Today, Monday, April 22, 2019

Natural Treatments for Heartburn and Acid Reflux

There seems to be a prescription medication for every describable body ailment existing today. An example of this can be seen in the abundance of drug solutions for heartburn and acid reflux.

The satisfaction portrayed in so many over the counter and prescription commercials convey the subliminal message that there is an easy and fast fix for these conditions. Even after the usual barrage of dreadful side effects are explained, people often still choose these treatments, failing to consider the natural treatments for heartburn and acid reflux that are available.

This is not surprising because it is a well known fact that people will and do pay more attention to what medications can do for them (in terms of relieving distress and pain) than how these very same medications can create very dangerous side effects. 

Why? People suffering from an uncomfortable condition want immediate relief.  Because of this, they will ignore the longer route; even if it is safer and more effective overall. Let's take a closer look at how this applies to heartburn and acid reflux.

The Facts About Heartburn and Acid Reflux

Heartburn is a fairly common medical condition in that affects up to 20% of the population.  Despite what many over the counter and prescription drug commercials would have you believe, heartburn is not just a reaction to overeating and/or spicy food.  If it occurs frequently enough and is neglected over a long period of time, it can lead to serious conditions, including esophageal ulcers and esophageal cancer.

Recurring heartburn is actually a symptom of something more serious than poor eating choices or habits.  In most cases, it is a symptom that indicates gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).  This means that the acidic, digestive enzyme-filled stomach fluids are leaking from the protected stomach area (which has a lining guarding it from the very juices and enzymes it creates) into the unprotected esophagus. The esophagus is made of protein just like many of the foods that we eat, and when it is splashed with digestive stomach juices, it becomes irritated.

When stomach fluids pass back up into the esophagus, a sharp pain or spasm is felt behind the sternum.  This can even rise to the larynx and cause a burning sensation in the mouth and instigate a coughing reflex.  If acid repeatedly completes its journey back into mouth, there may be wearing away of the enamel of the teeth which leads to tooth decay.  This is what happens to people with bulimia; the constant passage of stomach acid across the teeth as food is regurgitated eventually takes a toll.

The symptoms of heartburn can be exacerbated after a large meal.  Leaning forward or reclining in a flat position will worsen the symptoms as well.

Clearly, heartburn is very uncomfortable and often exhibits the same symptoms as some other serious medical conditions, including heart attack, pulmonary embolus, and pneumonia and chest wall pain.

Because of this, it is prudent to have a medical examination to rule these other medical conditions out.  While conventional medicine does have a very important place in deciphering medical mysteries of the body, opinions often vary among medical professionals when it comes to treating conditions found.  This is particularly true when the benefits and efficacy of alternative remedies is introduced.  Natural treatments for heartburn and acid reflux are frequently not considered at all.

Common Causes

Before discussing the treatments, let's take a moment to consider the reasons acid can slip back into the esophagus. Here are some undisputed reasons:

·         Activities and foods that cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax (i.e. the valve that is supposed to close and prevent the acid backwash).  These include: smoking and eating foods with high fat content.

·         Some foods and medicines that people take are thought to increase stomach acid secretion.  These include: high caffeine foods (e.g. coffee and chocolate), anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. aspirin and ibuprofen), carbonated drinks, and acidic fruits (particularly citrus but also tomatoes and tomato products).

·         A hiatal hernia is a physical irregularity in which a portion of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm and impacts the way the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) works.  It is when the LES is affected that the acid reflux happens.  The hiatal hernia itself does not create the GERD symptoms.

·         Some esophageal diseases such as scleroderma and sarcoidosis can contribute to heartburn symptoms.

·         Pregnancy can put upward pressure on the abdomen which causes the LES to weaken.

·         Obesity can have a similar impact when increased abdominal pressure forces the LES to fail.

Medications and How They Work

Now let's go back and consider those over the counter (OTC) and prescription medications that are so popular and how they work.

Most people will reach for the OTC solutions that attempt to neutralize stomach acids.  These typically contain ingredients such as magnesium, aluminum hydroxide, sodium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate.  These may provide the “immediate relief” (1-3 hours after taking them) that is sought but these do nothing to prevent the buildup of more acids in the stomach.

It is important for those who are on sodium restricted diets to refrain from taking the antacid relief products that contain sodium bicarbonate.  Another consideration is the need to refrain from products containing calcium bicarbonate if one is prone to kidney stones.  Ironically, even though this compound may initially battle stomach acid, the calcium component soon contributes to an increase in stomach acidity.  This is the reason that milk is not a good remedy for heartburn (even though the coating effect feels great at first).  In a short period of time, the heartburn will be significantly worsened by the ingestion of milk.

Since OTC antacids do not mix well with a variety of prescription drugs given for other conditions, it is important to check with a physician or pharmacist before ingesting OTC remedies.

Prescription heartburn medications try to reduce the creation of acid in the stomach rather than neutralizing existing acid.  Some over the counter medicines act as acid blockers that suppress the production of acid. Both antacids and acid blockers may harmfully mask symptoms; for example the symptoms of bleeding ulcers in people suffering with rheumatoid arthritis.

The dispute that exists between these conventional remedies and natural treatments for heartburn and acid reflux arises from what is considered to be the source of the problem.  Naturopathic physicians insist that bloating and indigestion are a result of insufficient stomach acid.  They claim that antacids and acid blockers make the problem worse.  Why? They say that when there is insufficient acid created by the stomach that foods will start to ferment in the stomach and thus cause the acid problem.  If the stomach cannot create the proper acidity, the food cannot break down.  Clearly, if this is the case, antacids and acid blockers not only offer just temporary relief but will end of making the problem worse.  This does seem to happen for many people.

Natural Treatments

What are the most effective natural treatments for heartburn and acid reflux?  The following suggestions can help avoid the harmful side effects of conventional remedies:

·         Eat smaller sized meals more frequently.

·         Avoid irritants such as alcohol, aspirin, ibuprofen and caffeine.

·         Quit smoking.

·         Do not eat before bedtime (since heartburn symptoms can be exacerbated by lying down).

·         While sleeping, keep your head elevated by using multiple pillows.  This allows the force of gravity to keep stomach acid flowing downward.

·         Eliminate sweet drinks with every meal and allow your saliva to moisten and start digesting your food (saliva contains enzymes to do this).

·         Eat slowly and regularly.

·         Use cooling and healing herbs such as: fennel, anise, cumin, caraway, chamomile and peppermint.  These will naturally neutralize gas in the digestive tract.  Additionally, pure vegetable charcoal will help to absorb any incomplete products of digestion.  When these herbs are used regularly, there will be an improvement of your overall digestion overtime.

·         Other herbs worth investigating (always read more thoroughly for side effects and interactions with other medicines and consult your doctor prior to using): licorice, Aloe Vera juice (which has had the laxative compounds removed), slippery elm, marshmallow and bladderwrack.

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