Heartburn: How to tame the fire breathing dragon!

Posted by Andrea Rossi, RHN, R.BIE in Digestive Health

2018-11-06

The odds are that you or someone you know experiences heartburn. Around half of North American adults experience it at least once per month. Somewhere between 10-20% have it at least once per week!

Heartburn, also known as in the more severe cases as GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease), occurs when the strong acid (hydrochloric acid - HCL) in your stomach creeps up into your esophagus.

It can feel like a burning sensation; hence the name "heartburn." Other common symptoms include bloating, burping, difficulty swallowing, or a sore throat. Often there is a bitter or sour taste as well.

Stomach acid is really important for our digestive health, but we need that acid to stay in the stomach, and not get up to our esophagus!

Stomach acid doesn't usually burn the stomach itself; this is because the stomach is protected by a layer of mucus. But your esophagus doesn't have that same protection. It has a valve that is supposed to prevent things from going the wrong way (i.e. keep food, drink, and acid down; not allow it back up). And when your esophagus is exposed to stomach acid too often, it can cause the infamous burning, inflammation, and other potential issues.

Most frequently the people suffer from acid reflux often have a hiatal hernia, eat more processed foods, have unknown food sensitivities, are pregnant, or have an imbalance of stomach acid from medications, or even too much antacid usage!

Medications such as pain killers, muscle relaxers, blood pressure prescriptions, antibiotics and even aspirin and cause acid reflux and GERD.

The Importance of Stomach Acid

One of the biggest problems with heart burn is that it’s too often misunderstood.

Stomach acid is actually EXTREMELY important and essential for optimal digestion and good health! However, as soon as you start to treat it with products that reduce the amount of acid your body is producing, you start a cascade of other problems and almost always will make your heart burn issues worse in the long run.

The Many Role of Stomach Acid:

- Protects us against harmful microbes (i.e. bacteria) that lurk in our food and drinks
- Helps break down our food and digest nutrients
- Triggers the release of enzymes such as pepsin which are essential for the digestion of protein and the absorption vitamin B12
- Critical in signaling the other digestive organs to release their juices and enzymes so that your body can digest all the various macro nutrients you’ve just ingested
- Triggers the muscle contractions in the intestines (peristalsis) that physically move the food through your entire digestive tract

Could it be low stomach Acid??

If you’re experiencing heart burn symptoms, before jumping on an antacid, you might want to look into the potential that you might actually have too little stomach acid (called hypochlorhydria).

In most cases of heart burn the problem is actually that the acid levels in the stomach are too low and not too high!

Why would your acid be low you might ask?

Well, the most common reason for low stomach acid is actually age. (Just in case you wanted another reason to be excited to get older!) As we age, our body naturally produces less stomach acid. In fact, at least 30% of the population over the age of 65 are low in stomach acid. Other factors for low HCL levels include stress, low levels of zinc, B1, and B6.

When your food enters your stomach, the high acid levels are needed to start breaking down the food you just ate (specifically the proteins) and trigger the remaining digestive organs (ie. gallbladder and pancreas) to secrete the remaining enzymes to break down the rest of the food. However, if you have low stomach acid or you’ve taken a product that lowers your stomach acid (ie. antacids), then you don’t have enough acid in your stomach to break down the food. This leads to your food sitting in your stomach for much too long, creating a lot of gas and discomfort, which then leads to acid like reflux symptoms to occur.

The Issue with Antacids

The major problem with antacids is that they’re widely overused. People experience heartburn symptoms and it’s so easy to just grab an over the counter product like Tum’s which eases the immediate pain. However, after multiple uses your body’s ability to produce enough acid is getting supressed. And then your Doctor easily can prescribe a daily prescription to keep the “problem” away consistently. And then you’re stuck in the cycle of low acid, feeling like too much acid, so you never stop taking the medication.

There are 3 main types of medications that treat acid reflux symptoms:

1. Antacid { TUMS® }
2. Histamine Type 2 Receptor Antagonists (H2 blockers) { Pepcid/Pepcid AC®, Axid®, Tagamet® and Zantac® }
3. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) { Nexium®, Aciphex®, Prevacid® and Prilosec® }

If you have or are currently taking an antacid medication, I would encourage you to look into the potential side effects, especially for long term use.

The list of side effects often includes uses such as: kidney stones or problems, calcium loss, osteoporosis, magnesium deficiency, headaches, muscle pain, anxiety, depression, liver damage, iron deficiency, ulcers, and even more serious items such as stomach cancer.

Prescription medication for antacids are meant for short term use of a max of 8 weeks due to their effects. It’s important for you to understand the root cause of why you got heartburn and what you can do to heal your body.

How to know if you have too much or too little?

There are a couple at home tests you can do that will help you determine if your “heartburn” is actually from too much acid or not enough. So, if you like to understand what’s going on in your body (and I mean if you’re reading my article I’m going to assume you are! 😉) then here are 3 at home tests you can do!

1. Sodium Bicarbonate Test

First thing one morning on an empty stomach (before eating or drinking anything) mix a 1/4 tsp of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in 6oz of water. Drink the mixture (it may taste slightly salty) and start your timer.

Optimal burp time 1-2mins
If you burp before 1 mins your stomach acid is too high and we need to calm digestive fire
If you burp between 2-3mins you have slightly low levels of stomach acid
If you burp between 3-5 mins your stomach acid is low
Anything after 5 mins and you have super low stomach acid

If you have sufficient levels of stomach acid, the bicarbonate will be converted into carbon dioxide gas, which should cause belching within less than 5 minutes. If you have not belched within 5 minutes, stop timing and make an appointment with me!

Note: It won’t be a big burp, it’s going to feel more like little air bubbles coming up from your stomach.

2. Apple Cider Vinegar Test

This is probably my favorite test and easiest to do. Around 5 -10 min before dinner, take a shot of ½ oz water + ½ oz apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized, aka ‘with mother’). If you experience heartburn symptoms shortly after, you have high stomach acid. If you experience nothing for the next few minutes after (other than the tingle on the way down), then you most likely have low stomach acid.

You can continue to increase your ACV a little each day until a point where you feel a burn, and then pull back the dosage. Ex: Day 1 - 1 tbsp, no reaction. Day 2 – 2 tbsp, no reaction. Day 3 – 3 tbsp, no reaction. Day 4 – 4 tbsp, reaction. Pull back for Day 5 – 3 tbsp, no reaction.

Then stay at the dose where you had no reaction until your body starts to react and then you decrease the dose again. This is helping to re-train your stomach to product the proper levels of acid naturally.

Another test you can do with apple cider vinegar is that if you experience an episode of heart burn, take a shot or tablespoon of ACV (or pure lemon juice) to see if it helps calm the fire. If it does, this is another indication that your acid levels are low.

3. Hydrochloric Acid Capsule

If you tried one of the above tests and you feel that you might indeed have low stomach acid, I would encourage you to try to introduce a HCL capsule with your high protein meals (usually dinner). You would take this a few bites into your meal to see if it affects your acid levels. If you feel good, another indication that your stomach is low in acid. This is something you can add in daily to help increase your acid levels and improve digestion.

Note: Don’t try this without having tried one of the above tests first and feel that your acid is indeed low. If you do have high stomach acid the capsule will aggravate it.

Tips to Overcome Heartburn

I'm going to share a bunch of tips that may help you overcome your heartburn symptoms naturally. Of course, if symptoms last for a long time, or get worse, it's probably a good idea to see your doctor.

Tip #1 – Foods to eat (and avoid)

You may notice that when you eat or drink certain things, you get heartburn soon afterward. These triggers may be different for everyone; but often include onions, garlic, chocolate, citrus, tomato, mint, spicy foods, greasy foods, coffee, carbonated drinks, or alcohol. If any of these affect you, reduce them or even try cutting them out to see if it makes a difference.

Heartburn might also result from a sneaky food intolerance. Try eliminating grains, dairy, and processed foods for a few weeks and see if that helps.

Also try to increase your fiber intake. This means more whole, unprocessed foods, especially veggies! Try getting at least five servings of veggies every day. In fact, potatoes may be a great addition to meals if you suffer from heartburn.

Tip #2 – How and when to eat

Eat slowly and chew your food very well. Use meal times to release stress.

Don’t eat meals that are too big. When we pack too much food at once in our stomachs there isn’t enough acid to break down the food allowing the food to sit for long periods of time allowing for heartburn symptoms to occur.

And don’t eat too close to bedtime. You want to avoid lying down with a full stomach. We’re talking finishing eating 2-3 hours before lying down, so schedule your dinner or snack with this in mind.

Tip #3 – Lifestyle techniques

Sometimes strenuous exercise can make heartburn symptoms worse. If this happens to you, then focus on low-intensity exercises like walking and cycling.

If symptoms come on as you’re lying down to sleep, try adding a pillow or two so your head is a bit higher than your stomach.

Another interesting tip is to try sleeping on your left side. Lying on your left side works because the valve that prevents the acid from "leaking" into your esophagus is located on the right side of the stomach. So, when you're lying on your left, the acid is away from that valve.

Conclusion

Heartburn is a very common condition where stomach acid creeps up into the esophagus (where it’s not supposed to be).

If you suffer from symptoms of heartburn, there are many things you can do. There are foods and drinks to avoid and veggies to increase. You can eat slower, chew more thoroughly, and don't lie down within 2-3 hours of eating. Also, try low-intensity exercise and sleeping on your left side.

Try one of the acid tests to see if indeed you do have too much acid or if you don’t have enough. The way to help the situation greatly differs in either condition. 

Many of my clients have found it extremely helpful to take peppermint essential oil internally or applying directly on their abdomen for relief. {Please make sure you’re using a therapeutic grade such as doTERRA}

doTERRA’s pure peppermint essential oil is equivalent to around 28 cups of peppermint tea! So imagine the soothing effects of the tea, x28!! Yup, magical plant medicine! 😉

A great way to take peppermint essential oil would be in a warm cup of herbal tea or warm water with a spoon of honey and ½ tsp apple cider vinegar.

doTERRA also sells the peppermint oil in beadlet form which makes it super convenient when on the go and you need something to help asap.

You can purchase the oil or beadlets here on my site under the shop tab: https://www.mydoterra.com/andrearossi/

Try these simple and natural strategies to see how you feel. They can help prevent or relieve heartburn symptoms for you.

If you're struggling with heartburn, bloating, and other digestive issues, I would recommend you download my Beat the Bloat handout to kick-start the healing process!

Much Love,

 

 

 

 


References:

https://www.dietvsdisease.org/get-rid-acid-reflux/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/heartburn-reflux-gerd

https://authoritynutrition.com/heartburn-acid-reflux-remedies/

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc082292

 

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