Stop Suffering From Heartburn
What You Need to Know About this Painful, Persistent Condition
Heartburn. The scientific name for this problem is Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Whatever it’s called, it is a painful condition, at times incredibly painful. Also, it is common, affecting most people at least occasionally.
To deal with heartburn, you need to know what it is, what causes it, and what you can do to prevent it in a safe, natural, and efficient manner.
What Exactly is Heartburn?
You may have experienced heartburn. A sharp, red-hot pain that races through your chest all the way up to your throat.
If you have experienced heartburn, you’re not alone. Regrettably, GERD is a condition that strikes most adults at various times. GERD is caused by acid reflux. This problem begins when the layers of muscle that guide food into your stomach relax and go to sleep on duty.
These layers of muscle are called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES.
When your LES goes “AWOL,” it allows half-digested food and stomach acid to creep back up into your esophagus, into your chest, and all the way up to your throat.
The problem with the usual methods of treating GERD is this: over-the-counter and pharmaceutical heartburn remedies attack the symptoms, NOT THE CAUSE! This treatment may help in the short term. But it will not solve the problem since it doesn’t strike and root out the cause of your heartburn.
Also, these medications are overused and abused, to put it mildly. Last year, Americans filled an estimated 170 million acid-blocking prescriptions. That’s correct. 170 million!
Worse, the most common medication for heartburn, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) should not be used for more than 14 consecutive days, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But for some sufferers of painful heartburn, this warning is entirely ignored, due to the intense pain that they are dealing with.
The Dangers of Heartburn Medications
Are folks who abuse acid-blocking medicines at risk of dangerous side effects? Yes. Here is a list of what overuse of PPIs can cause:
- Brain fog and impaired cognitive function. PPIs can boost your risk of dementia by more than 40 percent
- Increased risk of kidney problems
- Imbalance in your digestive system, which can result in an impaired immune system
- The added risk of severe cardiovascular problems by as much as 21 percent
- Increased risk of Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection. A recent Mayo Clinic study has concluded that proton pump inhibitors can increase your risk of this nightmare condition by a humongous 50 percent! For those over the age of 65, this is an even more severe threat – possibly life-threatening
- A deadly form of diarrhea. Those supposedly harmless OTC heartburn relievers like Nexium (of the obnoxious “purple pill” commercial fame), Prilosec, and Prevacid have been linked to this growing diarrhea menace by a recent study. And PPIs can also cause Irritable Bowel Disease.
- Deplete your body of the critical vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy: Vitamin B 12, Vitamin D, magnesium, iron, zinc, and calcium
- Increased risk of developing colitis and gastrointestinal infection
- Increased risk of pneumonia, in particular for seniors.
Is Excess Acid Really the Problem?
The purpose of PPIs is to act as a roadblock for the excess acid in your stomach as it crawls back up your esophagus. And they’re good at that. But is this the right way to solve the problem?
Perhaps not. Think about this: you need stomach acid to begin the process of digestion that breaks down and absorbs the crucial nutrients you require for good health. If the acid in your stomach is inhibited from doing its job, the results are often the list of problems described above.
If your digestion is subpar, stomach distress results. Also, here’s another contradiction in the “blocking stomach acid is the answer to your heartburn agony” theory: as people age, acid levels decrease. What age group suffers the most from heartburn? The older population.
That doesn’t make sense, does it? If excess acid were the problem, younger people would be suffering from heartburn far more often than older folks. But they don’t.
Another reason to be suspicious of the lower stomach acid = relief from heartburn equation is that stomach acid is there for a reason. It not only aids in digestion and nutrient absorption; it also destroys harmful bugs and bacteria that enters your stomach from the food you eat. Lower stomach acid creates the perfect environment for harmful bacteria and germs to survive and thrive.
What happens to your stomach over an extended period of lower stomach acid levels is inflammation. Inflammation is one of the leading causes of a broad range of health problems – perhaps the main reason. And that grim reality affects your stomach as well as the rest of your body.
Chronic inflammation can eat away at the protective lining of mucus in your stomach. This causes minute amounts of food material to rise back up to the higher levels of your belly. Eventually, these materials expand into your esophagus. The outcome is more suffering from the burning sensation of heartburn.
The conclusion? PPI's not only failed to provide a solution to your misery – they may be the direct cause of it!
But what, then, is the answer? It’s impossible to live in pain and discomfort continually. If PPIs can’t get the job done, what should you do to stop the pain of heartburn?
The Good News is This: You’re Not Helpless
By now you can see the limitations of conventional wisdom concerning GERD. From misdiagnosis to the over-the-counter temporary fixes it is easy to get discouraged and start to believe that GERD is something that you’ll just have to get used to.
But that’s not the case. There are actions you can take to lessen the discomfort GERD brings or, even better, prevent this rough condition from developing in the first place. Here are a few ideas that have been proven helpful:
- Nutrition. As with virtually all health problems, smart, healthy eating can work wonders. Almonds, bananas, apples should help your digestive distress. Bananas can battle GERD since they contain antacids that can protect against acid reflux. Spicy foods, fatty foods, carbonated beverages, onions, coffee, citrus fruits, and tomatoes cause heartburn for some folks. Be aware of when you eat those foods and take them off your menu if they cause that burning sensation to appear.
- Mustard also is a natural antacid. A spoonful of straight mustard is not usually the first thing most people think of when considered what to snack on. But mustard contains vinegar, which is acidic and can, therefore, block the acid that is erupting into your throat. Another idea concerning nutrition is to cut out all foods that are linked to gluten, i.e., wheat, rye, and barley.
- If your heartburn is helped, it may mean staying away from those foods permanently. Don’t stuff yourself. Make an effort to eat smaller meals more frequently. Also, slow down your eating. Shoveling massive amounts of half-chewed food down quickly will overload your stomach’s ability to digest the food without excess acid (that will back up into your chest and throat.)
- Probiotics. Yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir are food sources that are loaded with probiotics, the bacteria that is friendly to your digestive system. Also, consider taking a probiotic supplement to ensure you are creating a healthy internal environment in your body.
- Finally, make sure you don’t eat late at night before bedtime. This will keep the pressure off your stomach and make it less likely that you will experience heartburn during the night.
- Apple Cider Vinegar. Just a few sips daily can help control your heartburn
- Aloe Vera. Most people are aware that Aloe Vera is effective in relieving the pain and discomfort of sunburn when applied externally. But Aloe Vera is also useful when taken internally since it reduces inflammation. As an added benefit, Aloe Vera can improve your digestion.
- Drink Tea. Ginger root tea and Chamomile tea have been used for thousands of years to have a soothing effect on the lining of your esophagus
- Stop wearing tight-fitting clothes. This may sound a bit ridiculous, but tight-fitting clothing can constrict your digestive system enough to put pressure on your LES. This is precisely what you don’t need, even a little bit!
- Throw those cigarettes in the trash. As if you didn’t already have enough reasons to stop smoking, here’s another one: smoking weakens your LES, which, as mentioned above, is the cause of heartburn. Smoking can also impede your saliva's ability to withdraw acid from your LES.
- Avoid or minimize alcohol. As with nicotine, alcohol hurts your LES.
- Lose weight. Another common-sense measure that is often overlooked. Added pounds put more pressure on your LES.
- Keep your chin up and don’t stretch out. Also, if possible elevate your bed. This allows gravity to work in your favor rather than against you. This is especially crucial at bedtime since GERD tends to flare up in the evening.
- Don’t lie down immediately after eating. This rule applies before going to bed and any other time as well.
- Reconsider your medications. Prescription drugs can be a double-edged sword. They can perform miracles and have kept countless millions of people alive and healthy. But no pharmaceutical drug is without side effects. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), beta-agonists, blood pressure medications, bone-boosters, and pain pills can aggravate your heartburn. If you suspect that a prescription you take is wreaking havoc on your digestion, don’t hesitate to discuss a possible alternative drug with your physician. But never stop taking your medicines without consulting your doctor
- Lemons, Lemon Balm, and lemon juice. Lemon juice is acidic; in fact, it has a pH level of 2, which is almost as acidic as possible. Lemon juice is an acid more
potent than vinegar. Another benefit of lemon juice is it is loaded with vitamin C and several other crucial nutrients.
- Drinking lemon juice straight is not everyone’s idea of a delightfully tasting beverage, so adding a squeeze of fresh lemon to your drinking water is also an alternative to delivering relief to the pain of heartburn. Lemon balm is a herb that can help you relax and soothe the discomfort in your digestive system.
- Baking soda. Also known as sodium bicarbonate, this standard household product can help ease the pain of heartburn. Baking soda has a pH level of 9, which is alkaline and can neutralize excess stomach acid. One caveat: baking soda lowers acid, which means that it will not work for everyone. Consider other ways of suppressing your heartburn before you try a spoonful of baking soda.
- Marshmallow. This IS NOT the chewy, gooey stuff filled into bags and found in the candy section of your grocery store. Marshmallow is a flower that not only battles heartburn but helps to cool the inflammation in your stomach and esophagus as a result of your heartburn. Marshmallow is available in supplemental form.
- Licorice Root. Licorice has been shown to regenerate the lining of your esophagus, stomach, and intestines. This is so important, since it reduces damage to your digestive system, wards off inflammation, and eases heartburn symptoms. Licorice root can be taken in tea, a supplement, or whole licorice extract.
- Slippery Elm. Slippery elm is a herb long-known for its calming properties. The bark of the slippery elm tree produces large amounts of a compound called polysaccharides. These substances help heartburn since they resemble the mucus in your stomach and can boost your mucus manufacturing. This, in turn, will protect your esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Also, polysaccharides can battle and lower inflammation in your entire digestive system. This can work wonders for easing your heartburn symptoms.
- Keep a list of everything you eat and when you eat it. Then monitor your reactions and continue to narrow down the foods that trigger your heartburn.
- Try chewing gum. As strange as this may sound, there is a logical reason why it may help. Gum stimulates the salivary glands which speed up the flow of saliva. This dilutes the acid in your stomach and helps your system get rid of the excess acid. The result? Relief from heartburn.
This is a comprehensive list of solutions and every solution mentioned will not work for everyone suffering from heartburn.
But the takeaway is this: there are alternatives to PPIs. If you are suffering from this common problem, experiment with these options and find out what works for you.
These approaches attack the cause of heartburn, not merely the symptoms.
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