What Causes Heartburn (Acid Reflux – GERD)?
Heartburn is also referred to as acid reflux, or GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. However, some of the symptoms of heartburn mimic heart problems, so be sure to rule that out. Here are the most common symptoms for what heartburn feels like:
- A burning feeling in the chest just behind the breastbone that occurs after eating and lasts a few minutes to several hours.
- Chest pain, especially after bending over, lying down, or eating.
- Burning in the throat — or hot, sour, acidic or salty-tasting fluid at the back of the throat.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Feeling of food “sticking” in the middle of the chest or throat.
Heartburn can be caused by a variety of factors, including dietary and lifestyle habits and some medical conditions. For many people, there will be more than one contributing factor and the best results in natural healing come from identifying all factors and addressing them long-term.
Habits which can contribute to or aggravate heartburn/GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) include:
- Eating large portions/meals
- Eating trigger foods (common trigger foods are discussed later, as well as the importance of keeping a diary to identify your own triggers)
- Drinking citrus juices, alcohol, caffeinated and carbonated drinks
- Eating too soon before lying down
- Being overweight or obese
- Wearing tight-fitting clothing or belts (puts pressure on the LES; see below)
- Exercising too soon/too vigorously after eating
- Hiatal hernia
Taking certain medications, including aspirin and NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen). Additionally, certain treatments for asthma and high blood pressure may stimulate the stomach to produce more acid.
Additionally, one of a combination of the following may be factors:
- If the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is weak, it lacks the strength needed to hold back stomach contents. These erosive contents are allowed to back up (reflux) into the esophagus.
- When the food is not emptied from the stomach quickly enough, pressure builds in the stomach, which then puts increased pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. If the LES opens inappropriately, erosive stomach contents are then allowed to back up into the esophagus.
- NOTE: Smoking can weaken and relax the LES as well as slow digestion. Alcohol also relaxes the LES.
Natural Remedy For Heartburn (Acid Reflux – GERD)
Doctors used to think that heartburn (acid reflux/GERD) was caused by too much acid in the stomach and this acid would wash up into the esophagus; causing the burning sensation that came to be called ‘heartburn’. However, doctors now say that heartburn is actually caused by not enough acid present in the stomach to digest food properly and therefore the food sits in the stomach for too long and/or the esophageal valve is not functioning properly and so fails to keep the contents of the stomach from rising up into the esophagus. Then, you have to go one step further and ask yourself: What’s causing my esophageal valve to malfunction and what can I do about that? And, why am I not producing sufficient stomach acid to digest my food properly?
The remedies below will provide both immediate and long-term healing for both these issues. However, you must discontinue any heartburn medication (either prescription or OTC – that means not even Tums are allowed) since all these anti-acids impair or shut down stomach acid production. Shutting down your stomach acid production is never going to heal your condition, all it’s going to do is impair your digestion. It’s a classical medical/pharmaceutical approach of suppressing the symptom, whilst deepening and worsening the root problem. Also do not take any natural acid supplements, like Betaine HCL, for example. Naturopaths often prescribe acid supplements to improve the acidity of the stomach, however, for people with IBD this can easily trigger intestinal bleeding and I suggest you avoid it.
1. Lactobacillus Acidophilus
This is an extremely effective remedy for heartburn. There is mounting evidence that acid reflux is caused by a lack of good bacteria in the stomach and/or too much bad bacteria. Drugs like Zantac or Prilosec (and even Tums) that suppress stomach acid production also contribute to unhealthy stomach flora – since good bacteria need an acidic environment and many species of bad bacteria flourish in an alkaline (non-acidic) environment. Take L. acidophilus whenever you tend to get heartburn. For example, if you get heartburn after every meal, then take L. acidophilus 15-20 minutes before every meal. If you only get heartburn at night when you go to bed, then take it just before bed. The only restriction is that you have to take L. acidophilus on an empty stomach (otherwise it’s destroyed by digestive stomach acid). Only use Natren Inc.’s Megadophilus (L. acidophilus DDS-1) in powder form, 1/2 tsp. mixed in 6-8 ounces of room-temperature spring or filtered water, sipped slowly, 15-20 minutes before meals, and/or before bed on an empty stomach. For more information on how probiotics like L. acidophilus benefit your body, see my special report on Probiotic Supplementation.
2. DGL Chewable Lozenges
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) in chewable lozenge form provides quite effective relief for acid reflux . I’m not sure of the exact mechanism by which DGL provides relief, but here’s what DGL does for the body in general: It reduces muscle spasms, promotes adrenal gland function, soothes inflammation and fights bacterial, viral and parasitic infection (there is evidence that acid reflux is caused by a lack of good bacteria in the stomach and preponderance of bad bacteria). DGL also increases the number of mucus-secreting cells in the intestine which improves the quality of the mucosal lining, lengthens intestinal cell life and enhances microcirculation in the gastrointestinal tract. The fact that the licorice root is deglycyrrhizinated means that there’s no risk of it increasing your blood pressure (as can happen with regular licorice root), so it’s safe for pregnant women and those with high blood pressure problems.
Experiment to find the best time to chew/suck the lozenges. Try slowly chewing or sucking one lozenge before a meal, and then again after you’ve eaten. Depending on how long you’ve had acid reflux and whether you’ve been on a prescription drug (e.g. Zantac, Prilosec, etc.) that’s shut down your natural stomach acid production (and thus exacerbated your unbalanced stomach bacteria problem), you may need to chew the lozenges more or less frequently than someone else. Also, keep in mind that even over-the-counter heartburn drugs (like Tums, etc.) alter the pH balance in your stomach making it overly alkaline and thus favorable for bad bacterial growth and inhibiting the growth of good bacteria, which only makes heartburn worse over time. Make sure your DGL lozenges don’t have flavoring agents added (like peppermint). If you’re diabetic, then make sure they’re unsweetened as well.
3. Craniosacral Therapy
Sometimes heartburn is simply caused by an esophageal valve that is stuck or malfunctioning due to tissue adhesions or visceral strain in the region. Also, your diaphragm can (for various reasons) push up in your chest cavity, causing pressure and malfunction with your esophageal valve. In these cases, craniosacral therapy can be very effective at quickly and easily solving the problem. Whenever I used to get heartburn (except when I was pregnant), ten minutes of craniosacral completely cured the condition.
To give you an example of how craniosacral therapy can help, I once had a phone consultation with a woman who had given birth four months previously, and ever since had heartburn so severe that even the prescription medications weren’t working. Then an ultrasound showed an unidentified mass the size of a baseball in her abdomen, so the doctors were now wanting to do a full panel of gastrointestinal exploratory tests and possibly surgery.
Understandably, she was very worried and coupled with the stress and sleep-deprivation of a newborn, you can just imagine this poor woman’s state. After a thorough discussion with her, I presented her with my opinion in which I summarized, “You’re understandably very scared right now and receiving a lot of pressure from doctors to proceed with the exploratory tests/surgery as soon as possible. However, you are faced with a choice. You can pursue the non-invasive healing methods first and see if that works. If it doesn’t, the exploratory tests and surgery are always going to be there for you. If you take two weeks to explore kinder, gentler methods of healing, is that going to make so much difference to your prognosis?” I told her about the kind of things that craniosacral therapy can help with and especially since she’d just been through pregnancy and childbirth (which can really move around the internal organs and intestines), I suggested she start with that first. Luckily, she was in a city close to mine so I was able to refer her to a top-notch craniosacral therapist named Henry Epp (in Vancouver, Canada). I also suggested she simultaneously see a naturopath, just to cover all possibilities.
After only two sessions with Henry (the craniosacral therapist) she discontinued her heartburn medication and had no remaining heartburn whatsoever. In fact, she felt such a change in her body that she had her doctor re-do the ultrasound. The baseball-sized mass had completely disappeared and no further testing or surgery was required. Needless to say, she was overjoyed. Now just imagine the incredible amount of illness and trauma she saved herself by pursuing a natural path of healing first.
The possibilities for healing of IBS and IBD-related conditions through craniosacral therapy are so immense that I recommend everyone reading this manual find a good practitioner and have at least one or two sessions to see for yourself the relief possible through craniosacral therapy. Look for either an Osteopathic doctor, or, a massage therapist with certification in craniosacral therapy. They must be at least Level II or higher, certified by the Upledger Institute. For a listing of therapists in your area, go to www.upledger.com
IS THERE A CONNECTION BETWEEN STRESS AND HEARTBURN?
When you are stressed, your body enters a state of arousal. Blood is diverted from the digestive organs to the muscles to prepare the body for action. The nervous system signals the heart to beat harder and faster, whilst blood pressure and pulse rise. Changes occur in the movements of the stomach and intestines, and hormones are secreted to raise blood sugar, increasing the energy available to the brain and muscles. All of this is in preparation for your body to defend itself.
Many people refer to the gut as ‘the second brain’ and indeed there is even a book by that title that details exactly how the gut biochemistry parallels and interacts closely with the brain. For example, 60% of the neurotransmitters in your body are not found in your brain, but in your gut! This may not surprise you. Many people who suffer from heartburn say that stress is a factor in their heartburn flare ups.
It makes sense that indeed, stress can exacerbate practically any physical symptom, but additionally, it can lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn. When you are under stress, you may find it more difficult, for example, to implement or stick to good eating, exercise, and sleeping habits, which in turn can aggravate heartburn if you’re already prone to it.
For unresolved emotional issues or woundings, I recommend EFT, hypnotherapy and craniosacral therapy. For life’s ongoing stressors, use yoga, tai chi, and/or meditation.
Whether there’s a particular life-event after which heartburn became a problem, or whether you’re “just” dealing with the stress that ongoing discomfort produces, you still need to heal this stress or trauma using a mind/body healing tool. EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is the tool I recommend and it is a highly effective healing modality that integrates the mental, emotional, physical and energy body together. EFT is derived from a centuries-old Chinese acupuncture meridian tapping practice called Neigong.
EFT works by tapping on a series of acupuncture (meridian) points whilst:
a) talking out loud about the problem,
b) re-framing the problem in a way that sets you up for a positive or alternate experience concerning the problem and
c) choosing or affirming that you’re willing to move into a new reality with this issue.
Tapping on the acupuncture points whilst talking frees or releases the problem, negativity, trauma, etc. from your energy body and your physical body. In this way it is a healing therapy that effectively integrates and effects change in the mind, body and spirit.
EFT works extremely well when applied correctly. The key is being able to figure out what is at the root of your problem/issue/symptom and then tapping effectively on that. In certain circumstances, there can be a number of roots, or layers to the problem, which all have to be addressed to see resolution in your physical body. EFT is my favorite body/mind healing tool for the simple reason that once you learn how to do it effectively, you can do it yourself and take it with you anywhere. I’ve set up a webpage here with more details on EFT and some free downloads if you’re interested: www.MeridianTherapyTechniques.com
Pregnancy / Breastfeeding / Babies Guidelines
I have used Natren probiotics whilst pregnant and breastfeeding. Herbal literature states that DGL is also safe for pregnant/breastfeeding women, while regular licorice is not (it can elevate blood pressure). I have also given Natren probiotics to my kids as babies (give babies ONLY Life Start – B. infantis – probiotic) and toddlers. I have also taken both my children for craniosacral therapy from newborn to present – it is an invaluable tool for assisting children to be able to grow and develop unhindered. See my DVD, BABY FART AEROBICS: And Other Natural Treatments for Colicky Babies for an entire section on how/why craniosacral treatments are good for your kids and also to see a live demo on my daughter, Zara. Keep in mind that I am only relating my own, personal experience and beyond that you will have to take responsibility and check with your naturopathic or holistic physician before using any supplement. There are no clinical trials that have been conducted on any of these herbal products on babies or pregnant women, so the examples I give are strictly anecdotal.
HEARTBURN TREATMENT SUMMARY
The most effective treatment for heartburn that I’ve discovered involves a multi-pronged approach:
- Take Natren’s Megadophilus (L. acidophilus) in powder form, 1/2 tsp. mixed in 6-8 ounces of room-temperature spring or filtered water, 15-20 minutes before meals, and/or before bed on an empty stomach. Sip it slowly.
- If you can’t take the acidophilus, or you still need additional relief, chew slowly or suck a DGL Lozenge (15-20 minutes after you’ve taken your acidophilus) right before you eat, and then again after your meal. Experiment with how many lozenges you need to chew and how often, to provide the relief you need. George’s ‘Always Active’ Aloe Vera Juice is also helpful when sipped slowly before eating, or before bed.
- Do not eat less than two hours before bedtime and don’t lie down after eating – remaining upright uses gravity to help your system digest properly.
- Follow the guidelines in the Reduce Diarrhea Diet (see later chapter for foods to avoid or Chapter Three of my book, Listen to Your Gut, for complete instructions); this will eliminate the citrus, acidic and tomato-based foods that are a primary trigger of heartburn. Also avoid peppermint, spearmint, coffee, chocolate and high fat meals (particularly before bed). Chew food thoroughly and slowly, allowing for a leisurely meal.
- Visit a Craniosacral therapist to have your diaphragm released and to un-stick and heal your esophageal valve (see Chapter Six of my book, Listen to Your Gut, for more details). Follow up with self-massage to your solar plexus, stroking downward towards your navel.