Whether you love to dive deep into spicy foods or like to have the occasional half-pound hamburger, these five natural remedies could help soothe heartburn and put your belly at ease.
The Big Reason Drugs Aren’t Helping
For a lot of people, drugs seem to do the trick—or, at least they alleviate the symptoms for a while.
For me, it was the opposite. My doctor recommended I try one of the leading over-the-counter heartburn medications, but it only made the problem worse. I mean really bad—the worst acid reflux I’d ever experienced.
Acid reflux medications are big business in America. Billions are spent each year on both prescription and non-prescription antacids. This is because GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is the most common digestive disorder in the U.S.
The problem is acid reflux medications merely mask the symptoms of the problem; they don’t address underlying causes.
And what is the underlying cause? Many people believe it is too much stomach acid—after all, that’s what the antacid commercials on TV show us, right? But it’s actually the opposite: the primary cause is low stomach acid.
This might sound silly to anyone whose ever experience acid reflux: I mean, isn’t it stomach acid in my throat causing the burning? Yes, it is. But the reason the acid is there is most often notbecause there is too much of it in your stomach.
An editorial published in the journal Gastroenterology stated:
“Treating gastroesophageal reflux disease with profound acid inhibition will never be ideal because acid secretion is not the primary underlying defect.”
By taking medication that reduces stomach acid, we mask the symptoms while making the underlying cause even worse over time.
The Big Reason We Have Acid Reflux
Doctors generally agree more serious cases of acid reflux is caused by intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). In other words, stomach bloating pushes acid and other contents through the lower esophageal valve (LES) into the esophagus.
Some factors that cause this are:
- Lying down after eating
- Eating spicy or fatty foods
But, while these are contributing factors, the primary cause is too little stomach acid, which results in an overgrowth of bacteria and also causes carbohydrates to not be digested properly. When these factors are present, you are more likely to have gas, which causes IAP, which causes heartburn.
So, if antacids aren’t the answer, what is the answer?
I’m going to list 5 steps below, ranked from easiest to hardest (least life-changing to most life-changing).
Please note, I’m sharing steps I’ve taken and have worked for me. I am not a doctor and this should not be considered medical advice.
Step 1: Get Rid of Medications
Obviously, it should go without saying that you should talk to your doctor if he/she has prescribed heartburn medication for you, but your doctor might not be aware of how medications could be contributing to the problem—and potentially contributing to other problems.
If your doctor asks you why you think this, tell him/her about the research done by Drs. Jonathan Wright and Lane Leonard in their book Why Stomach Acid is Good for You.
Tell your doctor you are concerned that, over time, use of heartburn medication that reduce stomach acid could result in…
- Increased overgrowth of harmful bacteria in your digestive system (which in turn not only leads to more acid reflux but a host of other potential problems)
- Difficulty absorbing nutrients
- Being vulnerable to more infections like salmonella, campylobacter, cholera, pneumonia,typhoid, tuberculosis, and dysentery.
Step 2: Avoid Liquid During Meals
This is a fairly easy step that has been a major help to me personally. Drinking liquid—especially water—during a meal will dilute stomach acid and overfill your stomach.
Obviously, drinking water is good for you, so when you do it, make sure it is at least a half hour before eating a meal.
Drinking a little wine at dinner may help promote digestion, but too much can also weaken the the lower esophageal valve (LES), so avoid too much wine as well.
Step 3: Avoid Eating Right Before Lying Down
I’m a big fan of late-night snacks—actually they look more like a second dinner in bed.
The problem with this is when we lie down after a meal, gravity is no longer helping to keep stomach acid where it belongs: in our stomach.
It’s important to remember, however, that changing this habit in your life might mean less nights of acid reflux, but it does not mean you are treating the overall problem in your digestive system.
Step 4: Use Digestive Enzymes and Probiotic Foods
One of the biggest helps for overcoming acid reflux for me has been supplementing my diet with digestive enzymes and probiotic foods.
I now take digestive enzymes at the start of my evening meals. The brand I use isDoctor’s Best, and it includes HCl (hydrochloric acid, i.e. stomach acid) with pepsin along with gentian root (a bitter herb used to promote digestion). For some people, one pill at the start of a meal does the trick. I take three. You know you’re taking too much if you have a burning sensation in your throat.
While bacterial overgrowth is a major part of the problem, a proper balance of “good bacteria” in your gut is a major part of the solution. This is why it is important to add foods to your diet that are rich in probiotics:
- Yogurt and kefir – While dairy products can be high in carbs (and therefore not helpful for those with GERD) a small amount of these can be helpful. Drink water kefir to skip the dairy altogether.
- Naturally fermented sauerkraut – It’s important to find the raw, fermented kind of sauerkraut. You can make your own, but we’ve not been very successful at this. We buy Bubbies or Saverne brands.
- Kombucha – This is a certain kind of fermented tea. I’ve not tried this personally, but it is rich in probiotics.
In addition, I also make sure to drink a decent amount of bone broth every week. This helps restore a healthy stomach lining. Since we have started buying local grass-fed meats, we always make sure to ask for the bones. After making “bone broth cubes,” it’s easy for me to pour hot water over them to make a delicious drink. (And if you are like my wife and hate the idea of drinking bone broth, there are lots of creative ways she uses to get it down).
Step 5: Go on a Low-Carb Diet
Since carbohydrates contribute to bacterial overgrowth, a low-carb diet can help to get acid reflux under control (as shown by a couple of studies done by Dr. William Yancey at Duke University).
Very low carbohydrate (VLC) diets are unnecessary longterm for most people, so once the VLC diet has done the trick, going back to a moderate-carb diet can usually keep the problem in check.
Others might use a specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) or a GAPS diet which gets rid of longer chain carbohydrates (disaccharides and polysacharides) and keeping short chain carbohydrates (monosacharides). This basically means getting rid of all grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables, but keeping fruits and certain non-starchy root vegetables (winter squash, rutabaga, turnips, celery root, etc.).