Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Have you ever had heart burn? Most of us have at one time or another, but most of us also took a tums or some other antacid to treat it, right? Acid reflux is an extremely common health problem, affecting as many as 50 percent of Americans, and like back pain almost everyone has experienced it at some point or another. Some other terms used for this condition are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or peptic ulcer disease, but they are all essentially the same, just having different degrees of severity.
So, quick anatomy moment. Basically, after food passes through your esophagus and into your stomach, a muscular valve called the cardiac sphincter closes, preventing food or acid from moving back up, or at least it’s supposed to.
Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter fails to contract fully, allowing acid from your stomach to flow (reflux) backward into your esophagus. The symptoms are often things you might not expect. Symptoms such as chest pain, a bitter taste in the mouth, stomach discomfort after eating, hoarseness, sore throat, cough, asthma, nausea, dental issues, extra saliva, trouble swallowing, and an upset stomach or burning feeling. It’s more than you thought huh?
It's important to understand that acid reflux is not a disease caused by excessive acid production in your stomach; rather it's a symptom more commonly related to other things. These include:
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection (H. pylori bacteria is thought to affect more than half of the world's population, and has been identified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization)
Low acid conditions in the stomach
While these conditions are unrelated, many who have a hiatal hernia also have H. pylori, which causes a chronic low-level inflammation of your stomach lining that can result, eventually, in an ulcer. If you have a hiatal hernia, physical therapy on the area may work and many chiropractors are skilled in this specialized adjustment, but be certain to ask first. But know this: Helicobacter is quite common in GERD.
That said, certain prescriptions and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can cause heartburn. Common culprits include anxiety medications and antidepressants, antibiotics, blood pressure medications, nitroglycerin, osteoporosis drugs, pain relievers and antacids. That’s right, the very thing purported to prevent heart burn may actually contribute to it.
Certain foods are known to contribute to heartburn too. Alcohol, although not a food is a huge culprit because it tends to relax the cardiac sphincter and allow reflux, especially if you have a hiatal hernia. The same is true of fried foods, spicy foods, tomatoes, citrus fruits, mint, beef, coffee, cheese, soda, chocolate, garlic, salt and pepper, butter and candy. It’s like you can’t eat anything without upsetting your stomach. But don’t lose the faith, there are many ways to improve this condition (and have your chocolate too).
If your heartburn is caused by a medication you're taking, the answer is, of course, to address what, when, and how you're taking that drug. Do not make the mistake of simply adding yet another drug to counteract this side effect.
If you do go to a doctor they are going to love to prescribe you a drug. Because that’s what they do. It’s like asking a jelly fish not to sting you. Once the young impressionable doctor has been indoctrinated by the pharmaceutical industry to believe that the only course of treatment is another medication, then they are lost to the pharmaceutical machine. More than half of the nation’s medical residency programs to train doctors in internal medicine for instance accept financial support from the drug industry, and they don’t do it because they want to donate their time and money. Up to a few years ago the pharma industry rewarded doctors with lavish trips when they prescribed their medications. Still today the pharma industry cuts bonus checks when the doctors write so many prescriptions for their drugs. Not certain hat’s entirely ethic, but it is legal.
So when doctors are rewarded for writing prescriptions, they are less likely to tell you about natural cures. And advertising does not help. We are led to believe that acid reflux is just an unfortunate result of a large, heavy meal every once in a while. For others, it is a chronic issue caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that causes pain and a burning sensation. Doctors, trained by big pharma quickly recommend a heartburn drug such as Prevacid, Nexium, or Prilosec to alleviate the symptoms, and many are thrilled to find something that helps them feel better, even if it is a drug. But, like most drugs, it appears that the relief these drugs can bring may not be worth the risk. New research suggests that some heartburn medications may be linked to heart attacks. It seems that a common GERD medication called PPI’s or proton-pump inhibitors directly affect heart tissue. Since the increased risk is about 20%, giving a PPI to someone already with heightened risks could be devastating. These PPI’s have also been linked to such side effects as headaches, nausea, pneumonia, and osteoporosis along with calcium and vitamin B12 deficiencies, incomplete digestion, and anemia.
Now we know this, it is important to understand that acid reflux is NOT due to having too much acid in your stomach, so taking antacids tends to be a waste of time. Rather, as pointed out, it's a condition related more commonly to hiatal hernia – a condition in which the acid comes out of your stomach, which is where it's designed to be confined to. So suppressing stomach acid production tends to just worsen and perpetuate the condition, but certainly not to treat it.
One interesting study actually found that hydration was the best tool to lower your stomach reflux, drinking at least half your body weight in ounces significantly reduces GERD. In fact, studies find that drinking 8-10 ounces of water reduces your GERD symptoms as much as if not better than most antacids. Ultimately, the answer to heartburn and acid indigestion is to restore your natural gastric balance and function and kill the bacteria causing the problem.
Studies have shown that natural foods such as green tea and cranberry juice inhibit the growth of H. pylori infections in the stomach lining. But newer studies find that olive oil is also very effective too, along with some (but not all) of the following:
Broccoli Sprouts, which contain the biochemical sulforaphane acts as an antibiotic against H. pylori. Other foods containing suporaphane include: any cruciferous vegetables such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage and cauliflower.
Manuka honey is also antibacterial, as is coconut oil. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid, which has antimicrobial activity against Helicobacter pylori and destroys the cell membrane.
Of interest is red wine, touted as something to avoid generally since it is an alcohol, but wine has resveratrol which studies have shown to have antibacterial activity against H. pylori, specifically Chilean red wines, Cabernets and Pinot Noir which have high concentrations of resveratrol. Other research has shown that in addition to Cabernets and Pinot Noir, Zinfandels and Merlots also have antimicrobial properties for fighting H. pylori.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) contains an active compound called curcumin which has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of H. pylori. One recommendation calls for taking 400-800 mg of turmeric powder per day to stop H. pylori growth.
Oregano Oil made from Origanum vulgare L. has antibacterial, antioxidant, antifungal, antiparasitic, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. Phew, pretty impressive! Oregano oil contains the phenols thymol and carvacol which inhibit H. pylori growth. High concentrations of thymol can be toxic however, so make sure you do not take more than the recommended dosage. One doctor remedy is taking 2 capsules twice a day for two weeks.
Cranberry (Vaccinium spp.) contains polyphenols which can suppress Helicobacter pylori, although you need more than a little of them, and they must be pure cranberries, not the juice you buy in a store.
Finally, you need to optimize your gut flora. In fact, not only is it useful to obtain optimal gut function but it is crucial for your long-term health. Gut flora can increase your absorption of nutrients by 50 percent and create useful B vitamins and vitamin K2. It is very clear from reviewing the literature that you can't be healthy until your gut flora is optimized. That is one of the ways sugars harm you—they push your gut flora balance in the wrong direction.
So one of the first things you'll want to do is to make sure you're consuming enough good bacteria (pre and probiotics). This will help balance your bowel flora, which can help eliminate helicobacter bacteria naturally. It will also aid in proper digestion and assimilation of your food.
Ideally, you'll want to get your beneficial bacteria from traditionally fermented foods, such as:
Fermented vegetables, like kimchee or sauerkraut
Kefir, a fermented milk drink made from RAW milk
Yoghurt made from raw milk
However, you can be virtually guaranteed that if you are purchasing products like yogurt and kefir from a conventional grocery store, they're worse than worthless. Not only do most of them have no live cultures but they are loaded with sugar to make them taste better. So make sure to check the labels of any commercial products you buy, and avoid those with ANY added sugars.
Also avoid pasteurized products in any form.
Based on a quick review of the medical literature, these foods are also helpful.
Sauerkraut or cabbage juice is one of the strongest stimulants for your body to produce acid. This is a good thing as many people have low stomach acid, which is the cause of their gut problems. Having a few teaspoons of cabbage juice before eating, or better yet, fermented cabbage juice from sauerkraut, will do wonders to improve your digestion.
Astaxanthin—This exceptionally potent antioxidant was found to reduce symptoms of acid reflux in patients when compared to a placebo, particularly in those with pronounced helicobacter pylori infection. Best results were obtained at a daily dose of 40 mg.
A dietary supplement containing melatonin, l-tryptophan, vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin B12, methionine and betaine, was found to be superior to the drug omeprazole in the treatment of GERD. Impressively, 100 percent of patients receiving this supplement reported a complete regression of symptoms after 40 days of treatment, compared to just under 66 percent of those taking omeprazole. The authors concluded that “this formulation promotes regression of GERD symptoms with no significant side effects.”