You have just finished your meal and you're awaiting the onslaught of pain. Your old friend, acid reflux, comes to pay a visit with its burning, gnawing discomfort. When acid reflux, or Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is in your life, it can range from annoying to debilitating. We all have a little reflux here and there, but for those with GERD, the pain tends to be predictable and more severe.
You want to soothe the pain. You want to sleep without the burning waking you up. Before you turn to a prescription or over-the-counter acid blocker, you may want to know about the risks involved. It is now known that PPIs have dangerous side effects when taken long-term, so why not try something safer before you head to the pharmacy. Several natural and safer alternatives to Proton Pump Inhibitors are available to reduce GERD symptoms. Give them a try for a few weeks and find one or two that work for you.
What causes acid reflux?
The most simplistic reason for acid reflux is that the door between the stomach and the esophagus (called the lower esophageal sphincter) has not closed shut all the way when you are done eating your meal. This allows the stomach acid to escape and slosh up into the esophagus while your stomach is in the churning phase. Since the esophagus is not coated with the same thick, protective mucus layer as the stomach, even a little acid will feel uncomfortable.
Of course, diet is important to look at when addressing GERD. There are certain foods that are known to be aggravating to the lower esophageal sphincter, thus preventing it from closing completely. Foods to be avoided are caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods, foods with high fat content, carbonated beverages, alcohol, and peppermint. Keep a food journal to find individual aggravations for you. And don't eat a big meal right before going to bed, as lying down leaves you more prone to acid reflux.
Top 5 Natural Acid Reflux Remedies:
DGL is short for deglycyrrhizinated licorice. Quite literally, this is licorice root that has the glycyrrhizin removed so it won't affect blood pressure. It is frequently found in chewable form and tastes rather sweet and yummy. It's best taken with each meal as a means to prevent heartburn, but it can also be taken any time you feel acid reflux, even between meals. The licorice soothes your esophagus and neutralizes the acid on contact so you feel better fast.
No, not the white sugar bombs for making smores! Marshmallow is an herb in the Althaea family of plants. It was originally used medicinally by the Egyptians and grows naturally in Africa. It is a mucilaginous herb, which means it creates a mucus effect and is soothing to the GI system. It also contains flavenoids which are anti-inflammatory, which we all could use more of in this world. Look for a product made from the roots and leaves of the marshmallow plant.
3. Slippery Elm
As its name suggests, Slippery Elm is another mucilaginous herb that creates a soothing environment for the digestive tract. Its latin name is Ulmus rubra, and is a type of Elm tree native to North America. Of note, the mucilaginous herbs are also very helpful for dry coughs and sore throats when taken as a tea or tincture. Slippery elm lozenges are found in the cold and flu section of your health food store, but they can be used for heartburn as well.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
Many people who complain of acid reflux have stomach acid levels that are actually too low. This seems counterintuitive, but it's true. The lower esophageal sphincter (the door between your esophagus and stomach) needs a certain amount of acid as its message to close tightly. If you don't make enough stomach acid, which can happen with chronic stress, the door never gets the signal to close all the way and so what little acid is in the stomach will slosh right up there and you will feel it. A good remedy for this is taking a little apple cider vinegar in some water, around 15 minutes before a meal. If this helps the acid reflux, it is a good indicator you are in need of more acid. You could also try taking betaine HCl pills with a meal for the same acid-increasing effect.
5. Mastic Gum
Mastic gum is resin taken from an evergreen shrub native to Greece. It has a long history of being chewed for health benefits. These days you can find it in a pill. It has more recently been shown to kill H. pylori, the bacteria thought to be one of the causes of gastric ulcers. Aside from its antimicrobial properties, it is also anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.
Prescription acid blockers have been on my mind a bit lately. It's probably because I see how commonly they are prescribed, even to babies, and the news has recently been full of research study results showing their shocking long-term side effects.
I'm talking specifically about the Proton Pump Inhibitors, or PPIs for short. These include the drugs called omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), rabeprazole (Aciphex), pantoprazole (Protonix), and esomeprazole.
They have become one of the most commonly prescribed medications today, but unfortunately medical research has shown that around 70% of those prescriptions are not actually necessary, meaning that the patient's symptoms are not actually due to excess stomach acid.
So what are the side effects? Lately the newspaper headlines are talking about how PPIs lead to a significantly increased risk of dementia, especially if you are above age 70. You also have a 50% higher risk of chronic kidney disease. These are not the only side effects, however.
It has been known for quite some time that when you block the secretion of acid in the stomach, it hinders the digestion and absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, folate, and vitamin B12. As you can imagine, having reduced absorption of these vital nutrients can lead to osteoporosis, anemia, and neurological symptoms such as tingling and numbness in the extremities.
To add insult to injury, without proper amounts of stomach acid, your digestive tract is more prone to GI infections that should have been zapped by the acidic environment of your stomach. Dysbiosis and the disruption of the microbiome can easily occur when on a PPI, leading to health problems throughout the body.
With all of the side effects of PPIs, and so few people actually needing to be on them, it is certainly worth your while to try some natural remedies for acid reflux symptoms. My next blog will focus on some of these natural acid reflux remedies, so stay tuned.
Dr. Melissa DeForest: I am a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in digestive disorders. My goal is to educate, inspire, and empower others to lead a life they love.
Disclaimer: All information presented here is for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise, supplement, or diet routine.