be pushed out of the stomach and into the esophagus.

  • Reduced pressure of the LES: Again, nicotine is the primary culprit, because it reduces pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When the LES is too lax, it allows stomach acid to creep up into your throat. No bueno.

  • Irritated esophagus: Tobacco smoke has been shown to irritate and inflame the esophageal lining, causing and intensifying that all-too-familiar burning sensation.

  • Reduced saliva production: Saliva is actually good for reducing acid reflux: The more saliva, the less acid reflux. Saliva contains an acid neutralizer called bicarbonate, which can help minimize damage to your esophagus. Tobacco slows saliva production, which takes away some of your protection.

Most research examining tobacco’s impact on acid reflux has revolved around smoking, but nicotine, which is present in all forms of tobacco, can also increase reflux and amplify its symptoms. Unfortunately, this means that switching to a nicotine patch or gum won’t necessarily reduce your reflux symptoms.

This move will, however, stop the damage that smoke does to your esophagus and decrease your risk for lung disease, heart disease, and cancer. So, don’t hesitate to switch over to patches or gum, especially if it’s the first step on your journey to quitting tobacco all together.

Tobacco may also increase the amount of damage acid reflux does to your esophagus. Not only are you more likely to suffer long-term effects, such as chronic inflammation or even esophageal cancer, but your body will take longer to heal than it would take somebody who doesn’t smoke.

Even a slight reduction in the amount you smoke can have a positive impact on your reflux symptoms. More exciting is that you could begin to notice a difference just a few days after cutting back or stopping.

It’s important to note that quitting smoking is not guaranteed to eliminate reflux. Some physicians maintain that smoking only has a moderate impact. But even if quitting smoking doesn’t totally cure your acid reflux, there are enough medical benefits to make this change worth the effort.