Is Acid the Problem?
We all need acid for proper digestion, and heartburn symptoms also appear in people with low stomach acidity. Rather than having too much acid, it may be that the stomach lining is no longer able to tolerate stomach acid, or that the acid comes back into the esophagus, which does not have the stomach’s protective mucosal lining. Counteracting the acid with antacids on a routine basis can lead to poor digestion, and antacids (like all drugs) can have unfavorable side effects.
Also be aware that the burning sensation you feel may not be simple heartburn. It may be gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), likely caused by either a hiatal hernia or weakness of the esophageal sphincter. Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes peptic ulcer disease, may also be related to simple heartburn symptoms. If heartburn is troubling you three or more times per week, the first step is to see a physician to rule out GERD or ulcers. Become aware of lifestyle factors that may be contributing to your symptoms, and then put out the fire naturally with the right nutrition.
A Symptom of Lifestyle
Heartburn occurs more often in people who are overweight, and obesity is strongly linked to GERD. The same dietary habits promote both obesity and GERD, including consumption of unhealthy fats, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Eliminate processed junk foods from your diet, which are typically loaded with hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and sweeteners. Avoid sodas (whether they contain sugar or not), since soft drink consumption is also linked to weight gain.
Begin by switching to a fiber-rich, whole-foods diet. Increasing dietary fiber may help put out the fire by helping to ease sluggish digestion. Avoid eating close to bedtime, and eat smaller meals, especially since overeating puts pressure on the esophageal sphincter, leading to reflux. Also be sure to drink plenty of water—at least six to eight glasses a day. In addition to excess weight, stress contributes to heartburn as well. Do what you can to keep your stress levels at a minimum—meditation, relaxation, yoga, and breathing exercises are helpful. And while exercise is inarguably healthy, timing your exercise is important if you suffer from heartburn. Avoid vigorous exercise right after eating, as that may bring on symptoms.
One supplement that really soothes heartburn is deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL. When you chew DGL, it produces a protective mucosal coating of the esophagus and stomach. Chew one or two DGL tablets before each meal and at bedtime. You may also use DGL as needed between meals. Another important supplement is the amino acid L-glutamine, the most abundant free amino acid in the body. L-glutamine is essential for the health of the intestinal lining cells, and it’s used to support healing from ulcers and other bowel inflammatory diseases. Glutamine acts as an anti-inflammatory and fuel for the cells that line the small intestine, the site of nutrient absorption.
Additional supplements to consider are zinc (provided by your multivitamin) to promote healing and carotenoids for their antioxidant effects, which support healing gastric erosions. Curcumin (from turmeric) is an anti-inflammatory herb that also has excellent antioxidant properties and can be helpful for easing symptoms of heartburn.
“Obesity and Gestroesophageal Reflux . . .” by S. Ayazi et al., J Gastrointest Surg, 2009 l Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC (Avery, 2006)