Living with Heartburn? You may not have to.
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! But do you have to live with it?
First, let’s look at the causes of heartburn.
Heartburn, also known as reflux, occurs when the strong acid 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. When I was suffering from GERD (gastroesophogeal reflux disease), my main symptom came at about 3 o’clock in the morning. Severe chest and back pain and acid burning my throat. I would have to get up, go downstairs and make myself a cup of tea and a gluten-free bagel. After having that, I would sit on the sofa and fall back to sleep until 4:30 a.m. when the alarm would go off.
Now, don’t get me wrong, stomach acid is good! Stomach acid is essential for good health and optimal digestion. It’s when it backs up into your esophogus that it is bad.
We need the acid in our stomach to protect us against harmful microbes (i.e. bacteria) that lurk in our food and drinks. Stomach acid also helps us break down our food, and digest nutrients. 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, like Barrett’s Esophagus.
Will a Change in Foods and Lifestyle Help?
I went to see my doctor and they put me on 40 milligrams of Omeprizol, which is a double dose of Prilosec. I was on that from 2011 to 2014 and I worried about the long term effects of taking that high of a dose of a proton pump inhibitor.* So I researched and looked into alternative therapies.
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, you need to go 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. If you’re not already gluten-free, try eliminating grains. If you are gluten-free, try eliminating dairy, and processed foods for a few weeks and see if that helps.
Now, you may be wondering: “If I eliminate these foods/drinks, then what can I put in their place?”
Try increasing fiber intake. Yes, this means more whole, unprocessed foods, especially veggies! In fact, potatoes may be a great addition to meals if you suffer from heartburn. Try getting at least five servings of veggies every day.
Tip #2 – How and when to eat
Eat slowly. Use meal times to release stress. Chew your food very well. Don’t eat meals that are too big.
And don’t eat too close to bedtime. You don’t want to go to bed for three hours after eating. Because, the point is that you want to avoid lying down with a full stomach. We’re talking finishing eating 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, or even put risers under just the headboard of your bed.
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.
Tip #4 – Holistic Supplements
I, personally, have found some holistic supplements that have helped me get off of the PPI’s (proton pump inhibitors) like Prilosec. I’ve found that doTERRA’s DigestZen soft gels have been a huge help in supporting healthy digestion for me. I have also found a product by Life Extension called Esophageal Guardian. It has helped to keep the acid reflux to a drastic minimum. I chew two tablets just before bed and drink the recommended amount of water.
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 3 hours of eating. Also, try low-intensity exercise and sleeping on your left side.
Try these simple, natural strategies. They may be able to prevent or relieve heartburn symptoms for you.