Everyone has experienced the discomfort and pain of heartburn at some point in their lives. However, for those who suffer from acid reflux and its more severe relative, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), heartburn can interrupt daily life.
Acid reflux is the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. It produces burning sensations in the chest as well as a sour taste in the throat. In addition to those symptoms, GERD sufferers also experience regurgitation of food and sour liquid, coughing, wheezing, chest pain and difficulty swallowing (1).
Culprits that Cause the Discomfort
So, why do these bothersome symptoms occur? Acid reflux can be hereditary, but it can also be caused by the following:
• Pregnancy, due to the pressure placed on the organs in the abdominal area.
• Overproduction of acid.
• Certain foods and drinks like alcohol, carbonated beverages, coffee or tea, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomato products, garlic, onion, mint and spicy foods (1).
• Hiatal hernia, in which the upper part of the stomach and lower esophagus sphincter move above the diaphragm, which would normally keep acid from entering the esophagus (2).
The More Serious Threat
Acid reflux should not be ignored or written off as harmless. Over time, it may cause cancer in some people. The esophagus’s constant exposure to acids causes the muscular cells to divide more rapidly. The cells, therefore, age too fast and become unable to multiply anymore. They then change into tougher cells similar to those found in the stomach or intestines, or they take cells from other places, such as from the bone marrow, to make up for the destroyed cells (3).
Medicine to the Rescue…Or Not
The pharmaceuticals that are typically prescribed to acid reflux sufferers are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which act by decreasing acid production by inhibiting the enzyme that produces acid. Unfortunately, PPIs may also cause many negative side effects, and their safety has been questioned (4).
PPIs may cause nausea and an overproduction of the stomach hormone, gastrin. If PPI use is discontinued, gastrin will be produced in an even larger amount, negating the whole purpose of the drug. Furthermore, evidence suggests that PPIs could make patients susceptible to pneumonia. This is because those taking PPIs have a much less acidic environment in their bodies, so bacteria can multiply more easily. If bacteria multiplies in the trachea and enters the lungs, pneumonia could develop. Another negative side effect is the production of C. difficile, a bacteria that grows well in less acidic environments and causes diarrhea. Last, PPIs may interfere with the absorption of calcium in the body, which could affect bone health over time (4).
Remedy Your Symptoms Naturally
If you are on medication for acid reflux, keep taking what your doctor prescribed for you. However, keep in mind that there are also natural options that you can discuss with your doctor. They cannot be said to treat acid reflux, but some people have had great success in alleviating symptoms naturally.
Enzymes. For instance, digestive enzymes can help to break down food in the stomach. There are many different kinds of enzymes. For example, if you experience an upset stomach after eating dairy products, the enzyme lactase may help. Lipase helps with the breakdown of fattier foods, while cellulase breaks down cellulose and certain fibers. Amylase digests starches and carbohydrates and papain breaks down peptides, amides and esters. Protease aids in the digestion of proteins so that amino acids can be released (5).
Taking these enzymes, which often are sold as supplements in combinations, may help promote healthy digestion. You should take enzymes about 40 minutes before meals with plenty of water (5). For more information, ask your local natural products store to help you navigate the enzymes section.
Other natural remedies. Other natural options are available to help ensure healthy digestion:
• Chewing gum may increase saliva production, which is a natural acid neutralizer (6).
• Drinking a lot of room temperature water can help to flush your system out and carry away acid (2).
• Drinking aloe juice may help to eliminate certain bacterium in the digestive track as well as absorb proteins.
• The acid in apple cider vinegar may help to neutralize stomach acid.
• Chamomile tea has a soothing effect on the stomach and esophagus (6).
• Deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL, is a supplement that may benefit those with acid reflux (7).
• Bananas contain natural antacids (8).
All of this is good news for those suffering from the discomfort of acid reflux, but check with your doctor before trying a new option. WF
1. WebMD, “Acid Reflux Disease Symptoms, Causes, Tests, and Treatments,” www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/guide/what-is-acid-reflux-disease, accessed Jan. 21, 2011.
2. B. Watson and L. Smith, Gut Solutions (Renew Life Press and Information Services, Clearwater, FL, 2003).
3. “Persistent Acid Reflux and Cancer,” Nutrition Health Review: The Consumer’s Medical Journal, 2009, Issue 100.
4. The Harvard Medical School, “Do PPIs Have Long-Term Side Effects?” updated Feb. 2009, http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/do-ppis-have-long-term-side-effects.shtml, accessed Jan. 21, 2011.
5. D. Fuller, The Healing Power of Enzymes (Forbes Custom Publishing, New York, NY, 1998).
6. Revolution Health, “Top 10 Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux,” www.revolutionhealth.com/pages/acid-reflux--ten-home-remedies-for-immediate-relief, accessed Jan. 21, 2011.
7. M. Zimmerman, and J. Kroner, 7-Syndrome Healing (Nutrition Solution Publications, Chico, CA, 2006).
8. S. Gillson, “Natural Heartburn Remedies,” updated Dec. 22, 2009, http://heartburn.about.com/od/medsremedies/a/homeremedies.htm, accessed Jan. 21, 2011.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2011