Sex Hormones Not to Blame for Heartburn

Acid reflux not tied to higher sex hormone levels

(RxWiki News) Elevated sex hormone levels in pregnant women or in those who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) were often believed to be the culprit behind prevalent heartburn in women. But that may not be the case.

A recently published study found that higher levels of sex hormones were not linked to a greater number of acid reflux episodes.

Though body size was not the focus of the study, researchers said that increasing body mass might be the actual cause behind numerous heartburn cases.  

"Feeling heartburn? Watch what you're eating."

Shyam Menon, MD, from the Department of Gastroenterology at New Cross Hospital in the United Kingdom, led a team of researchers studying whether female sex hormone levels were tied to heartburn and acid reflux in women.

The study included 225 women averaging about 52 years of age. More than half had excessive stomach acid levels and acid reflux symptoms. The rest had normal acid levels.

Researchers tracked the women's pH levels (a measure of acidity) and body mass index (BMI), a combined measure of height and weight.

They also measured the levels of estradiol, estrone, progesterone and cells in the blood that bind to sex hormones (called sex hormone binding globulin) in pre- and postmenopausal women.

After adjusting for the participants' BMI, researchers found that female sex hormones did not contribute to heartburn and acid reflux.

Stomach acid exposed to the esophagus, which is the connecting tube between the mouth and stomach, increased as BMI increased in women. Contrary to previous studies, acid exposure was not strongly tied to higher levels of sex hormones. 

"Women who seek medical attention and take HRT for menopausal symptoms may well be more likely to complain of reflux symptoms, confounding the results of previous studies based on reflux symptoms alone," researchers wrote in their report.

The researchers noted that the number of participants in their study was small and included more obese individuals. Obese women have higher estrone levels to begin with.

Another limitation to the study was that researchers measured the sex hormone levels at only one set time. The levels may not be representative of average sex hormone levels among premenopausal women.

The study was published March 6 in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
March 13, 2013