The Link Between Heartburn and Cholesterol

Today, we're going to explain why many people think that high cholesterol and heartburn are related or share some common link.
The Link Between Heartburn and Cholesterol
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 16 December, 2022

We know cholesterol as a group of particles that are responsible for transporting fat through the blood. These particles are necessary for the proper functioning of the body and are produced endogenously in the liver. In addition, cholesterol can be ingested through diet, from foods such as eggs. Now, is there a relationship between heartburn and cholesterol?

Although an elevated cholesterol level was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease for many years, this association has now changed. In fact, lipoproteins are considered a very nonspecific marker, with the blame for heart disease being cast on over-promoted inflammation.

High levels of cholesterol in the body

Heartburn and cholesterol may be related
In order for health professionals to know how high cholesterol levels are, certain blood tests are necessary. These tests measure lipoproteins, among other substances.

Some people have high levels of cholesterol in the body. In general, we can distinguish 3 main types of lipoproteins: HDL, LDL, and VLDL. The truth is that an increase in their levels doesn’t have to mean danger. Rather, in most cases, it has to do with genetic determinations.

So, the body establishes a low cholesterol level that serves to maintain a homeostatic condition (balance) in the internal environment. From here, the dietary intake of this substance will determine the endogenous production, that is, an increase in the presence of cholesterol in the diet will reduce the synthesis at the liver level, and vice versa.

This guarantees that the levels of lipoproteins in the blood remain stable over time. However, it’s true that lifestyle habits can influence them. For example, a high consumption of trans fats can affect the proportion of lipoproteins. Most importantly, it causes inflammation. This is demonstrated by a study published in the journal Progress in Lipid Research.

On the other hand, we must bear in mind that keeping cholesterol levels too high could indeed lead to an increase in the incidence of gallstones, especially in people with a predisposition to them. According to research published in the journal Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, these are usually generated when there are alterations in the profile of the microbiota.

Also, low water consumption and obesity are risk factors for the appearance of stones. Even diabetes could influence their synthesis. For this reason, it’s not only the level of cholesterol in the blood that matters.

What’s the relationship between heartburn and high cholesterol?

Gallstones are only symptomatic in 20% of people who have them. In the remaining 80%, they’re silent for most of the time. However, when symptoms begin to appear, patients experience severe pain, especially after eating a copious meal or a meal with a high fat content.

Some people may mistake the signs of heartburn for gallstones. However, the pathophysiology of the problem is totally different, in addition to the prognosis. It’s important to note that the symptoms of gallstones include the following:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Pain in the back and under the right shoulder
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal distension
  • Intolerance to fatty foods
  • An increase in gas production

There are a number of red flags that should be considered. In the case you suffer from any of the following, you’ll need to see a doctor:

  • Shaking chills
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
  • Clay-colored stools

In these cases, the specialist will recommend liver function tests, as well as an abdominal X-ray. The goal will be to detect the stones and assess the condition of the liver. In any case, pharmacological treatment is usually used to solve the problem and prevent its progression.

In addition, you usually need to consider a dietary treatment. When there are stones or liver involvement, it’s essential that you control the contribution of lipids and proteins in your diet, as well as increase water consumption to relieve the pressure to which these organs are subjected.

What’s the real origin of heartburn?

Acidity and cholesterol and their relationship with helicobacter
Heartburn is often associated with many gastrointestinal problems, especially H. pylori infection. In some cases, the consequences of this condition can be serious.

Although high cholesterol and stone formation can be confused with heartburn, these problems are quite distinct. The latter’s usually characterized by an inefficiency in the function of the sphincter of the esophagus, leading to reflux and discomfort. This is stated by research published in the journal Missouri Medicine.

You can also experience the ailments of this illness due to the existence of a hiatal hernia, or colonization by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. It’s true that in all these cases, you need to carry out an intervention at the dietary level. The same happens in situations in which an excess of cholesterol causes stones at the biliary level.

In both scenarios, you need to try to consume an easily digestible diet, with a moderate fat content. The lipids that are introduced into the regimen must be of the cis type, always avoiding trans fats. The latter produces an increase in inflammation that could worsen symptoms. For this reason, you need to avoid ultra-processed and prepared foods in your diet.

At the same time, it’s essential that you control your protein intake. In the case of heartburn caused by gastritis, increasing your protein intake a little is usually good for restoring damaged tissue. However, this changes when the existing problem is stones. In this case, you’ll first need to evaluate liver function. This is because if there are problems with this organ, in some cases, limit protein intake is necessary.

Can you lower cholesterol through diet?

One of the most notorious debates in the field of nutrition has to do with the effectiveness of the diet when it comes to intervening in cholesterol levels. It’s clear that a change in eating habits protects against the development of many diseases. However, the influence of food on lipoprotein levels still casts many doubts.

To date, studies have been able to show that the consumption of dietary cholesterol doesn’t influence the levels of this element in plasma. For this reason, the restrictions regarding the presence of eggs in the diet have been relaxed. Until a few years ago, experts recommended limiting intake to 3 or 4 units per week.

Likewise, experts have suggested that introducing unsaturated fats in the diet could reduce the levels of lipoproteins in the blood, at least those belonging to the LDL fraction. According to research published in the journal Clinical Cardiology, supplementation with omega-3 series fatty acids can help improve a patient’s lipid profile.

What’s clear is that increasing the presence of vegetables in the diet is key. Beyond one’s specific cholesterol level, the phytonutrients contained in these products reduce inflammatory and oxidative conditions in the body, which protects against the development of many chronic and complex diseases.

How to intervene in order to reduce acidity?

It’s possible to intervene by means of your diet in order to reduce heartburn caused by alterations in the esophagus or situations of gastritis. In this case, there are several treatments that you can begin. The most common of all of them is to consume an easily digestible diet, which increases the speed of gastric emptying.

To achieve this goal, you need to avoid large meals, dividing the total daily calories into several small-volume intakes. In this case, emphasizing the intake of products of plant origin will always be a priority, especially those with high concentrations of water and phytonutrients.

You’ll also need to restrict all foods or substances that may be irritating, such as coffee, cocoa, citrus fruits, spicy foods, etc… However, individual tolerance can be tested, as not all people react the same to these types of foods.

It may be a good idea to consider supplementation with probiotics, especially in cases of reflux. There’s evidence that indicates that creating a change in the profile of the microbiota causes benefits at the gastrointestinal level, reducing the problems associated with digestion. Now, choosing the optimal strain of bacteria you need to consume may not be an easy task.

In these cases, it’s best to visit a specialist. First of all, to evaluate if there’s a situation of dysbiosis that may be negatively affecting the digestive process. You can also choose the best probiotic supplement to correctly treat the problem and achieve advantageous results in the medium and long term.

Heartburn and high cholesterol, two unrelated problems

As you can see, there’s no direct relationship between high cholesterol and heartburn. However, it’s true that maintaining a high level of lipoproteins could increase the risk of developing gallstones, which can generate a series of symptoms that are mistaken for heartburn.

However, to be sure to reduce the risk of developing any of these problems, you need to optimize your diet. If you opt for a healthy menu, with a high content of vegetables and fresh products, the number of gastrointestinal, kidney, and cardiovascular diseases will be considerably reduced.

In addition, it’s always a good idea to exercise regularly. Maintaining good body composition is also considered decisive when it comes to avoiding inflammatory states that can lead to health problems in the medium term. Above all, you have to prioritize muscular strength.

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