Heartburn sucks, yes you heard me right: it sucks! For sufferers of a heartburn onset it can quite literally suck the life out of you. I’ve had the experience of heartburn a few times, and let me tell you: your world quite literally comes to a standstill while you try something, anything to deal with the pain. I’ve known quite close relatives that have had chronic issues with this condition and, at its worst, an onset can feel much like you’re having a heart attack! With that kind of pain, it’s no wonder why people will take anything to make it go away.
Pharmaceutical companies have developed an array of prescription and OTC drugs under names like Prilosec, Nexium, Zantac, Pepcid and Prevacid to help sufferers deal with the symptoms by reducing acid build up in the stomach. Their marketing is simple: take a little purple pill and the symptoms goes away like magic! Unfortunately, just reducing acid in the stomach may be covering up another underlying issue, and the laundry list of side effects can be long and scary. Recent studies have even found an association to an increased risk of dementia to long term users of certain re-flux medications. Needless to say sufferers should give some serious thought before choosing a remedy.
With this in mind I wanted to give my readers a good of what exactly acid re-flux is, it’s causes so sufferers can develop a plan for prevention. I’ll also get into what prescription pain meds do (and don’t do) and give my recommendations for the preferred natural remedies for acid reflux symptoms.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid Reflux is a painful condition where stomach acid is able to bypass the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and move up into the esophagus. When this condition becomes chronic you’ll hear it called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) or sometimes just Acid Reflux Disease. People with GERD agonize through persistent reflux without an obvious trigger. This is the feeling that many people often mistaken for having a stroke or heart attack since the lining in the esophagus is not designed to handle the Hydrochloric Acid (HCl) which is the primary component of stomach acid. Left untreated this can result in a condition known as Erosive Esophagitis, where the lining of the esophagus becomes inflamed, cankerous and, if bad enough bleed.
Causes of Acid Reflux
Regular old heartburn can be caused by a number of factors. Let’s say you decide to eat a large meal and then to take a nap (ie: Thanksgiving for me :?) ). In this case the stomach acid is being forced up the esophagus due to a full stomach and a reversal in gravity. Other times it can occur by drinking a large amount of acidic or carbonated beverages. Unfortunately, your gut doesn’t know that more acidic liquid had entered your stomach and produces the same amount of stomach acid as before. In both cases, the causes are explainable and the remedies are behavior based.
Other times the reason for acid reflux can be more difficult to determine. Stress is one of those factors that can lead to an over production of acid by the stomach, typically if it’s consistent and high. While this can be harder to diagnose, take note of when it happens and particularly of how you’re feeling at the time.
Prescription or OTC medications can often cause heartburn. Make sure your taking the proper dosage and always check with your pharmacist on when to take your meds. Some medications require that you take them after a meal, whereas others are meant to be taken on an empty stomach. As discussed earlier, many medications have some side effects, and one of them could be heartburn. Here again, take note of when the acid reflux occurs. If it’s shortly after taking your medication, this could mean it’s being caused by the pills you are taking. Here’s a list of some of the types of medications known to contribute to heartburn:
- Anxiety medications
- High blood pressure medications
- Osteoporosis medications
- Pain relievers
Chroninc suffers of GERD may have other more systematic issues causing the acid reflux. Stomach irregularities such as Haital Hernia, where parts of the stomach push up into the chest cavity. The stomach herniates usually through an opening in the esophagus, where it can back up stomach acid into the esophagus.
Others may be suffering from the chronic over-production, or under-production of stomach acid. Since your stomach is a delicate balance of enzymes, micro-organism and protein, the pH of your gut should be at optimal levels (between 1.5 and 3.1 pH) for everything to be in harmony. If consistently off you may experience symptoms of:
- Indigestion, or difficulty digesting the food you eat
Now that we understand how Acid Reflux happens, let’s talk about treatments. Although I always recommend natural remedies if possible, it’s helpful to know what prescription-based medications are available, what they do – what they don’t do – and their side effects – so let’s start there.
Pharmaceutical Side Effects
Prescription medications are synthetically designed to handle the issue of Acid Reflux in different ways,. Products such as Gaviscon are used as a foaming agent that actually coats the interior of your stomach with a foam. This foam floats to the top of the digestive mix and forms a physical barrier between your stomach acid and your esophagus. While this may sound neat, the idea of some kind of a physical barrier in my stomach sounds, well: weird. Possible side effects of Gaviscon include diarrhea, constipation, nausea and vomiting. It also contains aluminum, which over time can accumulate in your bones and joints, weakening them and over prolonged used can be deposited in your brain.
H2 blockers such as Pepcid AC and Zantac approach this a different way by simply diminishing stomach acid production. Here, once again Proton pump inhibitors such as Prevacid can also reduce stomach acid production whereas Prokinetics such as Reglan are designed to not address stomach acid, but to help improve the strength of the lower esophageal sphincter so that the acid cannot get into the esophagus. All of these have the potential to help virtually anyone diminish the amount of acid reflux that they experience, and subsequent heartburn that may be felt. However, there are natural remedies which are not pharmaceutical based, solutions that will not have all of the side effects that may occur when using these remedies produced in a laboratory.
Natural Remedies For Improving Your LES
If you suspect your stomach acid is off, you may want to consider making some changes to your life-style or diet to manage the symptoms.
Since most acid reflux related problems occur because the lower esophageal sphincter is not doing a proper job, you can take natural products to tighten it up. Using what many consider to be a counter-intuitive solution, it has to do with drinking apple cider vinegar. Your LES will not perform properly if the body believes that you do not have enough acid. Since apple cider vinegar is acidic, it will cause the LES to tighten up, preventing the gastric acid in your stomach from getting into the esophagus.
Like, fennel, Aniseed has a sweet, licorice-like aroma and is a popular culinary staple in India and Turkey. Derived from the tiny seeds produced by the plants flowers, Aniseed is known to calm vertigo nausea and vomiting.
The popularity of fennel dates back to ancient Romans and Egyptians, who used the licorice-scented herb medicinally for such ailments as earaches and snake bites, and spiritually to impart longevity, courage, and strength. Fennel is a favorite essential oil today for its ability to minimize hunger, ease digestive problems, stimulate estrogen production, and more.
Coriander’s famous flavor has made its way into liqueurs such as Benedictine and Chartreuse. The plant’s seeds, which were used as an aphrodisiac by Egyptians, were found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb. Coriander essential oil’s aroma is sweet, herbaceous, and slightly spicy, and like many foods containing this herb, it is useful for calming the digestive system.
Ginger’s sweet, spicy taste makes it a favorite with chefs and bakers everywhere, and in its use in herbal medicine is far-reaching. Ginger essential oil offers the concentrated power of ginger, soothing a wide range of digestive maladies, offering relief from pain, and helping alleviate cold and flu symptoms.
With its clean, crisp fragrance and it ability to freshen breath naturally, peppermint is a favorite with people everywhere. Peppermint essential oil is often listed as one of the most useful essential oils available, and its ability to address a wide range of issues. While I do suggest this oil for helping with indigestion, it may actually make GERD, worse in many instances. I recommend trying a small diluted amount internally before using this in your daily regimen.
Other Natural Remedies
Additional remedies include eating an apple or banana, specifically bananas that are ripe, a well-known natural buffer against acid reflux.
Ginger root tea also works well, but if you are not partial to ginger-root, you can juice purple cabbage.
Instead of taking the so-called Purple Pill as prescribed by your doctor, you can instead ingest purple cabbage juice which will have an almost instant effect at not only diminishing the burning sensation, but also limiting acid production in the stomach. This works much better than Nexium for most people who would prefer not taking this highly publicized acid reflux remedy.
Chewing gum can actually prevent the development of excess acid, and should be done 30 minutes after a meal. This will prevent excess amounts of gastric juice from being produced which will essentially prevent heartburn from ever occurring. The positioning of your body after eating a meal can also diminish the potential for experiencing heartburn or acid reflux. Always keep your chin up in a seated position after eating a meal, large or small.
Today we covered alot of information. We talked about reflux triggers, natural remedies, as well as a basic understanding of current prescription medications and their potential side effects.
With this post I’m hoping you’ll be able to develop a workable plan that includes simple lifestyle and diet changes, natural remedies and, if all else fails, doctor prescribed medications to help treat acid reflux once and for all…
Thanks for stopping by!