The number of patients in my practice with heartburn is staggering. And what is even more staggering to me is how many people think it is normal! Just because it is common does not mean that it is normal!
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn, also known as reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a burning sensation in the esophagus that may be associated with:
- Sour, acidic taste in the mouth
- Pain behind the breastbone or between the shoulder blades
- Unexplained cough
A New Perspective on Heartburn
In conventional medicine, heartburn is the consequence of excess stomach acid and acid suppressing medications (proton pump inhibitors or calcium carbonate) to reduce symptoms. However, functional doctors and naturopathic doctors believe that low stomach acid may be a more likely cause of heartburn.
Stomach acid is necessary to for proper digestion. If acid production is decreased the stomach will not empty properly and the contents (partially digested food and stomach acid) can reflux up into the esophagus and cause heartburn.
Stomach acid production naturally declines as we age. Stress, unhealthy diet (high in refined grains, sugars and processed foods) and use of medications are all common causes of low stomach acid.
Treating Low Stomach Acid
There are a number of natural ways to improve your production of stomach acid. Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you to understand which options are best for you.
- Become a “chewitarian” – the longer the food spends in your mouth, the more signals your brain and enyzmes in your saliva will send to your stomach to produce stomach acid. So slow down, chew carefully and savour each bite.
- Limit beverages at mealtimes – water and other fluids can dilute stomach acid, requiring our body to produce more. Take only small sips of water during meals and save the majority of your water for between meals.
- Apple cider vinegar – can help low stomach acid by providing a source of acid, allowing your stomach to have an optimal pH even if you aren’t making enough stomach acid on your own. Doses vary, start low with 1 tsp and see if it helps you.
- Betaine hydrochloric acid – a powerful treatment for heartburn and low stomach acid, betaine HCl provides you with a safe source of stomach acid. This will help optimize your stomach acid levels and promote total digestion of food, leading to a healthy stomach emptying time and decreased symptoms. Your ND will give you guidelines on safe supplementation.
- Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) – an excellent support for heartburn, DGL improves symptoms of heartburn by healing the esophagus and tonifying the lower esophageal sphincter – the opening at the top of the stomach. Try chewing one capsule when you experience heartburn to decrease symptoms while you work to optimize your stomach acid levels.
The Importance of Treating Heartburn
Heartburn may be miserable, and uncomfortable and for many that is reason enough to try to clear the symptoms. But getting to the underlying cause of the heartburn is important because optimal digestion of our food is the only way we will get all of the nutrients we need for our bodies to function.
If you are producing inadequate stomach acid, or taking acid-suppressing medications, you may experience difficulty breaking down protein, an increase in food sensitivities, deficiencies in nutrients, and increased inflammation. The consequences of poor nutrient absorption can not be underestimated!
So speak with your Naturopath today to find ways to optimize your health and overcome your heartburn symptoms, once and for all!
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.