Top 5 Natural Alternatives to Treat Acid Reflux
Many people are drawn to naturopathic medicine because they recognize that for the most part we promote maintaining good health through a healthy diet, abundant exercise and avoidance of toxic substances. Sometimes these toxic substances can include conventional medications. Although medications can be lifesaving necessities, most of us agree that it is fool hardy to take medications that cause potentially dangerous side effects when there may be a different option. The old saying “don’t let the cure be worse than the disease” is as true today as ever.
Recent research has discovered that proton pump inhibitors, a class of medications that are commonly used to treat heartburn and acid reflux, may cause more serious side effects than previously thought. This class of medication is used by more than 20 million people in the U.S. and is readily available as over the counter medications known by common brand names such as Prevacid®, Nexium® and Prilosec® and prescription medications such as Protonix® and Aciphex®. However, more recent studies link these medications to significant medical problems such as heart attacks, kidney disease, dementia, and bone fractures. Surprisingly only about 30% of the people using these medications actually need to take them. That leaves a resounding 70% of people who could find benefit from diet, lifestyle and natural therapies for acid reflux without taking the additional risk that these medications present.
After learning these alarming statistics many are motivated to try discontinuing their acid blocking medication. However, symptoms are destined to return unless you take steps to treat the underlying cause of the heartburn. Treating acid reflux without medication often means dedicating yourself to changing your habits . This takes some time and effort. Here are 5 keys to treating heartburn naturally:
1. Identify foods that trigger heartburn symptoms.
There are certain foods that are well known to trigger acid reflux including: alcohol, black pepper, garlic, raw onions, spicy foods, chocolate, citrus fruits, coffee, tea, soda, peppermint and tomatoes. Beyond the elimination of these foods, some people find relief on a gluten free and dairy free diet. There is even a blood test that goes one step further and helps identify food sensitivities. These are foods that cause the immune system to react and trigger an inflammatory response that lead to GI symptoms such as reflux, diarrhea, and constipation. At our clinic we often guide people on a strategic elimination diet to help identify potential food triggers for various GI symptoms including persistent acid reflux.
2. Lose weight around the abdomen.
Extra weight gain around the waistline can cause pressure to the internal organs like the intestines and stomach causing food to push up into the throat which causes burning. Losing weight, especially around the middle, can improve heartburn significantly. Those with more of an apple shape tend to lose weight when following a higher protein and lower carb diet plan. Limiting refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta, crackers and sugar can be a good first step to achieving your weight loss goals.
3. Improve digestion.
With all the focus on suppressing stomach acid it is often overlooked that stomach acid is a critical component for proper digestion. Many times heartburn, nausea and abdominal discomfort can be a result of eating past our own digestive capacities. Eating small meals and taking a high quality digestive enzyme supplement can help the breakdown and digestion of your food and reduce GI discomfort after meals.
4. Heal inflamed gastric tissues.
There are many substances that can cause the burning irritation in the stomach and esophagus. Tobacco products and alcohol are frequent culprits. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen and acetaminophen can irritate the gastric tissues and lead to GI bleeding when used excessively. Other causes of inflamed GI tissues are infections such as H.pylori, a bacterial infection known to cause ulcers, and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), a chronic infection in the small intestine that leads to frequent gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort and reflux. Our physicians at NaturoMedica frequent test for these types of infections which could only become worse if left untreated and often cause symptoms of heartburn and reflux.
Regardless of the cause of inflammation, exposing stomach acid to inflamed tissues is bound to cause some discomfort. Removing the irritant is an important first step followed with soothing natural therapies such as dyglycerized licorice root (DGL), aloe, zinc carnosine and glutamine. These herbs and nutrients have been shown to both reduce inflammation and promote healing to the digestive tract. One of our favorite GI healing formulas at NaturoMedica combines many of these nutrients together in a product called Intestinal Repair Complex.
5. Minimize stress.
Our digestive system is managed by our parasympathetic nervous system which also controls relaxation and resting in the body. Our body is designed to best digest food when in a rested and relaxed state. The parasympathetic nervous system directs blood flow to our stomach and intestines, initiates release of digestive enzymes from the pancreas and triggers movement of food through the intestines with rhythmic contractions called peristalsis. This is in contrast to the Sympathetic nervous system, also known as our “fight or flight” response that causes blood flow to our brain and muscles and causes release of stress hormones form the adrenal glands. Our stress induced fight or flight response diverts blood flow away from our digestive organs in order to prepare us to deal with stress. It is no wonder that chronic stress can greatly impair our digestive abilities causing common symptoms of heartburn, belching, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
Managing the stress response is an important part of a comprehensive treatment plan to managing digestive disturbance. Popular meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm offer guidance on meditation, an effective stress management technique. Biofeedback is another technique offered at NaturoMedica for stress management. During a biofeedback session a physician instructs you on mindfulness techniques while sensors are attached to the body to monitor such automatic body functions such as heart rate and body temperature giving you immediate insight on how your mind has control over your body. Biofeedback lets you have control of your stress response rather than letting it control you. Biofeedback is used for many conditions related to stress including anxiety, headaches, chronic pain and digestive problems.
More than ever people are motivated to manage their health with diet and lifestyle techniques and limit the number of medications they are taking. Re-evaluating the need for an acid blocking medication is a good place to start. Our physicians at NaturoMedica are well versed in guiding patients through the process of identifying underlying causes, recommending treatments for healing and restoring the body, and discussing the proper way to wean off of your medication. You can schedule an appointment with one of our 7 physicians 6 days a week and we have evening and Saturday appointments available. We look forward to helping you achieve your optimal health.