Many people today deal with some kind of digestive issue that can impair the body’s ability to absorb and utilize nutrients. Acid reflux is one of the more common digestive complaints people have. Many people relieve the discomfort of acid reflux by taking over-the-counter antacids, which help to reduce the pH (acidity) of your stomach acid, but this only gives temporary relief. There are many natural remedies for acid reflux you can try, but first let’s take a look at what some of the causes may be for a longterm natural pain relief strategy.
In healthy people the valve (the lower esophageal sphincter) between your esophagus (swallowing tube between your mouth and stomach) and stomach will close after food passes through. This sphincter keeps food and acid from coming up into the esophagus. But for a number of reasons that sphincter can sometimes relax or fail to close completely. We used to think of acid reflux as a digestive issue that occurs when stomach acid splashes back into the esophagus causing heartburn. However, some very recent research suggests that it is not acid that is the culprit most of the time, but rather, inflammation.
People who experience acid reflux regularly are often diagnosed as having gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). They will also usually be prescribed a class of pharmaceuticals called Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) to reduce their acid production.
Both PPIs and over-the counter antacids can provide relief to symptoms of acid reflux, but they don’t get to the root cause and the over-reliance on these drugs is unhealthy in the long run.
Causes of Acid Reflux
1. Hiatal Hernia
A hiatial hernia is a physical variation that affects 1/3 of all people. If you have a hiatal hernia, A small part of the stomach moves above the diaphragm. When your stomach sits in this position it becomes easier for acid to move up into the esophagus. Hiatal hernias can happen to people of any age, but the good news is that it can usually be remedied with better eating habits.
When a person is pregnant their body goes through a number of hormonal changes. These hormones can contribute to relaxing the muscular valve that separates the contents of the stomach from the sensitive tissue of the esophagus. When the valve relaxes, it’s easier for reflux to occur and contribute to heartburn.
The nicotine that makes smoking cigarettes so addictive can also have an effect on the lower esophageal sphincter causing it to relax and allow acid to splash upwards1. Furthermore, a smoker’s cough can increase reflux through abdominal pressure. Quitting smoking is your best bet for a number of health reasons.
Researchers have consistently found a link between weight and GERD2. Excess body weight may apply pressure to the stomach increasing the risk of reflux. Pressure from weight is generally at its worst when sleeping on your back. Making healthy lifestyle changes to manage weight can help to reduce your risk of reflux disease.
5. Eating Trigger Foods
Trigger foods can vary from person to person. That’s why finding out which foods bother you is so important. To do this, I recommend keeping a food journal. Track the things you’re eating plus when you’re consuming them and how much you consume. Note any symptoms such as heartburn that may follow each meal. The longer you do this, you may notice certain patterns to learn which foods are triggers. Once you have your triggers foods figured out, do your best to avoid them.
Some of the most common trigger foods that people experience with acid reflux include:
- Alcohol or carbonated drinks
- Fatty foods and fried foods
- Steak, ground beef or chicken wings
- Citrus and fruit juices
Some Other Causes of Acid Reflux Can Include:
- Eating large meal portions
- Lying down after eating
- Exercise right after a meal
- Snacking before bed
- Low stomach acid
- Drugs that slow down stomach emptying such as the proton pump inhibitors (the very same drugs we use to treat reflux).
Conventional vs. Natural Treatment of Acid Reflux
Conventional treatment for acid reflux often includes a prescription for a class of pharmaceuticals referred to as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These medications reduce the production of stomach acid within the stomach lining. Used longterm, the reduction of stomach acid can contribute to nutrient deficiencies3, and changes to the health of your intestinal microbiome.
Stomach acid plays an important role in the digestion of protein. It also helps to prevent foodbourne illness and destroy parasites and bacteria that can be found in the foods we eat. Minerals and vitamin B12 largely depend on stomach acid for proper absorption, so those who use PPI medications for an extended period of time are at risk of deficiencies.
If your doctor has you using PPI medications for your acid reflux and you decide you’d like to go off of them, it’s important that you don’t quit cold turkey. When you stop using medications that reduce stomach acid production you may experience rebound acidity and heartburn. Reducing your dosage slowly with the help of your doctor is the best way to go about weaning off your medications.
It’s during this weaning process that you’ll want to start integrating the use of natural remedies for acid reflux. This may include diet changes, elevating your head for sleeping, and quitting smoking for example. There’s no one size fits all approach to holistic relief.
It’s also important to remember that the natural approach to treating acid reflux is a lifestyle change. You may find that for your best longterm digestive health that you have to stick to certain diet changes for the rest of your life. That might mean avoiding coffee if you get heartburn every time that you drink it, or eating smaller portion meals rather then indulging in big feasts.
Natural Treatment for Acid Reflux: 5 Steps
- Avoid trigger foods – Determine which foods are triggers for your acid reflux by keeping a food journal. You may notice single foods or certain food combinations tend to bother you most. Once you begin to notice patterns, remove these foods from your diet and seek healthy substitutes if necessary.
- Reduce your portion sizes – Eating large meals can be problematic for many people. It may be a matter of poor food combining, or just sheer quantity. Switch to eating 4-5 smaller meals per day so your body can more easily digest what you’ve given it.
- Stay elevated – Avoid lying down after a meal which can contribute to acid reflux. Stay upright for at least 30 min to an hour after eating for easier digestion. Try not to snack too close to bedtime, and have your last meal at least 1 hour before sleeping. Acid reflux can disturb sleep quality for many people. If you find reflux is still an issue at night prop the head of your bed up using blocks, or us a wedge-shaped pillow to lift your upper body (not just your head).
- Maintain a healthy weight – If you’re overweight, obese, or just trying to maintain a healthy weight, proper diet and exercise can help you to reach your goals. Excess weight can create pressure on the stomach, while losing weight can help you reduce the risk of reflux.
- Quit smoking – If you’re a smoker, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health. Smoking can cause acid reflux damaging the esophagus, which can lead to Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus increases your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Working with a doctor can help you to find the best method for quitting that works with your lifestyle.
Chew on This
Acid reflux is a digestive issue that can often involves inflammation. Using medications for acid reflux can negatively impact your health in the long run. There are a lot of different causes for acid reflux, for most of which diet plays a large role.
Eating the right way to reduce symptoms of acid reflux is the best longterm pain relief strategy. The top three changes to make to your diet include avoiding trigger foods, reducing portion size, and removing processed foods for better weight management.
Do you suffer from acid reflux? What foods do you find most bothersome to your digestive health? Share with us in the comments below.