Heartburn also known as Acid Reflux or GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is one of the most common gastro intestinal GI tract disorders. It refers to the presence of stomach contents which are acidic in nature in the esophagus. It is usually caused by a weakened valve (LES-lower esophageal sphincter) between the esophagus and stomach which allows gastric contents to irritate the esophagus.
Symptoms of heartburn can be significantly debilitating and can include:
- A burning sensation in your chest, usually after eating, which might be worse at night.
- Chest pain.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid.
- Sensation of a lump in your throat and sometimes a persistent cough due to the irritation of the lining of your esophagus.
If left untreated, chronic (long-term) heartburn, or GERD, can result in serious problems including esophagitis (irritation of the esophagus- the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach ), Barrett’s esophagus (where the esophagus’ lining changes to tissue that resembles the lining of the intestine), strictures, and esophageal cancer.
To manage your heartburn, symptoms can be relieved with diet and lifestyle changes and these conventional tips:
- Reduce portions sizes or have smaller meals to reduce pressure in stomach.
- Allow 3-4 hrs between meals to help your gut “rest and digest”
- Limit intake of fatty foods, chocolate, peppermint, coffee, tea, colas, and alcohol – all of which relax the lower esophageal sphincter and can be irritants to your gut lining.
- Avoid acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits or juices, which can irritate the lining of the esophagus.
- Avoid lying down 2-3 hrs after eating and elevate your head about 6 inches in your bed by using yoga blocks or books to use gravity to help keep stomach acids away from esophagus.
- Avoid eating 2 to 3 hrs before bedtime to reduce risk of reflux by allowing the stomach to partially empty.
- Lose extra pounds if needed to reduce pressure in abdomen caused by excess body weight.
- Stop smoking which relaxes the esophageal sphincter and increases the likelihood of stomach acids going into the esophagus.
- Wear looser fitting clothes.
Over-the-counter Proton pump inhibitors like lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec)—are readily available over the counter and others, such as pantoprazole (Protonix), are frequently prescribed for long-term use and are assumed to be safe for the relief of esophageal reflux symptoms but recent evidence is showing their numerous and negative side effects.
Risks of long-term use (longer than 2 weeks) of proton pump inhibitors:
- Impaired nutrient absorption and an increased risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, including vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and magnesium which all require stomach acids for their absorption
- Altered gut health by reducing the diversity and composition of healthy microbes that inhabit your gut and an increase in opportunistic pathogens also known as bacterial overgrowth because of too little stomach acid production.
- Increased risk of heart attacks and reduced ability to promote dilation of blood vessels to improve blood flow.
- Kidney disease because of the PPIs effect on the proton pumps in kidney cells which are crucial for maintaining the blood PH balance.
- Dementia because PPIs can cross the Blood-Brain barrier
You may want to try these five non-conventional integrative and functional tips to manage your heartburn and to treat the root cause without risks:
- Switch to a low carb paleo diet to reduce bloating and abdominal pressure that may be caused by the malabsorption of carbohydrates which lead to bacterial overgrowth in areas of the gut where little bacteria should be present.
- Find out if you have low or high stomach acid by doing the easy and cheap at home baking soda acid test: Mix ¼ tsp of baking soda in four ounces of cold water, and drink the blend first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything else. Time how long it takes for you to burp. Early and repeated belching may be due to excessive stomach acid (but don’t confuse these with small little burps from swallowing air when drinking the solution). Any belching after 3 minutes or if you don’t burp at all is an indication of low stomach acid production.
- Treat bacterial overgrowth caused by low stomach acids which is often the cause of heartburn-sounds counterintuitive doesn’t it? but it makes sense if you know that the presence of acid in the stomach tightens the lower esophageal sphincter-the valve that connects the esophagus to the stomach.
- Drink a cup of water with ½-1 tsp of baking soda for immediate relief
- Use lemon or raw organic apple cider vinegar to improve digestion and nutrient absorption by marinating foods in them or adding them into dressings.
Get in touch with me if you would like a personalized low carb paleo menu and a customized plan to manage your heartburn or if you have low stomach acid and want to treat bacterial overgrowth in your gut.