We all know someone who has heartburn and has either been on or is on an acid blocker for this extreme discomfort in our chest called heartburn. In fact, 20-30% of people in the US have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). This can happen for a couple of different reasons. One of those reasons is when acid from your stomach (which is where it is supposed to be) goes up and into your esophagus (where we don’t want it). It’s not necessarily too much acid, its just acid in the wrong place. Another reason for a burning stomach may actually be too little of acid in. That’s right, your stomach may not producing enough acid to help with food digestion. Either way many people are treated with a proton pump inhibitor (Prilosec or omeprazole), histamine blockers (Pepcid AC), or simple antacids such as tums. This may be the easiest way if it works, but as always, it comes with side effects.
So what’s the purpose of acid?
- Acid in your stomach helps activate enzymes to break down your food
- Acid releases important minerals and vitamins such as Vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, calcium, and folate
- Acid helps kill microorganisms that we ingest with our food (parasites, molds, bacteria…)
- Helps in the secretion of digestive hormones
So what’s the big deal? It’s just acid suppression, and I feel better when I am on the medication.
- Eventually the lack of vitamins may lead to various types of anemia, dementia, and neuropathy after prolonged usage
- The lacking of such minerals may lead to decreased bone density
- The lack of acid allows bacteria in your gut to overgrow, a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) which can cause a person to feel bloated, gassy, more heartburn, constipated, and diarrhea
How can I help my heartburn with a more natural way with less side effects?
- First, start by being more mindful about what you are going to eat. Smell your food so your body can start to salivate and increase stomach secretions in order to prepare your body for digestion. You will be amazed by how much you salivate, if you just take the moment to think about what is about to happen.
- Also, CHEW your food thoroughly! It’s amazing how fast we eat and don’t realize it. Chewing your food will increase surface area so your enzymes (little pac mans) can chew up your food more thoroughly, more quickly, leading to the less likelihood of food and acid coming back up your esophagus.
- Breathe using your diaphragm. Many people are using their chest muscles to breath rather than their diaphragm. Your diaphragm helps close off the entry way of acid from your stomach into your esophagus. The next time you are in the office have me assess your breathing mechanism.
- Take a walk after meals.
- Eating a whole food, anti-inflammatory diet is always a good idea.
- Reduce the consumption of large meals, especially those with histamine producing or containing foods such as cheese, alcohol, many meats, chocolate, coffee, citrus fruits. Of course this is difficult, but may be something to consider if many other ways have not gotten 100% results.
- Of course, losing weight and quitting smoking is directly related for reducing heartburn.
- Sitting upright for 2-3 hours after eating.
- Certain supplements such as enzymes or mucous coating supplements such as marshmallow root may also be used. Please see this video on making a marshmallow root tea that helps coat and protect the lining of you digestive tract.
- Additionally acid containing supplements may also be an option. Before doing this though, please speak to me first.
If you are taking one of these acid blocking agents, coming off of them must be done very slowly. If you are at risk of esophageal cancer, Barret’s esophagus, or erosive esophagitis, then coming off of these may not be ideal for you. If so, frequent monitoring with your GI specialist is necessary. Lifestyle changes can only benefit you.
If you would like to take a lifestyle approach and need more direction for helping your heartburn please feel free to call, schedule online, or talk with the next time you are in.