10 Ways to Successfully Relieve Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is a condition where acid which should be in the stomach makes its way out and up into the esophagus and sometimes the throat.
Your stomach produces acid as a vital part of the digestive process to help break down the food you eat. Some foods such as carbohydrates like rice or potatoes break down quite easily but other foods containing protein like a steak or a burger can be very dense and need this acid to break them down.
The main acid produced is hydrochloric acid (HCL) which is extremely corrosive. Because the stomach is such an acidic environment the stomach lining has a special layer which protects it from being damaged by the acid. Unfortunately, your esophagus does not. This is why acid reflux can be extremely painful and potentially dangerous.
The acid in your stomach also helps to protect you from bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections because these microbes can’t thrive in its harsh environment. So, having just the right amount of stomach acid is very important, enough to keep you safe from infection and break down food but not too much for the stomach lining to handle which can cause irritation and even ulcers. Typical symptoms of acid reflux are:
SOUR TASTE IN MOUTH
Having acid reflux is not an indication of whether you have too little or too much stomach acid, but it is an indication that the valve between the stomach and esophagus which stops stomach acid making its way up called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) has become loose or weak. The fact is, if you’re experiencing acid reflux you could have too much stomach acid, too little stomach acid or even the correct amount.
COMMON CAUSES OF ACID REFLUX
Low levels of HCL. The LES needs the level of acidity to be just right to function properly. If your levels are too low, it can become loose. Also, if you don’t have adequate levels of HCL it will take longer for food to be broken down and can start to ferment in the stomach producing gas which can put pressure on the LES and push it open.
Common causes of low stomach acid include ageing or having an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease or Crohn’s.
Foods that weaken the LES. Certain foods are known to have a negative effect on the LES valve. These include fizzy drinks, citrus juice, spicy foods, fried foods, alcohol, coffee, black tea, chocolate and mint.
A physical obstruction keeping the LES open. Certain conditions can cause an obstruction which will prevent the LES from closing properly. A hernia, large uterine fibroids, being pregnant or obese can all impact the position of the LES allowing the stomach contents to escape. Eating too much so that the stomach is too full and wearing clothes that are too tight and impede the way food travels through the digestive tract can also have an effect.
Excess HCL. Food sensitivities can also trigger acid reflux. This is because when we eat food which our body doesn’t like it can release histamine as an immune response. Histamine signals the stomach to release acid, so if you’re constantly eating foods which you don’t realize you have a sensitivity to, you’ll be producing excess acid.
10 WAYS TO SUCCESSFULLY ADDRESS ACID REFLUX
1. Eat mindfully. Carve out time in your day exclusively for eating rather than trying to squeeze meals in while working, driving, sending emails or watching TV. Focus on your food so that you notice the way it smells and tastes. When we rush our food or don’t focus on eating our digestive process doesn’t switch on fully and so signals to release digestive enzymes and acid aren’t activated. We also tend to swallow without chewing thoroughly and swallow large pieces of food which are harder and take longer to digest.
2. Avoid foods that weaken the LES. As mentioned above certain foods are known to weaken or loosen the LES. Try removing these foods for a few days and see if you notice any improvements. If you do, you can choose to keep avoiding these foods or try introducing them again one by one to see if all or only some of them trigger your acid reflux.
Bear in mind that an ingredient often included in supplements and medicine to ease bloating is mint. This is because it can have an antispasmodic effect which is great for relaxing the muscles which cause cramping and pain in IBS but also can relax the LES and make acid reflux worse.
3. Investigate food sensitivities. It always amazes me how many people are walking around unaware that they have food sensitivities. They realize they have symptoms but not what is causing them. One reason for this is because the symptoms can be so varied and because they don’t necessarily come on immediately.
To find out if you have any food sensitivities you can keep a food diary for a couple of weeks taking note of what you eat and drink and what symptoms you have. After the two weeks are up, look back at your diary and see if you can see any patterns or connections between what you ate and drank and how you felt.
Alternatively, you could remove common problem foods such as dairy and soy from your diet for a few days and see if you notice any difference. Getting the help of a practitioner may be useful in investigating food sensitivities to make sure you don’t become deficient in any important nutrients.
4. Avoid eating near bedtime. Specifically, don’t eat and then lie down. If you lie down horizontally when your stomach is still full, you’re more likely to get heartburn and acid reflux because there will be pressure on your LES which could cause it open.
5. Test for and treat infections and autoimmunity. As I mentioned earlier having an autoimmune disease can put you at a greater risk of having low HCL. Addressing the root cause of your autoimmunity using techniques such as the autoimmune protocol can greatly reduce your immune response and improve levels of HCL production. (This is how I put my five autoimmune diseases into remission.) Clearing infections such as H.pylori can also really help.
6. Lose some weight. Because obesity can physically obstruct the LES, losing weight will bring a great deal of relief. This takes time, so you’ll need to use some of the other techniques listed here in the meantime.
7. Treat fibroids/give birth. If you’re pregnant you may have to wait until you give birth to get any permanent relief from your acid reflux. In the meantime, you can employ some of the other techniques listed here to help.
If your acid reflux is caused by large uterine fibroids, then having them removed or shrinking them naturally is a must if you want relief. This will also take time so in the meantime, you can try some of the other techniques listed here, including supplemental support.
8. Check your medications. Certain medications including ibuprofen, aspirin and muscle relaxants are known to trigger acid reflux. Check the paper insert that comes with your medication which will list any known side effects to see if acid reflux is mentioned. If you’re not sure you can always talk to your pharmacist.
9. Wear loose clothing. Wearing clothes that allow your food to flow freely through your digestive tract can improve acid reflux and indigestion. Tight-fitting jeans or belts can be very restrictive and make food and waste get backed up causing all kinds of digestive symptoms.
10. Get supplemental support. Using the appropriate supplements to improve LES function, stimulate acid production or neutralize excess acid can be very effective. Long-term use of acid-suppressing medications or supplements can have a negative effect so addressing the root cause is vital. However, they can play an important role in reducing symptoms in the short term especially as stomach acid in the esophagus and throat can lead to more dangerous health conditions.
SUPPLEMENTS TO HELP ACID REFLUX
To support the LES: Magnesium is an electrolyte that plays a role in the way muscles function. Magnesium deficiency, which is very common, can affect the way the LES functions so maintaining adequate levels is vital.
Iberogast is a herbal liquid which has been shown to improve acid reflux and indigestion. It contains nine different herbs which help with digestive symptoms. It works as a mild prokinetic and helps to move food along the digestive tract which can reduce acid reflux in some people.
For low levels of HCL: Digestive bitters are herbs which stimulate the production of digestive enzymes and HCL and tightening the LES. They work by stimulating bitter receptors on your tongue which send a message to your brain to release the digestive juices. They can be taken around 15 minutes before a meal and don’t even need to be swallowed, you can just swish them around your mouth and spit them out if you want to.
HCL and Betaine Capsules provide supplemental stomach acid for those who don’t produce enough of their own. To take these supplements you must be sure you have low stomach acid because otherwise, you’ll experience terrible burning pain from too much acid. (You may want to work with a practitioner to avoid this.) They are very effective if used correctly and can stop acid reflux. They must NOT be taken by people who have stomach ulcers.
For excess HCL: Baking soda or sodium bicarbonate neutralizes stomach acid so eliminates acid reflux. As a natural antacid, it can be found in many over the counter products, but you can just take ½ teaspoon in 4oz water to get relief. You can also use this if you take an HCL supplement and have an adverse reaction.
Over the counter antacids that contain calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate such as Rennie or Gaviscon will also bring relief. These tend to have added ingredients, so I only use them as last resort, but they are great for quick relief.
If you feel you would like personal support to help get relief from your digestive symptoms then my Discover, Adapt, Thrive one-to-one coaching program is for you. Click the link below to find out more.