Steps to Knock Out Acid Reflux Naturally
In my last two articles, I’ve mentioned the term body language not in the traditional sense but to say that our body is always communicating with us, telling us what it needs and doesn’t need, what feels good and what doesn’t. I feel like mine is usually telling me I need a burrito; but I digress.
Although heartburn and reflux seem like a mean way for our body to communicate, we had better figure out what it’s saying. While we all know the feeling, nearly half of Americans regularly experience heartburn and reflux, and most statistics we have underestimate its prevalence because this condition is so commonly undocumented and simply treated with antacids from the Citgo station down the street.
That being said, acid-reducers are the third most commonly prescribed drugs, pulling in between 15 and 20 BILLION dollars annually (I’m almost tempted to change careers). All of these drugs essentially have the same goal- suppress stomach acid (HCl). But what if having too much acid isn’t really the problem and our body is saying something entirely different?
Current experts agree that although these drugs can temporarily relieve symptoms of heartburn and reflux, they do nothing to deal with the underlying causes (what our bodies are saying) and usually make things worse! From the hundreds of people I’ve worked with concerning this issue, I believe long-term use of medication for acid reflux to be equally as devastating as the condition itself.
So what are the primary causes of acid reflux?
- Insufficient stomach acid (HCl) If you’ve believed that reflux was the result of too much acid, you’re not alone. But quite the opposite is true. When researchers at the Tohama Clinic in Washington measured the stomach acid of those suffering from acid reflux, 90% of the time it was low. Moreover, they found that excess stomach acid was extremely rare and was hardly ever associated with acid reflux. Who knew?
- Dysfunction of the LES. The LES is the muscle that separates your stomach from your esophagus. Enormously important, it only opens to let foods and liquids enter the stomach, and occasionally to let gases and food come back up (yum!). Dysfunction of the LES can allow stomach acid to leak upwards into the sensitive esophagus, bronchial tubes, and throat. Here a few causes of this dysfunction:
- Hiatal hernia- This uncomfortable condition happens when you have a stretching or tear in the diaphragm, allowing part of your stomach to protrude up into the thoracic cavity.
- Inflammation- from stress, smoking, and taking certain medications.
- Eating certain inflammatory foods- this list is different for every person but can include alcohol, carbonated drinks, caffeine, nightshade vegetables, vegetable oils (especially fried), sugar, and spicy foods, or simply eating too close to bedtime.
- Food allergies or sensitivities.
- Obesity and pregnancy- puts pressure on the stomach and causes LES dysfunction.
- Bacterial or yeast infection. No matter your primary cause for reflux, an infection almost always plays a role.
WHY WE NEED STOMACH ACID…and why staying on the meds too long spells trouble
One of the most important functions of stomach acid is to inhibit bacterial growth. It’s our first line of defense against harmful bacteria that enter us through the mouth or nose. Those little suckers just don’t like getting burned with HCl. As you might guess, when our stomach acid is low, or when we reduce it, these pathogenic bacteria can survive and create lots of problems. H. Pylori is a specific type of bacteria that can flourish when stomach acid is low, causing bacterial infections that lead to acid reflux, ulcers, and bloating.
We need stomach acid for other things as well. Without adequate levels of stomach acid, the body cannot properly digest and absorb protein, calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron, zinc, folic acid, vitamin D and B12 from our food. Without sufficient stomach acid, we’ll become increasingly deficient in these nutrients, leading to a myriad of conditions like dehydration, anemia, fatigue, depression, or even osteoporosis over time. When people tell me that they suffer from leg cramps, muscle fatigue, or bronchial issues like asthma, one of my first questions is if they take medication for acid reflux. They almost always do! Moreover, when protein isn’t properly digested, it can wind up in our blood, causing a cascading immune response that can lead to food allergies and autoimmune conditions like Hashimotos, lupus, fibromyalgia, or rheumatoid arthritis.
So, if insufficient stomach acid leads to bacterial infections, poor digestion, and nutrient deficiencies, you can understand why taking acid reducing drugs, while offering immediate and short-term relief, ends up making all these worse! How can you escape?
Steps to Naturally Knock Out Acid Reflux
*If you have severe bacterial or yeast infections, these must be addressed before sustained healing can occur.
1. Put out the fire (inflammation) and heal your gut!
#1 Avoid the inflammatory foods that trigger acid reflux for you and eat plenty of nourishing, healing foods. In this article are listed some great examples. For those who have had severe reflux for years, I recommend following the GAPS protocol for at least 6 weeks.
#2 Aloe Vera Water. One of my favorite anti-inflammatory herbs–drinking aloe is one of the best things you can do to knock out reflux. A good dosage would be 2 oz, 3x per day.
#3 L-Gluatamine: This vital nutrient protects gut lining and repairs damage that occurs due to inflammation.
#4 B12 plays a vital role in gut healing. If you’ve had issues with reflux or have been on an acid reducing medication, you are more than likely deficient in B12 anyway.
#5 Drink both broth or take collagen protein! These are rich in nutrients that cool inflammation and bring healing to your gut.
2. Reestablish healthy levels of stomach acid and enzymes. This is a critical step in knocking out acid reflux.
#1 Digestive Bitters: I feel like bitters are the best kept secret for optimizing our digestion. Used by various cultures for thousands of years, they naturally stimulate stomach acid and digestive enzyme production by our bodies. At our store we carry a wonderful formula from the company Urban Moonshine.
#2 HCl: For some people who have been on acid reducing medication for years, restoring healthy HCl may involve taking it in supplement form. Also, some people may also not choose to take Bitters and would rather do a pill. When taking HCl, make sure it is Betaine HCl that contain Pepsin. Check out this article for proper dosing.
#3 Digestive Enzymes: my favorite broad spectrum enzymes are GOL’s Dr. Formulated Enzymes and Enzymedica Digest Spectrum.
#4 Raw Apple Cider Vinegar and other fermented foods can increase enzyme activity during digestion.
3. Reestablish healthy gut flora
#1 Minimize exposure to antibiotics in your food and water.
#2 Take a good quality probiotic supplement.
#2 Eat probiotic-rich foods. Some of my favorites are yogurt (without added sugar), kefir, kombucha, and fermented vegetables of all kinds. Check out Donna Schwenk’s website, Cultured Food Life, for information about these or to learn how to make them.
Want more information on this subject, check out Jonathan Wright’s book, Why Stomach Acid is Good for You. Don’t want to read a 300 page book on stomach acid? Make an appointment to come talk to me through message on our facebook page or call the Natural Food Store at 501-268-9585. God bless and have a good day.
Eric McMullen, C.N.C, M.Ed.