You probably recall a time after a big meal when your esophagus felt on fire. You were miserably stuffed and bloated. Maybe you started freaking out you were coming down with a sore throat.
So you swung by your drugstore to pick up a cherry-flavored antacid, and when it didn’t kick in you took a second… and a third… until that awful feeling finally went away.
You’re not alone. Heartburn drugs are a multi-billion dollar industry fueled by millions of people who reach for them to relieve post-meal misery, yet that temporary relief comes with potentially serious long-term consequences.
The medical industry refers to this as gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), more commonly called heartburn or acid reflux.
Conventional wisdom says GERD occurs when too much hydrochloric acid (HCl) or stomach acid splashes upwards toward your esophagus, creating burning and discomfort. So you take an antacid to reduce that stomach acid and relieve the burning.
However, in his book Why Stomach Acid is Good For You, Dr. Jonathan Wright argues too little – not too much – stomach acid creates GERD. That makes sense when you consider older people, who make less HCl, and are more likely to suffer GERD.
Here’s what happens. You need enough HCl to activate enzymes that break down protein. Inadequate amounts can’t always activate those enzymes, so that chicken breast doesn’t sufficiently break down in your stomach like it should.
“Stomach acid stays in the stomach and builds up,” says Dr. Jonny Bowden in The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth, “so we end up with more acid in our stomach that can potentially reflux back up into the esophagus.”
While reaching for an antacid when you’re suffering acid reflux can be tempting, over-the-counter antacids and pharmaceutical drugs oftentimes mask underlying problems and make things worse in the bigger picture.Click to tweet
One study similarly questioned whether too much HCl was the culprit for GERD. When stomach acid flowed freely into rats’ esophagi, researchers found no damage occurred for several weeks. If stomach acid was really the problem, they noted, esophagus damage would occur almost immediately here.
Furthermore, inadequate stomach acid sets the stage for gut issues. Your stomach is protein’s first stop for digestion. When it can’t do its job, that undigested protein goes to your small intestine, which has other jobs and isn’t always equipped to handle protein breakdown.
That undigested protein can create numerous problems including inflammation, bacteria overgrowth, and leaky gut.
Rather than help the problem, antacids sequester what little HCl you have, further hampering protein breakdown. So you pay the price for short-term relief with increased risk for GERD and gut issues.
While reaching for an antacid when you’re suffering acid reflux can be tempting, over-the-counter antacids and pharmaceutical drugs oftentimes mask underlying problems and make things worse in the bigger picture.
- Lose weight. Among its other problems, one study found that being “overweight or obese are strong independent risk factor[s] of GERD symptoms.” Burn fat and feel fabulous by focusing on a low-sugar impact combo of lean protein, healthy fats, tons of non-starchy veggies, and slow low carbs. My All-in-One Shakes for breakfast and maybe another meal replacement provide the perfect fuel for fast, lasting fat loss.
- Minimize problem foods. Certain foods relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), permitting stomach acid to regurgitate into your esophagus. According to Web MD, these problem foods include coffee, tea, spicy foods, citrus foods, and chocolate. Some of these are my favorites too (hello, dark chocolate and Bulletproof!), but for relief, try to at least temporarily eliminate them.
- Drink up (but at the right time). “Some researchers theorize heartburn is a sign of an internal water shortage, especially dehydration in the upper part of the GI tract,” says Bowden. Yet too much water during meals can further dilute your stomach acid, further contributing to insufficient protein breakdown. Go easy on liquid during meals; otherwise, drink up!
- Go low-sugar impact. Several studies find reducing or eliminating high-sugar impact foods can relieve GERD. One found carbohydrates might contribute more to GERD than coffee or dietary fat, and that a low-carbohydrate diet improves GERD. Another similarly concluded a low-carbohydrate diet could improve GERD and its symptoms.
- Nix the gluten. One study found when celiac patients ditched gluten, they experienced “a rapid and persistent improvement in reflux symptoms.” You’re not off the hook if you don’t have full-blown celiac. According to Dr. James Braly, co-author of Dangerous Grains: Why Gluten Cereal Grains May Be Hazardous To Your Health, about 30% of the population have some form of gluten sensitivity that isn’t full-blown celiac but creates many of the same symptoms including GERD. Likewise, Dr. Stephan Wangen, author of Healthier Without Wheat, says nearly one-third of people without the genetic marker for celiac have anti-gluten antibodies in their stool that create the same problems as Celiac. Cycle 1 of The Virgin Diet eliminates gluten and 6 other highly reactive foods to help you burn fat and eliminate miserable symptoms like acid reflux.
- Slow down. Stop demolishing your meals like you’re competing in one of those hot dog-eating contests. One study found people who plow through their meals suffer more GERD. Easier said than done, but be mindful when you’re eating. Slow down and enjoy your food. Remember it takes 20 minutes for your brain to the message you’re full. Most people are on their second serving at that point.
- Take a digestive enzyme and probiotic. Most people make less digestive enzymes and stomach acid as they grow older, and a supplemental comprehensive enzyme can improve digestion so protein and other foods more efficiently break down, making GERD and gut problems less likely to occur. Likewise, studies show a probiotic can curb gut-related stress that contributes to GERD and other conditions. My Digestive Enzymes and Microbiome Balance provide a powerful one-two punch against acid reflux and its symptoms.
- Get great sleep. One study found a viscous cycle ensues as a poor night’s sleep increased GERD symptoms the next day, which in turn worsened sleep quality. About an hour before bed, turn off electronics, take a hot bath with some chamomile tea and Epsom salts, and unwind to experience deeper, more consistent sleep. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, Sleep Candy provides a synergistic nutrient blend that helps you fall safely into slumber.
- Curb stress. You know all too well how stress, worry, and anxiety can trigger acid reflux and other gut miseries. One study found participants who experienced major stress had significant increased blood pressure, pulse rates, and GERD symptoms. Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or maybe just a long walk around the block with your dog can relieve anxiety and stress.
Bowden, J. (2008). Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth: The Surprising Unbiased Truth about What Treatments Work and Why. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.
Braly, J, et al. (2002). Dangerous Grains: Why Gluten Cereal Grains May Be Hazardous To Your Health. New York, NY: Avery Trade.
Wangen, S. (2009). Healthier without Wheat: A new understanding of wheat allergies, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten intolerance. Seattle, WA: Innate Health Publishing.
Wright J (2001). Why Stomach Acid is Good For You: Natural Relief from Heartburn, Indigestion, Reflux and GERD. New York, NY: M. Evans & Company.