When it comes to heartburn and acid reflux, we have commonly been told that our stomach has too much acid that is creating uncomfortable and painful symptoms.
The truth is that it is often not an issue of too much stomach acid.
So what’s really going on and how do we get to the root of the problem?
At the first sight of food, we typically start to salivate. If we prepare the food ourselves, we salivate even more as we smell the food we are preparing. Once we sit down to eat, our digestion has been primed and those gastric juices that are such a crucial part of digestion have increased and are ready for the work of breaking down our food. Hopefully, we also chew our food thoroughly which again makes the job of the stomach easier too.
Unfortunately though, many of us today don’t prepare our own food, we don’t actually sit down to eat, and we definitely don’t take our time and chew our food. We also don’t always make food choices that support our body’s natural healthy processes.
Given these factors, when we eat on the go or we are stressed or we make poor food choices, our digestion is not primed to do the work. Gastric juices are not really flowing in excess because they haven’t been signaled to start flowing. Our stomach in this case is producing very little stomach acid. So then how does heartburn and acid reflux become as issue?
When you eat, food passes down the esophagus and into your stomach.
At the lower end of the esophagus is the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. After food passes through this sphincter, it is supposed to close and prevent food or acid from moving back up into the esophagus. When the stomach acid production is low, the LES is not signaled to close. So it remains open, allowing stomach acid and/or food to move up into the esophagus.
Typical go-to treatments of these symptoms are over the counter antacids like TUMS or prescription proton pump inhibitors like nexium, prilosec, or prevacid. TUMS are basically calcium carbonate with sugar, food additives and coloring. The calcium carbonate is not necessarily so terrible but you do need to know when and how much to take for it to actually help improve your digestive symptoms and not just cause more harm. TUMS are definitely NOT a long term solution.
Proton pump inhibitors are a class of medication whose main action is to reduce the production of stomach acid. This often does relieve symptoms because you are no longer producing stomach acid AT ALL so there really isn’t anything to flow up into the esophagus and cause burning. However, the complications that arise as a result of this are many and varied. One common symptom that I see in my practice when a person is or has been on PPIs is fatigue because they are now also lacking in a variety of essential nutrients. The body can’t absorb what is being eaten because the food isn’t being properly broken down.
Now that you have a better understanding of the problem, what can you do about it?
You can start by adding a few key foods to your diet such as pure, raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar, cabbage juice or sauerkraut, or high quality unprocessed salt. Taking 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar in a large glass of water daily is going to help increase production of stomach acid.
Cabbage juice or sauerkraut is another strong stimulant for your body to produce stomach acid so taking a few teaspoons of either of these prior to meals will boost digestion. The salt (Himalayan is a good one) will provide your body with the necessary ingredients for making stomach acid while adding necessary trace minerals to your diet.
One last thing that I often advise people to help improve their digestion is to breathe! Just before you eat, STOP, close your eyes and give yourself a couple seconds to take 2-3 deep belly breaths. Just doing this simple action can have a tremendous benefit on your ability to digest your food, among so many other amazing benefits.
If you are suffering with heartburn or acid reflux, I strongly recommend trying some of these suggestions.
Remember we are always here to help you if you are unsure where to start or maybe you have already tried some of these suggestions and it was not enough. There are many options in our toolkits to help address heartburn and acid reflux naturally and get your digestion working properly again, even when it seems nothing can be done!