I want to help you understand the true causes or heartburn and indigestion and simple things to try to relive it.
Physicians are bombarded with drug company marketing and will be more than happy to make your frequent heartburn go away with a prescription. But what is your stomach really trying to tell you?
It’s a common misconception that too much stomach acid is what causes heartburn. While this is true in a very small number of cases, the real culprit is generally too little stomach acid.
When you have too little stomach acid, food stays in your stomach longer – waiting for the acid to increase and create the right pH for food to be broken down sufficiently. This can create bloating and pressure on the LES valve that connects your stomach with your esophagus. While this is usually a one way valve, the pressure can weaken it and cause it to pop open at odd times. This causes the awful sensation known as heartburn.
Heartburn is generally treated with acid blocking, inhibiting, or neutralizing drugs. While this is ok on an occasional basis (and the FDA approved them for occasional use), many people end up taking them daily for years. This does keep the symptoms at bay, but at what cost to a person’s long-term health? With the reduction of stomach acid there is also a reduction in the body’s ability to break down foods and gain their essential nutrients such as proteins and minerals – which is bound to have an effect over time.
Nutritional Therapy looks to the body’s symptoms to find the underlying nutritional deficiency. This helps us find a way to allow the body to heal itself by promoting optimal function through nutrition and lifestyle adjustments. We want to eliminate the problem, not just suppress the symptoms.
Common causes of decreased stomach acid production are food allergies or sensitivities, certain prescription medicines, eating a highly-processed diet, or one that lacks raw foods.
Below are some of the lifestyle and dietary changes that are recommended to treat various forms of heartburn. Most of these are from the book Why Stomach Acid is Good For You by Dr. Jonathan V. Wright. If you frequently suffer from heartburn or are currently taking medication to treat it, I highly recommend reading this book!
Things that may weaken the LES valve, allowing it to pop open at inappropriate times:
- mints, especially peppermint and spearmint
- food allergies
- calcium channel blockers
- diazepam (valium)
- nitrates (such as nitroglycerin)
Things that are known to cause irritation in the esophagus of sensitive individuals:
- citrus fruits & juices
- tomato-based foods
- spicy foods
- carbonated drinks
- potassium chloride tablets
- iron salts
General lifestyle adjustments to decrease the chances of experiencing heartburn:
- avoid the foods and drugs listed above (of course, do not discontinue using necessary, prescribed medications without discussing it with your Dr.)
- drink 8 ounces of water 30 minutes before each meal (you are sipping water all day long already, right? 😉 )
- eat smaller meals (eat until you are no more than 80% full)
- minimize activities that will increase pressure on your abdomen, such as bending and lifting
- wear loose-fitting clothing that doesn’t squeeze your abdomen and put pressure on your stomach or LES valve
- limit food intake in the 2-3 hours before bedtime
- elevate your head in bed (if this is when heartburn is likely to occur for you)
After the above lifestyle and dietary changes are made, Dr. Wright has additional suggestions to start rebuilding stomach acid through supplementation of hydrochloric acid, pancreatic enzymes, and other herbs and nutrients. These are pretty detailed and should be done under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner, so please reach out to one when you are ready.