7 Tips for heartburn to put out the fire in your chest

7 Tips For Heartburn To Put Out The Fire In Your Chest

Written by: Dr. Saira Kassam, ND

Do you find yourself wanting to take an antacid before meals because you are scared of heartburn? Have you been on a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) for longer than a year? If you say YES to both of these, read on! 
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, is a digestive disorder that involves a burning sensation in the esophagus. It can affect more than 15 million adults everyday, and many pregnant women experience it daily. It is characterized by the sensation of “heartburn” and the regurgitation of acid (acid reflux) from the stomach into the esophagus. 
‘Gastroesophageal’ literally means the stomach and esophagus. ‘Reflux’ means to flow back. This acid is supposed to stay in the stomach to help break down food. When this acid finds its way up the esophagus, the uncomfortable symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux can persist. Other uncomfortable symptoms like the following may also be present… 

Symptoms of GERD:

  • Heartburn

  • Burning sensation in the chest
  • Feeling worse after eating
 & lying down
  • Unexplained cough

  • Pain behind the breastbone or between the shoulder blades

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Early satiety

The most common medical treatment for GERD is a PPI. This medication is intended to block acid production in the stomach. Now, you can imagine if the body stops producing acid in the stomach, food will have a much harder time being broken down and pathogens will have an easier time colonizing the intestinal tract. Thus, many of the common side effects from medication may result like, constipation, abdominal pain and flatulence. Long term use of a PPI can put you at a higher risk for developing C.Difficile diarrhea, osteoporosis, infections like pneumonia, kidney damage, and Vitamin B12 deficiency.  PPIs can be difficult to discontinue as there can be rebound hyperacidity after stopping it. So many people never completely get off the PPI. 
PPI’s should only be prescribed at the lowest dose and for the shortest duration possible, but in actuality this is not the case. Many people find themselves on PPIs for longer than 1 year. This puts them at a higher risk for developing the long-term side effects mentioned above. Fortunately, there are long-term, more natural solutions for handling chronic reflux. In order for us to understand natural treatment options we need to first understand the various causes of GERD. 

Causes of GERD:

  • Excess acid production in the stomach - Many people assume this is always the cause but often times it is not and it’s actually the OPPOSITE (shocking)! 

  • Low acid production in the stomach - This is the cause for most GERD sufferers. Low stomach acid can cause food to ferment in the stomach which creates bloating and gas. This then leads to increased pressure that pushes stomach contents up into the esophagus and this is when you feel the acid reflux. Low stomach acid can be caused by vitamin/mineral deficiencies or inflammation in the stomach. Low stomach acid allows for the growth of Helicobacter pylori, which is often associated with GERD. 

  • Inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract - This is caused by food sensitivities. Foods that are not being digested properly can cause the gut lining to become inflamed. This then impairs the secretion of stomach acid and digestive enzymes which will result in gas and bloating. 
  • Pregnancy - GERD is very common in pregnancy. It is caused by the increased abdominal pressure from the baby along with hormone changes. 

  • Poor esophageal sphincter tone (LES) - There is a sphincter (valve) at the top of the stomach that is supposed to be closed to keep the stomach contents (ex. acid) in the stomach. When this valve does not shut properly stomach contents can creep up into the esophagus. 

  • Obesity, Smoking and Age are also risk factors for developing GERD!

So now that we understand the causes of GERD, lets now address natural treatment options! 

7 Treatment Tips for GERD:

1. Meal Timing 

Avoid eating large meals, and instead focus on smaller more frequent meals throughout the day. One of the most helpful tips I can provide you with is to not go to bed within 3 hours of a meal and make sure to remain upright during this time! Sleep with an elevated head and chest. This can be done through stacking pillows or using wooden blocks to prop up the bed. 
This gives the stomach enough time to properly digest a meal before lying down, which means less acid reflux. Sleeping with an elevated head and chest may also encourage the flow of digestion and decrease the risk for heart burn.
2. Identify triggering foods

Avoid known food triggers for GERD like: coffee, alcohol, chocolate, fatty foods, citrus, tomatoes and spicy foods. As well, decrease difficult to digest foods like meat. There can be other foods that are uniquely problematic for different individuals. If you find eliminating the known food triggers for GERD is not helping, consider a food sensitivity test. 
A food sensitivity test can help to decipher which foods you are sensitive to. Eliminating these foods may lessen inflammation in the stomach and allow for a healthy release of digestive enzymes and acid!  
3. Apple Cider Vinegar

Take 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar 10-15 mins before meals. 
In some cases it may be helpful to lower the pH of the stomach which can be done through drinking apple cider vinegar. This can help to prepare the digestive tract for incoming food, through increased enzymes and acid.
4. Aloe Vera Gel

Slurp 1 tbsp of aloe vera gel prior to meals. It can be included in teas or smoothies. 
Aloe vera helps to build a protective barrier for the stomach and esophagus. It helps to thicken fluids and thus can inhibit reflux. 
5. Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL)

Chew 1-2 capsules of DGL 20-30 minutes before a meal. 
This wonderful herb increases mucous secretions in the stomach to help with healing the gastrointestinal tract. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to soothe the esophagus. Lastly, it can help to tone the sphincter so that it remains closed, lessening the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. 
6. Chew Gum

A common tactic for relief of heartburn symptoms is to chew gum. Chew gum right after a meal for approximately 1 hour. 
Chewing gum helps to stimulate the production of saliva and increases swallowing. This can flush out the stomach acid that found its way up into the esophagus. As well, medicinal chewing gum with licorice is also available for this purpose. 
7. Digestive Enzymes

Take digestive enzymes 1-2 hours before a meal. 
The slower the stomach takes to empty its last meal, the longer stomach acid remains high. Supplementing with digestive enzymes can help to support breaking down food so that gastric emptying happens on time. 
Having GERD or acid reflux over long periods of time can damage the esophagus, possibly leading to esophageal cancer. As well, long-term use of acid reflux medications like PPIs have many side effects, like broken bones, vitamin deficiencies, puts one at a higher risk for developing infections like pneumonia and Clostridium difficile and so much more. Why put yourself at risk for all these adverse effects, when natural treatments can be very useful as a long-term treatment option! Get to the underlying cause of the heartburn first and foremost - whether it be inadequate stomach acid, too much stomach acid or food sensitivities. Once you have figured this out, work to add these 7 treatment tips for GERD into your everyday life and lessen your reflux and heartburn symptoms!
**Disclaimer - The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.