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Healing Acid Reflux—Naturally

You’ve likely experienced acid reflux before, and perhaps you’re plagued with its more serious, chronic form, gastroesophageal reflux disease (commonly known as GERD). Acid reflux, whether episodic or chronic, is a common problem for many in the United States. In fact, approximately 20 percent of the population suffers from the burning, bubbling, burping symptoms of stomach acid in the digestive tract where it doesn’t belong. Unfortunately, treatment tends to be geared towards a common misconception about reflux—that it is the result of TOO MUCH stomach acid when in reality, it may actually be the opposite. Read on to learn more about the real causes behind acid reflux and GERD, as well as some ways to treat these conditions naturally.


Although used interchangeably, heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD are all different. Heartburn is a symptom of both acid reflux and GERD, whereas acid reflux and GERD are conditions. Acid reflux is the result of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle being weak or unable to tighten properly, allowing acid from the stomach to slosh backward into the esophagus. In addition to heartburn, you might notice a cough, sore throat, and a bitter or sour taste in the mouth or back of the throat. You’ll know if you have GERD if you experience acid reflux more than twice a week. Other symptoms include a persistent dry cough, bad breath, chest pain, asthma, damage to tooth enamel from acid, and regurgitation. When left untreated, GERD can lead to damage of the esophagus and even cancer.


Studies show that as we age, our risk of experiencing bouts of acid reflux and developing GERD increase. However, stomach acid levels generally decrease as we age. So, if our risk of reflux goes up but our stomach acid levels go down, then clearly acid reflux is unlikely the result of too much stomach acid. In fact, more than 30 percent of people over 60 experience little to no stomach acid secretion while 40 percent of postmenopausal women don’t produce basal gastric acid at all (the kind of stomach acid secreted independently of eating). GERD is extremely common in these demographics so acid suppressing medication isn’t solving the problem, it’s masking it.


If the problem isn’t excess stomach acid, then what is it? Current research suggests that the lower esophageal sphincter is likely weakened by intra-abdominal pressure and/or other contributing lifestyle factors. These include pressure on the stomach caused by excess weight or obesity, as well as hiatal hernia and pregnancy. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking certain medications such as antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, NSAIDs, sedatives, and antidepressants, are all known to weaken the LES as well. Processed food, food intolerances, chronic illness, exposure to environmental toxins, and chronic stress also contribute to both low stomach acid and digestive inflammation, leading to intra-abdominal pressure and damage to the LES. Furthermore, low stomach acid may be a factor in SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) as stomach acid helps regulate bacteria. Without enough, it can lead to overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, causing poor digestion from decreased stomach enzymes, leading to even more damaging inflammation. Rather than treating it, acid-suppressing medications only perpetuate this vicious cycle.


While triggers vary by individual, there are a number of known foods that are common reflux triggers. These include fried and fast food, pizza, cheese, fatty meats, chili powder and pepper (cayenne, black, and white), tomatoes and tomato sauces, citrus fruits, chocolate, peppermint, and carbonated beverages (yes, even unsweetened seltzer water). While processed food should be eliminated from your diet, you may not want to completely give up foods like tomatoes or citrus fruit, so it is best to eat them in moderation and avoid eating them before bed, when lying down can bring them back into your esophagus.


It’s important to understand that the causes of acid reflux or GERD are individual, and factors for one person may not be the same for another. This is why it’s imperative to reach out to a health professional to help you determine what may be causing your reflux.

After you determine the underlying factor or factors, there are some natural ways to help heal your LES and bolster your overall digestive health to help prevent future problems.

· If your doctor finds that you have low stomach acid, you can take steps to improve it naturally by incorporating fermented vegetables into your diet (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles); eliminating processed food, drinking diluted apple cider vinegar before meals, and thoroughly chewing your food.

· Eat high fiber foods to help prevent overeating. Healthy fiber is satiating and will keep you feeling fuller longer without the pressure on your LES caused by eating a big meal. Fiber-rich foods include asparagus, broccoli, green beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and oatmeal.

· Incorporate healthy fats into your diet, such as olive and flaxseed oils, avocados, chia seeds, and fatty fish, which will promote good digestion and boost your body’s natural detoxification processes.

· Consider eating alkaline foods to offset strong stomach acid. Examples include bananas, melon, cauliflower, fennel, and nuts.

· Watery foods, like lettuce, celery, cucumber, watermelon, herbal tea, and broth will also help dilute strong stomach acid.

· Eat smaller, more frequent meals to keep you from overeating.

· Lose weight, stop smoking, and eliminate or drastically reduce your alcohol intake.

· Talk with your healthcare provider about certain medications which may be contributing to your acid reflux/GERD and see if any modifications can be made.

· For occasional reflux, try drinking aloe vera mixed with coconut water to soothe an inflamed esophagus, or drink a cup of ginger tea, a natural digestive aid with anti-inflammatory properties.


Although everyone is different and causes of acid reflux and GERD will vary from person to person, low stomach acid is thought to be a largely undiagnosed problem for many, meaning that acid-suppressing medications could be doing more harm than good. If you’re concerned about reflux, please contact me. Together we can pinpoint your specific health needs, heal your reflux, and restore your digestive health for good.


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