Hello everyone! I’m super excited to be jumping in here today and doing this guest post for DaNelle. My name is Craig Fear, I’m a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and I blog over at Fearless Eating. I recently wrote my first ebook, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution: A 3-Step Nutrition Program for Stopping Heartburn Without Drugs and today I’m going to discuss a few simple things you can do to stop heartburn naturally.
The conventional natural advice
Now when I say “naturally” I’m not talking about the dozens of things you’ve probably heard before. After all, if you’re like most people these days, when heartburn hits, you’ll probably consult with Dr. Google before your actual doctor.
Well unfortunately, Dr. Google doesn’t have a lot to tell you unless you scroll down to page 500 or so. Medical-oriented websites like WebMD tend to rule the top of the Google rankings and their common tips for stopping heartburn are so repeated and so generic (and sometimes wrong!) that you’ll be hard pressed to find anything other than the same old conventional advice that every doctor will tell you. Here’s a list of the most common suggestions:
- Don’t lie down after a meal
- Avoid spicy foods
- Avoid acidic foods – chocolate, coffee, citrus, garlic, onions, etc.
- Avoid fried foods
- Don’t overeat and eat smaller, more frequent meals
- Drink more water
- Sleep with your head and shoulders propped up
- Don’t eat before bed
- Wear loose fitting clothes
- Consider taking an antacid or acid-blocker
Now admittedly, this is not all bad advice. Many of those tips can certainly help you help manage heartburn. But here’s the most important thing to understand: None of them are stopping the underlying cause.
Especially the last one.
Surely, your doctor (and ads all of your television and digital devices) has told you that your stomach is over-producing acid and has recommended either an antacid like Tums or a more potent acid-blocker like Zantac or Pepcid. Antacids temporarily neutralize stomach acid and acid-blockers interfere with chemical pathways that signal acid production. There’s no question that they work. Ask anyone who takes them.
But what people who take them don’t realize is that there are CONSEQUENCES to taking them over the long term.
Let’s understand why.
A Simple Analogy
The analogy I always use with clients is that your stomach is akin to a blender. Its job is to thoroughly break down your food to prepare it for absorption in the small intestine. Your stomach does this through the action of hydrochloric acid, aka stomach acid. We have millions of acid-producing cells in the lining of our stomach.
Stomach acid drives the speed of the blender and Nature designed your stomach to be highly acidic and thus for the speed of the blender to be on high. This ensures your food is properly broken down.
So what happens if the speed of the blender slows down? In other words, what happens when our HCl does not get produced properly? For starters, food doesn’t digest well. And when food doesn’t digest well in our stomach we experience symptoms such as:
- Bad breath
- Feeling like skipping meals
How Low Stomach Acid Causes Heartburn
Undigested food in the stomach, especially carbohydrates, can start to ferment and give off gas which can start to put pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve that keeps the stomach separate from the esophagus. Over time, the LES can weaken through this continuous increased pressure.
As pressure builds, some of the acidic contents of the stomach can reflux back into the esophagus. Unlike our stomach, the lining of the esophagus is not meant for acid so it burns and we experience heartburn.
So the root cause of heartburn is the under production of stomach acid.
This sounds counterintuitive because we’ve been so thoroughly conditioned to believe the complete opposite which sounds logical until you learn how digestion actually works. And certainly Big Pharma wants to keep you thinking this way.
Now the question is: WHY does the speed of the blender slow down?
Here are some of the more common underlying reasons:
- Over consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Age (Food-for-thought: if heartburn is caused by too much acid then why don’t younger people experience it more than older people?)
- Heartburn Medications
The Problem with Heartburn Medications
Both antacids (Tums, Rolaids, Alka-Seltzer) and acid-blockers (Prilosec, Nexium, Zantac, etc.) compromise the acidity in the stomach ON PURPOSE. In doing so, they relieve the burning sensation of heartburn. However, by altering the naturally acidic environment in the stomach they cause a whole host of other problems in the digestive process.
Remember, the stomach is supposed to be highly acidic. Taking acid-suppressing medications is akin to reducing the blender speed of the stomach which exacerbates the underlying problem which is TOO LITTLE acid in the stomach. Thus they perpetuate the vicious cycle of chronic digestive problems including of course the very conditions they are designed to treat, namely heartburn and GERD. This is why most people who take these drugs have to continually take them. If they stop, the heartburn comes right back. The irony in this is just unbelievable!
See why acid-blocking medications are among the most profitable drugs in America?
Furthermore, because we need strong acid production to break down and digest our food, long-term use of acid-blockers is associated with further health problems such as nutrient deficiencies and bone fractures (due to mineral deficiencies).
And that’s why so much of the conventional natural advice is so limiting. Again, all they do is help you manage your heartburn. They don’t address the root cause. Nor does the conventional advice ever tell you what you should eat.
Because what you should eat is so much more important than what you shouldn’t eat for stopping heartburn.
So on that note, here are six simple dietary tips to stop heartburn naturally.
1. Eliminate sugars, refined carbohydrates and the many processed foods that contain them.
In other words, stop eating the standard American diet. This is so often the root cause of heartburn! It’s AMAZING how quickly and easily a low carb diet can stop heartburn. Again, in the presence of low stomach acid, too many carbohydrates can ferment in the stomach and give off gases that can increase the pressure in the stomach and cause bloating, gas, bad breath and yes, acid reflux. In can also set the stage for further digestive problems in the intestines.
2. Consume traditional fats and protein
So this is the other side of the low-carb equation and is somewhat implied by #1. Besides being great sources of nutrition, traditional fats and protein will help reduce cravings for sugar and refined carbs. Fats have anti-inflammatory effects on the lining of our digestive tract and protein also helps to drive digestion. Pepsin, the enzyme in our stomach that digests our proteins, is activated by hydrochloric acid. Therefore, protein needs strong acid production to work properly.
Perhaps there’s a reason that fats and protein occur together in Nature so often?
Traditional fats and protein include:
- Meat from wild and pastured animals
- Wild fish
- Organic, pastured eggs
- Raw and cultured dairy (if tolerated)
- Whole nuts and seeds, properly prepared
- Good quality oils – lard, tallow, coconut oil, palm oil, extra virgin olive oil
3. Go gluten-free.
I would be surprised if #1 and #2 above didn’t dramatically help. If not, consider going gluten-free. Gluten is the main protein in wheat, rye and barley. Unless you live on Mars, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a huge epidemic of gluten allergies and sensitivities going around.
No one knows exactly why but what we do know is that gluten is a very complex protein and its digestion can be hindered by an already compromised digestive system. Furthermore, wheat has been dramatically altered through hybridization over the past 50 years. It is thought that these new forms of wheat are wreaking havoc with our bodies.
Americans eat A LOT of gluten. Breakfast cereals, pancakes, breads, pasta, pizza, muffins, bagels, crackers and cookies are the foundation of the standard American diet (SAD).
Start with a two week gluten-free trial and see what happens. For some, simply removing gluten is often all it takes for heartburn to disappear almost overnight.
4. Consume more fermented foods and beverages
Fermented foods and beverages work wonders for our digestion both in our stomach and in our intestines. Fermented foods are ALIVE, teeming with billions of beneficial bacteria that populate the inside of our digestive tract. It’s those bacteria that take a cabbage and turn it into sauerkraut, or say, cucumbers to pickles. These chemical changes have remarkable health benefits including helping to stop heartburn. Try any of these common fermented foods either as a side dish to a main meal or as a little digestive boost between meals:
- Pickled beets
- Whole milk yogurt without added sugar
And regarding those pickles, drink that pickle juice! I know that will disgust several of you, but hey it’s cheap and it can be remarkably effective. Fermented beverages can be just as effective as fermented foods, if not more so.
If the thought of pickle juice makes your mouth pucker (and your eyes roll), try any of these common fermented beverages:
- Milk kefir
- Beet kvass
5. Consume homemade bone broths liberally
Homemade bone broths are a digestive powerhouse, chock full of minerals, anti-inflammatory amino acids and gelatin that help soothe and repair the lining of the digestive tract.
Bone broths in the form of easy to digest soups will help ease the burden on the stomach, especially if there are some initial digestive difficulties when consuming more traditional fats and protein.
Furthermore, if you’ve had heartburn for a long time, chances are you have other digestive problems as well. In fact, it’s rare that someone comes to see me just for heartburn. Usually it’s heartburn AND intestinal issues as well.
This makes perfect sense when you understand how and why low acidity in the stomach sets up a domino-like effect of other digestive problems.
And regarding minerals, as I mentioned previously, one of the known side effects of long-term use of acid blockers is an increased risk of bone fractures. This also makes perfect sense when you understand that you need stomach acid to extract minerals from food!
6. Try apple cider vinegar instead of an antacid
For those of you who’ve become somewhat dependent on antacids, try taking apple cider vinegar (ACV) in lieu of an antacid. ACV gives your stomach a little digestive boost. Mix 1-2 teaspoons of ACV in water and take it just before meals.
My clients are always amazed at how well this works. In fact, it works so well that there’s a good chance this is not the first time you’ve heard of its use for heartburn.
OK, I hope these dietary tips can give you some different ideas for working with heartburn than places like WebMD. I’d be shocked if they didn’t dramatically improve your heartburn. Good luck and thanks to Danelle for letting me jump in here today and share my tips.
You can get Craig’s ebook The 30 Day Heartburn Solution: A Three-Step Program to Stop Acid Reflux Without Drugs, on AMAZON HERE.
After graduating from Mary Washington College in 1996 with a degree in Biology Craig Fear became a certified Nutritional Therapist. Craig believes in the power of traditional foods to transform our health and to transform the health of our planet. He blogs at Fearless Eating and write about common nutrition myths and how to reverse illness. Craig recently published his eBook, The 30 Day Heartburn Solution: A Three-Step Program to Stop Acid Reflux Without Drugs.