This awesome post was written by Dr. Hamid Tajbakhsh. He combines the latest in Western science and traditional Eastern philosophy to help patients achieve their health goals. You can check out his Facebook page here, or follow him on Twitter.
Digestive problems are a concern for a lot of patients that seek a naturopathic doctor, and the most common of these problems has to do with acid reflux. Acid reflux can cause uncomfortable symptoms including burning sensations in the chest, burping and nausea after eating, abdominal fullness, and overall discomfort following meals.
This condition is usually misdiagnosed by conventional medical doctors as hyperacidity, a condition causing too much stomach acid. This means if there is too much acid coming upwards from the stomach, it is the flow and production of acid we should inhibit. Following this misguided logic will lead us to believe that we need ant-acids or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which both serve to reduce the production and effect of stomach acid.
Of course, reducing acid in our stomach and intestines does reduce the symptoms of acid reflux, but it does not treat its cause and can actually lead to worse problems. Of the major health problems it can trigger involves the improper breakdown of our food which will lead to nutritional deficiencies of the vitamins and compounds needed by our body for energy, blood formation, and the nervous system.
Another of these problems has to do with the changing of our gut microflora or, more specifically, altering the pH of the environment where our gut bacteria live. Doing this can change the bacteria’s compositions entirely which can then lead to an overgrowth of certain organisms while others are displaced. This can even escalate to a point of compromised immunity, as much of our defences lie in our gut.
In addition to creating worse health problems, the drugs that inhibit acid production can in fact lead to chronic acid reflux. This point is explained in the next paragraph.
The actual cause of acid reflux usually has to do with a lack of gastric acid production or not enough production. This happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which functions to separate the stomach from our esophagus, requires an acidic signal to close thereby not letting stomach acid through. If there is a lack of stomach acid, the LES does not close and acid is free to rise up into the esophagus because of the squeezing and churning action of the stomach while food is being broken down. There is a myriad of reasons why people develop low amounts of stomach acid that range from dietary factors to lifestyle choices.
To alleviate acid reflux, we can use the following natural approaches:
- Only drink fluids that are from fresh fruits and vegetables or plain water, and avoid soft drinks, alcohol, and coffee.
- Exercise a few days a week or walk for at least 20 minutes a day as weight gain has been associated with a risk for acid reflux. One reason is that weight gain can cause a hiatal hernia which is the protrusion of the stomach through the diaphragm.
- Avoid lying down right after meals or eating in this position since it is more likely for acid to pass through the LES.
- Use stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing and meditation as stress can lead to problems all along the digestive tract, especially the stomach. In Chinese medicine, stress can inhibit the stomach’s ability to direct the digestive capacity or energy (Qi) downwards therefore causing a rebelling of Qi upwards and with it the acidic contents of the stomach.
- Relax and chew your food slowly. This tip touches upon the previous tip on limiting stress; by slowing down the transit of food, the stomach has a chance to produce all the acid needed for the oncoming food.
- Avoid unnecessary use of certain drugs such as muscle relaxants or pain killers since they lower the ability of the LES to close tightly enough.
- Focus on and incorporate dark green leafy vegetables into your diet such as kale, spinach, collards, dandelion greens, etc. These vegetables give the body the signal needed to prime the digestive system and hence increase acid production.
- Avoid certain foods such as chocolate, mint, tomatoes, garlic, onion, and spicy foods as they can lead to a lowered tone of the LES thereby letting acid through the sphincter.
- Cut or limit fatty foods out of your diet as fat delays the emptying of your stomach and so there is more of a chance for acid to pass upwards through the LES.
- Use apple cider vinegar in your meals and salads or use freshly squeezed lemon juice to increase the acid signal to the LES.
There are many medicinal herbs that can be used to correct stomach acid production and flow. The group of herbs notable for increasing stomach acid are the bitter tasting herbs. This group of bitter herbs help prepare our bodies for digestion. This means that the body will start to secrete gastric acid and signal for the LES to close. Some herbs that are considered bitter include burdock root, chamomile, bitter melon, gentian, and dandelion. You should avoid bitter herbs if you suffer from ulcers as increasing acid production can aggravate your condition. If you choose to use these herbs, it is best to consume them as a tea right before a meal. This will give your digestive system a chance to secrete the juices it needs before your food is introduced into the system.
As can be noted, there are many natural, drug-less approaches for remedying acid reflux. Most of the approaches discussed involve minimal investment and side-effects and can lead to making healthier choices overall. Overcoming the cause of an ailment for a permanent solution should always be paramount when considering treatment options. This is where naturopathic medicine and natural therapies shine!
Gaby, A. “Nutritional Medicine”, Fritz Perlberg, 2011.
Hoffmann, D. “Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine”, Healing Arts Press, 2003.
Prousky, J. “Textbook of Integrative Clinical Nutrition”, CCNM Press, 2013.
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