One in ten Americans experiences heartburn at least once a week. Heartburn is a burning sensation experienced in the upper abdomen often just behind the breastbone. Heartburn is often worse when lying down or bending over. Because the pain of heartburn can mimic heart disease, it is important to get a prompt medical evaluation when you experience any new chest symptoms.
Heartburn is most typically caused by acid reflux which happens when stomach acid leaks back up into your esophagus. Occasional heartburn is common and is not necessarily a cause for alarm. It can often be managed by dietary changes and over the counter medications or supplements.
Heartburn that occurs frequently and interferes with your daily routine is called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Untreated GERD can eventually damage the esophagus and cause serious medical complications. Barrett’s esophagus is a complication of GERD where the tissue lining the esophagus erodes and eventually starts to resemble the tissue that lines the intestines. This condition raises the risk for esophageal cancer. One cause of chronic heartburn can be Helicobactor pylori (“H pylori”) which is a bacteria that can settle into the lining of your upper digestive tract. Eventually this can damage the lining and cause bleeding ulcers. Chronic heartburn accompanied by dark stools is always a cause for concern. Fortunately, H pylori infections are treatable, but they should be addressed promptly.
Heartburn can have a number of triggers including food, medications, ulcers, obesity and stress. Foods that commonly trigger heartburn include alcohol, chocolate, fried or fatty foods, coffee, citrus, tomatoes and soft drinks. In our experience, high carbohydrate diets tend to worsen heartburn because this type of diet likely promote overgrowth of undesirable bacteria and yeast.
At NaturoMedica, our initial treatment goal is to find the underlying cause of heartburn. A conventional medical work up for heartburn can include an x-ray of your upper abdomen, an endoscopy (where a flexible tube is passed down your throat to view the esophagus) or other tests based upon your symptoms. At NaturoMedica, we often run food sensitivity testing to identify trigger foods for heartburn. We frequently find that patients have food triggers beyond the typical ones. We take a thorough health history to determine diet and lifestyle factors that may be contributing to your condition.
It is important to treat heartburn to keep symptoms from worsening and from preventing permanent damage to your digestive tract. Treatments may include medication, diet and lifestyle changes and supplements.
Some of the more common supplements that we use for heartburn are:
Probiotics-Restoring beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract with a daily dose of probiotics can be helpful for many who suffer from heartburn. Two of our favorite probiotics are Metagenics Spectrum which is a capsule and Xymogen ProbioMax DF which we carry in a powder form.
Intestinal Repair Supplements-Products that aim to repair the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal system can be beneficial. Our best selling product in this category is Intestinal Repair Complex Powder by BioGenesis.
Digestive Enzymes-Enzymes that break down food to aid in digestion and absorption can be an important piece of treating GERD. We carry several digestive enzymes in the dispensary at our clinic, but the most popular is Thorne BioGest.
Acute Care- Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) has been shown to be helpful for acute heartburn. Rhizinate by Integrated Therapeutics International is great to keep on hand for occasional heartburn.
If you suffer from heartburn, we hope that you will schedule an appointment for further evaluation. We look forward to helping you on your path to improved health.