Causes, Symptoms and Natural Effective Remedies for Acid Reflux/GERD; Acid reflux is an extremely common health problem, affecting as many as 50 percents of Americans. Other terms used for this condition are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or peptic ulcer disease.
The hallmark symptom of acid reflux is “heartburn”—a burning sensation behind your breastbone that sometimes travels up your throat. In some cases, this pain can be severe enough to be mistaken for a heart attack.
Conventionally, acid reflux is thought to be caused by excessive amounts of acid in your stomach, which is why acid-blocking drugs are typically prescribed or recommended.
This is a serious medical misconception that adversely affects hundreds of millions of people, as the problem usually results from having too little acid in your stomach.
What Causes Heartburn?
After food passes through your esophagus into your stomach, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) closes, preventing food or acid to move back up.
Acid reflux occurs when the LES relaxes inappropriately, allowing acid from your stomach to flow (reflux) backwards into your esophagus. But 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:
- Hiatal hernia
- 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)
While these two conditions are unrelated, many who have a hiatal hernia also haveH. pylori, which cause a chronic low-level inflammation of your stomach lining that can result in an ulcer and associated symptoms. If you have a hiatal hernia, physical therapy on the area may work and many chiropractors are skilled in this adjustment.
The hypothesis that H. pylori infection is responsible, or at least a major factor, for producing the symptoms of acid reflux stems from the work done by Dr. Barry Marshall, an Australian physician, during the early 1980s.
Causes, Symptoms and Natural Effective Remedies for Acid Reflux/GERD
Are You Suffering a Drug Side Effect?
Besides these underlying conditions, please beware that certain prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can also cause heartburn. Common culprits include anxiety medications and antidepressants, antibiotics, blood pressure medications, nitroglycerin, osteoporosis drugs, and pain relievers.
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. Please do not make the mistake of simply adding yet another drug to counteract this side effect. WebMD offers a number of helpful tips for how to address drug-induced heartburn, such as:
- Avoid taking more than the recommended or prescribed dose
- Some medications are best taken on an empty stomach, while others are less likely to cause side effects like heartburn when taken with a meal. Check the label for instructions, or ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on when and how to take your medication
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review ALL the medications and supplements you’re taking to see if one or more of them cause heartburn.
Changing the dose or switching to another medication may be advisable to ease your heartburn. Some drugs may be available in cream form rather than a pill, which would be far less likely to cause heartburn
- Avoid laying down right after taking your medication
- Drink some ginger tea
Why Medications for Heartburn Can Do More Harm Than Good
One of the most commonly prescribed drugs for heartburn and acid reflux are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are very effective at blocking acid production in your stomach.
While that may sound like an appropriate remedy, considering the fact that stomach acid is creeping up your esophagus, in most cases, it’s actually the worst approach possible, as a major part of the problem is typically related to your stomach producing too little stomach acid.
There are over 16,000 articles in the medical literature showing that suppressing stomach acid does not address the problem. It only temporarily treats the symptoms.
PPIs like Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid were originally designed to treat a very limited range of severe problems. According to Mitchell Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, who wrote an editorial on this topic four years ago, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are only warranted for the treatment of:
- Bleeding ulcers
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (a rare condition that causes your stomach to produce excess acid)
- Severe acid reflux, where an endoscopy has confirmed that your esophagus is damaged
According to Katz, “about 60 to 70 percent of people taking these drugs have mild heartburn and shouldn’t be on them.” Part of the problem with PPIs is that when you suppress the amount of acid in your stomach, you decrease your body’s ability to kill the helicobacter bacteria. So if your heartburn is caused by an H. pylori infection, it actually makes your condition worse and perpetuates the problem. Besides that, reducing acid in your stomach diminishes your primary defence mechanism for food-borne infections, which will increase your risk of food poisoning. PPI drugs can also cause potentially serious side effects, including pneumonia, bone loss, hip fractures, and infection with Clostridium difficile (a harmful intestinal bacteria).
Warning: Proton Pump Inhibitors Tend to Cause Dependence
It’s also worth noting that you’ll also develop both tolerance and dependence on PPI drugs, so you should not stop taking proton pump inhibitors cold turkey. You need to wean yourself off them gradually or else you might experience a severe rebound of your symptoms. In some cases, the problem may end up being worse than before you started taking the medication.
Ideally, you’ll want to get a lower dose than you’re on now, and then gradually decrease your dose. Once you get down to the lowest dose of the proton pump inhibitor, you can start substituting with an over-the-counter H2 blocker like Tagamet, Cimetidine, Zantac, or Raniditine. Then gradually wean off the H2 blocker over the next several weeks.
While you wean yourself off these drugs (if you’re already on one), you’ll want to start implementing a lifestyle modification program that can eliminate this condition once and for all. Antibiotics can typically eradicate H. pylori, but there are many other effective strategies that can also work. Ideally, you’d want to try these first, as antibiotics will also kill off the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which can cause other health complications. Besides, H. pylori is growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics, making the availability of non-drug alternatives even more important.
3 Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux Symptoms
- Acid Reflux Diet
Virtually every research study done on GERD and acid reflux points to diet as a contributing factor. First and foremost, the symptoms of acid reflux and GERD must be treated by changes in your diet in order to avoid long-term complications and restore healthy digestive dysfunction. Don’t ignore your body trying to alert you to a problem in your digestive tract.
For good digestive health and overall health and wellness, it’s important to select unprocessed, organic foods free from GMOs as much as possible. Increasing fiber intake, supporting healthy bacteria in your gut with probiotic-rich foods and taking supplements if necessary can all help resolve symptoms. Other steps include reducing grains (especially when refined) and sugar consumption, eating high-quality protein, and reducing intake of refined vegetable oils. All of this help protect the GI tract, balance hormonal function and help prevent many serious chronic diseases associated with poor digestive health.
Here are some foods that tend to make acid reflux worse and therefore should be avoided to minimize symptoms:
- Carbonated beverages, sugary drinks or energy drinks
- Artificial Sweeteners
- Fried foods
- Vegetable oils, including canola oil
- Spicy foods
- Processed foods
Foods that can help improve acid reflux include fresh organic vegetables (especially leafy greens, squash, artichoke, asparagus and cucumbers), free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, probiotic foods like yogurt, bone broth, healthy fats like coconut or olive oil, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, parsley, ginger, and fennel.
- Supplements for Acid Reflux Symptoms
In addition to eating a healthy diet of foods that help to soothe the symptoms of acid reflux and GERD, some find improvements when adding natural supplements to their diets. These can include:
- Digestive enzymes— Take one or two capsules of a high-quality digestive enzyme at the start of each meal. Digestive enzymes help foods fully digest and nutrients absorb properly.
- Probiotics — Take 25–50 billion units of high-quality probiotics daily. Adding healthy bacteria helps balance the digestive tracts and crowd out bad bacteria that can lead to indigestion, leaky gut and poor absorption of nutrients.
- HCL with Pepsin — Take one 650 milligram pill prior to each meal. Add additional pills as necessary to keep uncomfortable symptoms at bay.
- Chamomile, papaya or ginger herbal tea — Sip one cup of chamomile tea prior to bed sweetened with raw honey. Chamomile tea helps reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, supporting healthy functioning. You can also boil a one-inch piece of fresh ginger in 10 ounces of water for 10 minutes. In addition, papain, an enzyme in papaya, aids in digestion by breaking down proteins.
- Magnesium complex supplement — I recommend taking 400 milligrams of a high-quality magnesium supplement twice per day.
- Other Tips for Improving Digestive Health
- Raise the head of the bed four to six inches. Use blocks to raise the bed, not just a pillow to keep your head propped up, which can help keep acid in the stomach.
- Exercise and manage stress. A sedentary lifestyle and stress worsens symptoms of acid reflux and overall disrupt digestion. Try yoga, meditation, acupuncture, music or art therapy, or whatever helps you effectively manage stress.
- Don’t overeat. Eat smaller meals to allow foods to properly digest, as large meals and overeating put extra pressure on the sphincter.
- Give up smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
- Don’t consume food three hours prior to bed. Allow your stomach to digest the foods from the meal, and sip a herbal tea instead.
- Chew foods more thoroughly. Most people today don’t chew their food enough. Remember, digestion starts in the mouth.
Precautions Regarding Acid Reflux Symptoms
If your acid reflux symptoms interfere with your lifestyle or daily activity and last for more than two weeks, then consider visiting a doctor. Other reasons to get a professional opinion on treatment options include experiencing hoarseness, worsening of asthma after meals, pain that’s persistent when lying down, pain following exercise, difficulty breathing that occurs mainly at night, and trouble swallowing for more than one to two days.
Summary on Acid Reflux Symptoms
- Acid reflux is caused by stomach acid creeping up into the esophagus. Symptoms of acid reflux usually include chest pains, heartburn, a bad taste in the mouth, bloating, gassiness, and difficulty digesting and swallowing properly.
- Common causes of acid reflux and GERD include pregnancy, history of hiatal hernias, obesity, eating an unhealthy diet, older age and an imbalance of stomach acid.
- Natural remedies for acid reflux/GERD include improving your diet, avoiding certain problem foods, reaching a healthier weight, taking helpful supplements and eating smaller, more balanced meals.