Put out the Fire of Acid Reflux and Heart Burn
By Christine Dreher, CCN, CCH
What causes Acid Reflux and Heart Burn?
Acid reflux and heart burn symptoms trouble an alarming number of Americans today and are the most common symptoms of GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease).It has been assumed (incorrectly) that acid reflux and heart burn are caused by an over-production of acids in the stomach. One of the most common reasons that heart burn and acid reflux occurs is that the LES (lower esophageal sphincter valve that keeps stomach acids in the stomach) weakens and allows stomach acids to back-wash up into the esophagus and throat areas. Over time, this stomach acid backwash can be dangerous if left untreated because the stomach acids can destroy the delicate mucous lining of the esophagus and throat, which can lead to cancer and other serious health issues.
The following information is not meant to replace medical care with your doctor or health care provider. It is intended to enhance or improve your health care treatment program. While under my doctor's care, I was able to incorporate the following suggestions to improve my acid reflux and heart burn symptoms and address the cause of these symptoms naturally. I do suggest seeing your doctor and taking care of any type of health related symptoms when they first appear because it is easier to relieve and improve symptoms and to address the cause of health problems when they first manifest, rather than waiting until they evolve into a chronic condition.
What about Acid-Blocker or Antacids?
I need to mention that taking acid blockers (both over-the-counter and prescription) only treats the symptom, but does not address the underlying cause. Since acid reflux and heart burn are not generally caused by an over-production of acids in the stomach, taking acid blockers prevents or impairs the stomach acids (HCL) from breaking down the food properly. These acids in the stomach protect us from certain bad bacteria in meats and other foods ingested. If there are insufficient acids in the stomach, then this protection is compromised, which can leave us vulnerable to bacterial invasion and food poisoning.
Due to a lack of stomach acids from acid blockers, the stomach may not be able to break down foods properly. It can then become more difficult for the small intestine to assimilate nutrients and can lead to a condition called mal-absorption, where one loses the ability to absorb nutrients correctly. Regarding antacids, the aluminum in antacids is difficult for the body to absorb. It accumulates in the intestines, where it can cause dryness and constipation. In various studies, aluminum has been implicated with Alzheimer's disease and may also contribute to osteoporosis. So long term use of antacids and acid blockers can lead to other G.I. (gastro intestinal) and general health problems.
Alternatively, I suggest that it is better to focus on taking care of the cause of the symptoms, which is most often due to the weakening of the LES (lower esophageal sphincter valve) and improper diet and lifestyle patterns. The following suggestions address the triggers that allow the LES to weaken or open inappropriately and also address the healing of the stomach lining and delicate esophageal and throat tissues. Also included are several tips for improving your digestion and your overall quality of life.
- Putting out the Fire
For immediate relief from the burning pain of heart burn or acid reflux, I recommend using pure Mineral Goat Whey powder by Mt. Capra. A couple of tablespoons of powder mixed in a large glass of water can bring immediate relief. It is naturally alkalizing to the body and contains naturally occurring electrolyte minerals that nourish and encourage pH balance in our bodies. There are other natural alkalizing formulas that are very effective as well, including Acid Defense by Garden of Life. The primary ingredient in this formula is the Mineral Goat Whey, plus dried vegetable juices that enhance the alkalizing effect of the whey. It is suggested to use the Mineral Goat Whey or Acid Defense 3 to 4 times a day and also when flare ups of acid reflux and heartburn symptoms occur.
- Soothing and Healing the Irritated Tissues
Mother Nature has provided several amazing herbs that help to coat and soothe mucus membranes and reduce inflammation, so they have a chance to heal. I found the following herbs very helpful: Marshmallow Root, Slippery Elm and Plantain. Most health food stores carry herbal cap formulas of these herbs and include suggested usage on the bottle.
I have also learned that the use of DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) before meals can soothe and heal the esophageal tissue. It is recommended to use this form of licorice because it is safe to use for people with high blood pressure. The standard recommended serving is between 350 mg to 1,000 mg, three times per day. It is usually available in a chewable tablet form, taken before meals.
- Diet and Eating Patterns
There are several foods that can trigger acid reflux and heart burn by triggering the LES to open or relax. The most common food triggers include: alcoholic beverages, sparkling or carbonated beverages, caffeine, citrus fruits & juices, chocolate, fried foods, fatty foods, pepper, peppermint, tomato products (including pasta sauce) and for certain people certain spices including garlic, onion or spicy seasonings. It is best to avoid these foods as much as possible during the healing process.
Eating smaller meals throughout the day is helpful because bigger meals tend to put more pressure on the stomach and LES, which in turn can cause the LES to relax and acids to back up into the esophagus.
Eating meals slower and chewing more thoroughly can aid in digestion and prevent over eating. Eating in a hurry or while upset can affect digestion as well.
Proper food combining can also be helpful. If your symptoms are severe, it could be helpful for awhile to eat just one type of food at a time to improve digestion and reduce gas and bloating in the stomach, i.e. just eating the protein by itself, then the salad at your next meal and then the grains or starches at the next meal.
- Digestion Support
Digestive enzymes taken before or with meals can improve digestion and reduce gas and bloating after meals. I found the OmegaZyme Ultra by Garden of Life or CapraZyme by Mt. Capra to be very helpful with my digestion. Also, I suggest not drinking liquids with meals and up to one half hour before a meal, and not until an hour after a meal because liquids can interfere with the digestive process.
Another way to improve digestion is to use a tincture form of bitter herbs like chamomile, dandelion root or barberry or raw, apple cider vinegar mixed in a little water before meals.
You can also check with your doctor or health care professional to see if you are deficient in HCL (hydrochloric acid). HCL assists with food digestion and supports the function of the LES. If your body is not making enough of its own, then supplementation can be beneficial. As stated earlier, it is a misnomer that acid reflux and heart burn are caused by too much stomach acids. The lack of HCL can cause not only digestion problems but can weaken the tone of the LES, resulting in heart burn or acid reflux.
- General Mechanics
Wearing loose fitting clothing around the waist can prevent unwanted pressure on the stomach area and the LES and improve the digestion process.
I discovered that by raising the head of my bed six to eight inches reduced my occurrence of acid reflux at night. By keeping the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps to prevent acid reflux during sleeping. The best way to accomplish this is to put bricks under the top two legs of the bed or you can use boards or phone books. I have heard of people using wedges or adjustable beds, but it can put more pressure on the abdomen, because the body is bent at the abdomen level.
Avoid lying down for 3 hours after a meal to prevent acid reflux, which also means do not eat several hours before going to bed.
- Quit Smoking
Smoking can over stimulate the production of stomach acids and can also relax and weaken the LES. Smoking can also inhibit the production of saliva —saliva neutralizes refluxed acids and protects against damage to the esophagus. Saliva is the first step in the digestion process.
- Lose Weight
Excess body weight increases the abdominal pressure, which can then push the contents of the stomach up into the esophagus. By loosing abdominal weight, the pressure on the LES and stomach decreases, this in turn can reduce the occurrence of acid back wash.
- De-Stress Your Life
Stress is a contributing factor with heart burn and acid reflux. Observe your breathing when you are stressed. Most likely it is shallow, coming from the upper chest. This is because deep breathing is almost impossible when you are stressed. By taking deep, abdominal breaths, you will alkalize your body and release stressful emotions.
Meditation and yoga are great ways to turn off the mind and simply "be." By doing this, you are able to reconnect with your intuitive self and release the outer world for awhile. Both of these practices help to sharpen body awareness too, so you are more aware of when you are holding stress and where you might be holding it in your body.
Following these natural and healthy guidelines can greatly improve or eliminate symptoms of heart burn and acid reflux. For more information on digestive health, I recommend reading the book "Restoring Your Digestive Health" by Jordan S. Rubin, N.M.D. and Joseph Brasco, M.D. It is a comprehensive health guide that combines the wisdom of both traditional and alternative treatment methods for a variety of gastrointestinal health issues. You can also visit our website for more digestive health information, books and products. To your health!
Christine Dreher, CCN, CCH is a Clinical Nutritionist, Herbalist, Author, President & Founder of Christine's Cleanse Corner, Inc., that specializes in nutritional and health education. Christine is author of The Cleanse Cookbook.