How to Relieve Heartburn
If you’ve experienced heartburn, you’re likely familiar with the idea that it’s a problem with your stomach acid. The acidic fluid in your stomach is meant to stay in the stomach until food passes to the small intestine, where it becomes neutralized by other fluids. The lining of your stomach is meant to withstand acidic conditions just fine, unlike other tissues such as the esophagus. This means there’s a big job for the middle-man here, which is the lower esophageal sphincter. This guy is supposed to close tightly whenever there is acidic fluid present in the stomach, while also opening appropriately when food is sent down the esophagus. When that sphincter isn’t doing its job right, you experience heartburn/acid reflux as acidic fluid moves from the stomach up into the esophagus.
Most commonly, after telling your doctor you get heartburn, you will be prescribed a medication called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), which suppresses acid production in the stomach. This medication can be useful in severe situations, but for most people it does more harm than good in the long-run. The thing is, we NEED stomach acid to properly breakdown foods and absorb nutrients. If we block acid production, we can’t free up nutrients like B12, iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc to absorb them. This also increases the risk of infection (bugs don’t like acid).
What Causes Heartburn?
The original rationale for the cause of heartburn was that there is excess stomach acid being produced and making its way into the esophagus. However, we have now come to find that the lower esophageal sphincter is stimulated by acid to close tightly. Without enough acid near the lower esophageal sphincter, it will remain relaxed and open, allowing acidic fluid to exit the stomach. Other causes of heartburn include hiatal hernia syndrome (stomach pressing against the diaphragm), food intolerances, H. pylori overgrowth, and overconsumption of caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. Various contributors to heartburn will require different treatment methods.
How to Relieve it:
- Before eating, take a moment to relax and do some deep breathing to calm your nervous system. When the nervous system is in high stress or fight-or-flight mode, the digestive system is not stimulated to produce digestive juices needed to breakdown foods. (Think rest-and-digest)
- Fermented foods or a high quality probiotic to prevent H. pylori overgrowth and rebalance flora.Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar – 1tsp-1tbsp in a glass of water before meals to raise acid content. It also contains some minerals and healthy bacteria.
- Digestive bitters before meals – stimulates stomach acid and enzyme production.
- Ginger tea – add a few slices of fresh ginger root to a cup of hot water. Steep for 20 minutes and drink before meals. This stimulates the lower esophageal sphincter to close and reduces inflammation.
- Licorice root (deglycyrrhizinated is best) – reduces inflammation and coats and protects the throat, esophagus, and digestive tract. Chewable tablets are available and act quickly.
- Slippery elm – this herb, similar to licorice, coats and protects the digestive tract to allow for healing from damage by acidic conditions. It also stimulates mucus production from the gut lining. Available as tea, tincture, capsules, and lozenges.
- Glutamine – this amino acid is taken up directly by the gut lining and used for healing. Available as a powder or in capsules.
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