We have all faced the symptoms acid reflux disease, known as heartburn after a particularly spicy meal. The phenomenon is so common that heartburn, acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is used interchangeably in common discourse. However, these are three separate entities in the medical community.
What is Heartburn, Acid Reflux and GERD?
The term ‘heartburn’ is a misnomer as it has nothing to do with the heart. Heartburn is not a disease per se, but is a symptom of acid reflux that is characterized by a burning or a tightening sensation that is felt in the chest area, right behind the breastbone. One may usually suffer from it after having a meal. Sometimes these symptoms may also be manifested if you have not eaten anything for a significant amount of time. Usually bending over or lying down tends to make the symptoms worse. It primarily occurs in the esophagus (also known as your food pipe) and may at times be mistaken as an onset of a heart attack.
Acid reflux occurs due to the following reasons:
- Your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is either weak or damaged
- Your LES wrongly thinks that your stomach is empty and relaxes, whereas your stomach has some amount of food and stomach acids.
- You have consumed food that is hard to digest, making your stomach produce excess acids that spills back into the food pipe.
- The internal lining of your stomach is damaged causing it to be irritated very easily. This may at times cause the LES to loosen a little bit, making some stomach acids to spill back into the esophagus.
- You may be suffering from a stomach infection, such as those caused by helicobacter pylori.
Once undigested food and stomach acids flow back into the food pipe, it tends to get irritated as its internal lining is far more delicate compared to that in your stomach. This irritation is felt in the form of a heartburn.
People are usually diagnosed with GERD when people suffer from frequent onsets of acid reflux; usually twice a week, if not more. Usually antacids or other over the counter (OTC) medications fail to provide any relief and there may be some swelling on the esophagus as well. Besides frequent heartburn, following are the other associated symptoms of GERD:
- Facing difficulties while swallowing
- Even once you are able to swallow, it would seem as if the food contents are about to come back out of the throat or mouth (also known as regurgitation)
- Dry cough
- Chest pain
GERD can be controlled with lifestyle changes and prescription medication, however more serious cases may require surgery. Discussing all the treatment methods of GERD is beyond the scope of this article.
Home Remedies for Heartburn or Acid Reflux
Usually an odd case of heartburn or acid reflux is uncomfortable, but is not a very serious condition. It can be easily managed by incorporating any of the following home remedies:
- Baking Soda
Sodium bicarbonate, more commonly known as baking soda is an fast acting and effective home remedy for heartburn. This is because baking soda is a natural alkali, which can help neutralize the acids in your stomach. This is highly recommended if you are suffering from a severe attack of heartburn from which you are seeking immediate relief. Thoroughly mix half a teaspoon of baking soda into an 8 oz. glass of water and drink it straight. If you do not get adequate relief then feel free to double the concentration of baking soda.
However this should only be used in case of an emergency. If the baking soda treatment is used regularly, then it will increase the sodium content in your body, which can lead to a host of other ailments, such as swelling in your joints or nausea.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Sometimes acid reflux is not caused by an excess of acids in your stomach but rather when your stomach is deficient in enough acids. In such cases, usually there is nothing wrong with your LES, but since the acid content of your stomach is really low, then it tends to relax a bit, causing food particles to spill back into the esophagus.
If none of the treatments mentioned above (especially the baking soda treatment) provides you with adequate relief, then there is a good chance that you are suffering from heartburn because your stomach is not producing enough acids. This is where Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) can come to the rescue.
For best results, mix one tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of ACV into an 8 oz. glass of water and drink this solution before every major meal.
For best results, use organic ACV that still has the mother in it. Please do not go beyond the recommended dosage. Also please note that you need to discontinue this treatment if your heartburn becomes worse after taking ACV.
- Betaine Hydrochloric Supplement/Betaine HCL
In some individuals there is not only deficient stomach acid but they are also unable to produce adequate amounts of stomach acid to digest food on a regular basis, which delays the emptying of the stomach. This in turn, may cause heartburn. Betaine HCL supplements increase the level of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) in the stomach, which is necessary for proper digestion and assimilation of food.
Betaine HCL capsules are available at any health food store. Take 1 capsule after a heavy meal and increase your dosage the next time if you keep suffering from your symptoms. Once your heartburn subsides, gradually decrease your dosage (one capsule at a time) with the passage of time. Never take Betaine HCL supplements on an empty stomach. If you are unsure about how to initiate this treatment, seek the advice of a qualified medical professional.
If by any chance this exacerbates your condition, it means that your stomach is producing enough stomach acids and you need to cease this treatment immediately!
Besides being renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger also helps suppress the acid formation in your stomach. The best way to use ginger to treat acid reflux is to drink some ginger root tea about 20 minutes before having a meal. Simply take a teaspoon of grated ginger and let it steep in a kettle of boiling water for about 30 minutes. Strain out the ginger and enjoy the drink. You may consider incorporating ginger in your recipes as well.
You can easily find ginger in the fresh produce section in any supermarket. If you cannot find it, then you can take ginger supplements available at your local health food store instead.
Licorice is a natural remedy for a lot of different stomach ailments including heartburn and stomach ulcers. The best way to do so would be to make some licorice tea. It is really easy to make:
- Boil about 8 oz. of water.
- Add 2 tablespoons of licorice root and let it steep for about five minutes.
- Strain and enjoy
However, it does come with its side effects, which include headaches, water retention and high blood pressure. These side effects are caused by glycyrrhizic acid, which is a natural component of licorice root. If you suffer from high blood pressure or have faced any of the other symptoms, then you can try chewing on two deglycyrrhizinated licorice root (DGL) tablets, which are available at your local health food store, about 20 minutes before every major meal.
- Aloe Vera Juice
Aloe Vera is known for its anti-inflammatory properties as well, which will help heal your inflamed stomach and food pipe. It is ideal to take half a cup (2 oz.) of aloe-vera juice before major meals. Aloe vera juice is a natural laxative, which can make life awkward if you are not constipated. However, there are several brands available, where they have removed the laxative component. Seek the advice of the salesperson at your local health food store to find one!
- Vitamin D
Adequate amounts of vitamin D helps in the formation of anti-bacterial peptides. This can be extremely helpful if the excess acid formation is being caused by a stomach infection. Vitamin D is naturally produced in our body, if it gets enough exposure to sunlight. If that is not an option, you can take Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2 supplements. Please note that just taking Vitamin D3 can cause other health problems, which Vitamin K2 helps prevent.
- Chewing Gum
Chewing gum increases the production of saliva by almost 140%. This helps dilute the stomach acids, thus alleviating the symptoms of acid reflux. It also helps wash away the stomach acids that have entered the esophagus.
For best results, chew on a stick of sugar free gum for about 30 minutes after having a meal.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that speeds up the digestive process, hence reducing the production of stomach acids. There are several food products by which you can consume probiotics naturally, such as cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, soy sauce, fermented tofu, kefir, miso, sauerkraut and organic beer. Probiotic supplements that are usually available at health food stores can be extremely effective as well!
There are a few fruits that can naturally cure your acid reflux as well. Following are some examples:
- Bananas: Bananas are rich in potassium, which when mixed with saliva and other digestive juices can produce a very strong alkali, which would then neutralize the excess acid. It also stimulates the production of stomach mucus, which protects the stomach from the harmful effects of stomach acids. It has a lot of fiber, which forces food materials to keep moving throughout the digestive system. This is important because sometimes food may just sit in your stomach for too long, forcing your stomach to produce excess acid. For best results make bananas an integral part of your breakfast. It is also recommended to have one banana before you retire for the night.
- Apples: Sweet apples such as Red/Golden Delicious or Braeburn can help cure acid reflux as well. This is because apple contains several useful compounds that can make an alkali in the stomach that neutralizes excess acids. It also helps the food pipe and the LES heal from repeated bouts of heartburn. For best results have half-an apple after every meal. Also make yourself a mid-afternoon snack where you dip apples in raw organic honey or blackstrap molasses. This is because both honey and molasses have significant amounts of potassium, which can help neutralize the acids in our stomach.
- Watermelon: As the name suggests, watermelons contain lots of water, which helps dilute the escaped acids in your food pipe. Its alkaline ingredients helps neutralize stomach acids as well. For best results you need to use ripe watermelon. To determine whether they are ripe or not, you need to take a look at the bottom of the watermelon (the end that is opposite to the stem). If the circular rind is yellow or cream in color, then it is ripe. If the rind is white or green, it is still raw and will not be able to ease your heartburn. Have at least six bite sized chunks after every meal.
Besides those mentioned above, cantaloupe and honeydew can also help ease symptoms of heartburn.
- Chamomile Tea
Sometimes an attack of acid reflux is caused by stress or anxiety. Chamomile tea has been documented to significantly reduce such symptoms. Also it has mild anti-inflammatory and alkaline properties, which can directly help in easing the symptoms of heartburn.
Chamomile tea is really easy to make:
- Boil about 8 oz. of water in a kettle.
- Take a strainer and fill it with organic chamomile tea leaves. If you cannot find organic chamomile tea leaves then you can use chamomile tea bags instead.
- Add a teaspoon of honey and a couple of drops of organic lemon juice in a cup. Run the boiling water through the strainer. If you are using tea bags instead, fill the cup with boiling water and then add the tea bags and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Make sure that the honey and lemon juice is completely dissolved in the liquid.
Lemon not only adds to the test, but it is a natural alkali which makes this beverage more effective against excess stomach acids. Drinking chamomile tea 30 minutes before going to bed is an effective safeguard against night time acidity.
Having oatmeal for breakfast (and maybe even as a mid-afternoon snack) is one of the best things you can do to treat you acid reflux. It is a heartburn killing superfood because of the following reasons:
- It is rich in fiber and provided you drink enough water, it will help your digestive system to move along at an optimal pace. This will prevent the formation of excess stomach acids.
- As discussed earlier, if you are hungry, that too can trigger heartburn. As oatmeal provides you with a significant amount of satiety, you will not feel hungry too soon, thus allowing you to be full for longer.
- It is fat-free, making it really easy to digest.
- It contains an anti-oxidant called selenium, which forms a protective shield around the internal lining of your stomach.
- As oatmeal is a whole-grain, it has natural alkaline properties that neutralizes the excess stomach acids.
You can also add banana slices to your oatmeal to make it tastier and even more effective against future attacks of heartburn.
Chicken and turkey are known as lean meat, because it contains very little fat, making it easier to digest and reducing the chances of suffering from acid reflux due to excess stomach acids. Poultry also contains glutamine, an amino acid that helps reverse the damage caused to the stomach lining or the LES. A couple of things needs to be remembered however:
- Make sure that the turkey or chicken is either, boiled, baked, grilled or sautéed. Stay away from fried chicken!
- Make sure that you completely remove the turkey or the chicken skin. The skin contains significant amounts of fat, which can trigger symptoms of acid reflux.
Seafood (Fish, shrimp, lobster, scallops etc.) is recommended for the exact same reasons that poultry is and the same safeguards needs to be followed while consuming it.
- Slippery elm Extract
Extract of organic slippery elm can also help treat heartburn. This is because it is a demulcent, which means that it can protect the internal lining of the stomach from excess acids. It also stimulates the nerve-endings in the intestines, thus aiding digestion. It is recommended to dissolve two tablespoons of the extract to an 8 oz. glass of water and drinking it after meals, plus drinking one additional glass right before going to bed.
Almonds contain alkaline compounds, which can help neutralize the excess acid in your stomach. They are delicious and healthy and can help get rid of tension headaches as well. Usually it is recommended to have 3 – 4 almonds after every meal.
However, over-indulging on almonds may at times trigger symptoms of acid reflux instead of curing it. This is because if too much of the acid in your stomach is neutralized, then it will significantly slow down your digestion, causing food materials to stay in your stomach longer and triggering symptoms of acid reflux, which as we have already discussed will be manifested in the form of heartburn.
Mustard can also provide you with immediate relief from heartburn because of its strong alkaline properties. It will not taste very pleasant, but if you feel like there is going to be an onset of the symptoms of heartburn or if you are in the middle of one, take one teaspoon of mustard straight from the bottle.
- Lifestyle Changes
Besides making the aforementioned modifications to your diet, it is highly recommended to make the following lifestyle changes to make your digestion better and reduce the onset of acid reflux:
- Lose weight: Studies show that people who are overweight are more vulnerable to the symptoms of heartburn. Hence exercising regularly and losing some weight can go a long way towards reducing symptoms of acid reflux.
- Quit smoking: Besides ruining your lungs, the nicotine in cigarettes also weakens your LES, making you suffer from heartburn. Quitting will help you improve your digestion overall.
- Reduce alcohol consumption: Alcohol damages your LES as well. Besides that it also damages the internal lining of your stomach.
- Sleep on your left side: Studies have shown that sleeping on your right side puts extra pressure on your LES, resulting in symptoms of night time acid reflux. This is eliminated if you sleep on your left side.