You probably recall a time after a big meal when your esophagus felt on fire. You were miserably stuffed and bloated. Maybe your sore throat had you convinced you were coming down with a bug.
So you swung by the drugstore to pick up a cherry-flavored antacid. 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.
Feel the Burn
The medical industry refers to these symptoms 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, research shows that too little – not too much – stomach acid often creates GERD.1 (That makes sense when you consider that aging means you both 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 of stomach acid mean you can’t always activate those enzymes, so that chicken breast you ate for dinner doesn’t sufficiently break down like it should.
As your undigested meal sits in your stomach, more stomach acid builds up, which can potentially reflux back up into your esophagus. Ouch! The whole cycle starts because you actually have too little HCl from the start.
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 long run.Click to tweet
Too Little Acid?
Scientific research backs up the idea that too little stomach acid is the culprit. One study questioned whether too much HCl is responsible for GERD.1
When stomach acid flowed freely into subjects’ esophagi, researchers found no damage occurred for several weeks. If stomach acid was really the problem, they noted, esophagus damage should occur almost immediately.
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.
Rather than help the problem, antacids stop 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 long run.
The Price Is Too High
The temporary relief of antacids or acid-reducing medications are never worth the long-term consequences. That “little purple pill” has now been proven to cause dangerous vitamin deficiencies and increased risk of osteoporosis, immune problems, and premature death!10,11
There’s a better way that can bring long-term relief without harming your health.
- Lose weight. Among its other issues, being overweight is a strong risk factor for GERD symptoms.2 Trade heartburn for fat-burning by focusing on a combo of lean protein, healthy fats, tons of non-starchy veggies, and slow-low carbs. Drinking a protein shake for breakfast provides the perfect fuel for fast, lasting fat loss. Time to say goodbye to extra pounds and extra risk of GERD…
- Minimize problem foods. Certain foods relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), permitting stomach acid to regurgitate into your esophagus. These problem foods include coffee, tea, tomatoes, citrus, and chocolate – check out this blog for a complete list. Some of these are my favorites, too. (Hello, dark chocolate and coffee!) But for relief, try to at least temporarily eliminate them.
- Drink up (but at the right time). Some researchers theorize that heartburn is a sign of an internal water shortage, especially dehydration in the upper part of the GI tract. 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.3 Another study similarly concluded a low-carbohydrate diet could improve GERD and its symptoms.4 Check out this handy infographic to help you build a healthy plate that lowers your sugar impact.
- Nix the gluten. One study found when celiac patients ditched gluten, they experienced “a rapid and persistent improvement in reflux symptoms.”5 But you’re not off the hook if you don’t have full-blown celiac. About 30% of the population has some form of gluten sensitivity and creates many of the same symptoms, including GERD. (That’s why 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.) Curious whether you have a gluten sensitivity? Find out more here.
- Slow down. I get it – schedules are more hectic than ever. But there’s still no need to demolish your meals like you’re being timed! One study found people who plow through their meals suffer more GERD. Easier said than done, I know, but try to be mindful and slow down when you’re eating.6 Remember, it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message you’re full. (Most people are on their second serving at that point.)
- Take a digestive enzyme and probiotic. Most people make fewer digestive enzymes and stomach acid as they grow older, and supplementing can improve digestion, so protein and other foods break down more efficiently. That makes GERD and symptoms like gas and bloating less likely to occur. Likewise, studies show a probiotic can curb gut-related stress that contributes to GERD and other conditions.7 Try supplementing with high-quality digestive enzymes and probiotics to provide a powerful one-two punch against acid reflux and its symptoms.
- Get great sleep. One study found a vicious cycle: a poor night’s sleep increased GERD symptoms the next day, which in turn worsened sleep quality.8 About an hour before bed, turn off electronics, take a hot bath with Epsom salts, and unwind with a cup of chamomile tea to experience deeper, more consistent sleep. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, Sleep Candy provides a safe botanical and nutrient blend that can help you fall and stay asleep without side effects. (Get more sleep tips in this blog.)
- Curb stress. You probably 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 significantly increased blood pressure, pulse rates, and GERD symptoms.9 Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or just a long walk around the block with your dog can relieve anxiety and stress. An all-natural supplement like Stress Reset can also help balance your stress hormones to limit stress-related GERD symptoms.
The next time you’re tempted to reach for a roll of Rolaids, try these lifestyle tips and all-natural supplements instead – your health is worth it!