10% of Americans have an episode of heartburn every day. Overall, acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) affects up to 35% of the population. As a result, acid-blocking medications are the third top-selling type of drug in America today. If you have irritating and uncomfortable bouts of heartburn read on for ideas on how to resolve it!
What is Heartburn & What Causes It?
Heartburn is the primary symptom of acid reflux or GERD, which is a more severe case of acid reflux. A painful or burning sensation radiates up from the stomach to the chest and throat, typically happening at night, especially after eating a large meal or when lying down. Other symptoms include hoarseness, feeling like food is stuck in the throat, wheezing, asthma and bad breath.
Most assume heartburn is from too much stomach acid when the opposite is true. In fact, Dr. Jonathon Wright, an expert on GERD at Tahoma Clinic, reported that in 25 years of conducting tests, he found very few people with excess stomach acid. He states, "When we carefully test people over age 40 who are having heartburn, over 90% of the time we find low stomach acid production."
If excess stomach acid is not the cause of heartburn and GERD, then what is? The next culprit is often assumed to be food. Common assumptions are spicy food, tomatoes, chocolate, fried food and coffee.
While it's possible that these could cause issues, the more likely culprits are chips and soda. Or pizza and beer. Candy bars and cookies. Pasta with bread. Cereal and milk. Are any of these foods part of your eating plan? The common ingredients in all of these foods and beverages are sugar and/or flour. So, to find relief from heartburn you must look at foods you consume with sugar and flour, and reduce or even eliminate them.
Eat This, Not That for Heartburn Relief
A friend of mine used to have heartburn so bad that she had to sleep on a recliner; sitting upright at night gave her relief from the burning and pain. But once she gave up eating bread, her heartburn vanished. It usually takes more than just giving up one food to cure heartburn, but eliminating bread would be a great place to start.
Is cereal with milk a typical breakfast for you? In its place, try eggs and spinach cooked in butter with a piece of fruit. Wondering what to do on Friday nights after work without pizza and beer? Try a glass of wine with your dinner of steak, potato with butter, and green beans instead. If you don’t care for wine, your new beverage could be a sparkling water with fresh-squeezed lemon.
When your blood sugar gets low at work and you feel those mid-morning cravings approaching or those afternoon energy dips, don’t reach for the candy dish or visit the vending machine. Bring a healthy snack of almonds, string cheese, and an apple to work as an alternative. Have a stash of healthy snacks in your home office or in your purse when you’re on the go.
Do you feel pressure at restaurants to eat what everyone else is eating? Instead of partaking in the bread basket right away, order a side salad. Also, avoid pasta-centered meals or batter-covered proteins and look for protein that is broiled, grilled, baked or seared. Ask for rice or potato if you want a starch.
Medications Are Not Long-Term Solutions
It can be overwhelming and maybe even scary to consider giving up some of your favorite foods. You may even be thinking to yourself that it would just be easier to keep taking your acid-blocking medication instead of changing your diet. After all, this is the most common treatment used for GERD. Heartburn medications like Tagamet®, Pepcid® and Zantac® neutralize stomach acid that is already there. Other brands used to treat heartburn are Prevacid®, Protonix®, Prilosec®, Nexium® and Aciphex® which block the stomach's production of acid.
While these medications may give you some temporary relief, the problem with this approach is that your body needs stomach acid to stay healthy and to digest food. You also need stomach acid to absorb important nutrients like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
When you’re on medication long term, other serious issues arise such as osteoporosis, anemia, depression, fatigue, IBS, and even nerve damage and dementia, especially in the elderly. However, people are not often aware of these risks and take the drugs daily, sometimes for decades, though the medications often call for use of six to eight weeks max. Some doctors even recommend that their patients be on these acid blockers for life.
Does that sound familiar? Time for a healthier approach.
5 Steps to Beat Heartburn
Try the following five steps for a month and you should be on your way to heartburn relief.
Reduce sugar and processed junk food. Sugar is a common cause of heartburn, and eating large amounts of processed foods and sugars will only exacerbate it. Take the online class Breaking the Sugar Habit over at our sister company, Nutritional Weight & Wellness, to learn how to curb cravings and improve health!
Remove the gluten. It is estimated that one in three people have a gluten sensitivity. If you are one of those people and you have heartburn, the symptoms will not go away until gluten is removed from your diet. Gluten is found in wheat, oats, barley and rye. Learn more about going gluten free in the online class with our sister company Nutritional Weight & Wellness called Going Gluten Free the Healthy Way.
Replace your carbohydrate sources. Eat lots of carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits instead of bread, pasta, cereal, crackers and baked goods.
Repopulate your system with healthy bacteria. It’s common to have a deficiency of good bacteria in the gut, especially if you’ve ever taken antibiotics. You can supplement with a probiotic, which we’ll get to a little later, but there are also real, whole food options for increasing the good bacteria in your gut that are very helpful for soothing heartburn. Incorporating more fermented foods into your meal plan can help balance the good bugs in your gut. Think probiotic-rich foods like whole-milk yogurt or kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented veggies, and kombucha (look for the low sugar flavors!).
Take time to chew your food and start with cooked, easily digestible whole foods to help heal. It might seem like a silly step, but digestion actually begins in the mouth with our saliva. Making sure you ENJOY your food is an important part of the process, so take a moment to eat slowly and chew carefully to help the body break down all your delicious grub. Since raw foods can be more difficult to digest, try cooking your vegetables and fruits for awhile as you soothe your system with these other steps.
Top 3 Supplements To Help With Heartburn
Often, when clients clean up their diets and follow these five steps, heartburn goes away on its own. Try to notice what foods give you heartburn and what happens when you stop consuming them. If you’ve cut out the aggravating triggers (sugar and processed foods!) and are still struggling with heartburn, we’d suggest the following supplements:
ACIDOPHILUS The probiotic acidophilus helps keep the lining of the stomach healthy so it doesn’t get as easily irritated. It actually helps produce a little more acid, since most people don’t have enough acid to aid with digestion, which helps you break down your food to absorb all those important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. This probiotic can be found as a powder in Dophilus Powder or in capsules in NutriKey’s Acidophilus.
The nutritionists at Nutritional Weight & Wellness recommend taking ¼ to ½ tsp. of the powder in water (it’s tasteless) or one to two capsules before bed and before one meal of the day (whatever meal is easiest).
“My husband suffers with acid reflux. He started taking this a few weeks ago and has not had 1 episode since! We are so impressed with the result he's had taking Acidophilus. It's truly amazing!” – Debra M.
BIFIDOBACTERIA For longer use, our nutritionists recommend Bifido Balance, which is comprised of a probiotic called bifidobacterial and helps the small intestinal tract break down and digest foods better. Bifidobacteria is the most prevalent good bacteria in your intestinal tract, making up (ideally) about 70% of your gut bacteria. For those who prefer powder to capsules, Bifido Powder is the perfect choice for you!
Our nutritionists recommend taking ½ tsp. of powder in water or one to two Bifido Balance capsules ten to thirty minutes before every meal.
“ I used to have really bad heartburn and my doctor kept prescribing Prilosec. It was just treating the symptom, not fixing the underlying problem. I decided to try Bifido Balance, only 1 pill a day. And wouldn’t you know it, no heartburn! Sometimes I even skip a day. I’m telling you, this probiotic really worked to eliminate my constant heartburn. It won’t hurt you to give it a try.” -J.G.
L-GLUTAMINE Support the healing of the intestinal lining with L-glutamine. It helps keep inflammation at bay making for a healthier intestinal tract, which protects you from future heartburn flare-ups. L-glutamine is an amino acid (in fact it’s the most abundant amino acid in the body) that heals all tissue in the body, especially those irritated tissues in the digestive tract. It is also known as the calming amino acid since it’s very effective at reducing anxiety, as well as sugar and alcohol cravings. L-glutamine comes in a L-Glutamine capsules or L-Glutamine Powder, depending on your preference.
Our nutritionists recommend taking ¼ to ½ tsp. in water or one to two capsules at every meal.
“L-Glutamine has helped to heal my intestines after years of periodic antibiotics. Along with Nutrikey’s bifido probiotics, it is part of a dynamic duo. A terrific value and speedy shipping too.”-Susan V.
BONUS supplement suggestion: Take a digestive enzyme with hydrochloric acid. Most people with heartburn do not produce enough stomach acid. Supplement with a digestive enzyme containing betaine hydrochloric acid to help your body to better digest your food and also address the issue of having too little stomach acid.
Multi-Step Approach for Heartburn Relief
Heartburn is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal. You don’t have to suffer through it. Start by reducing the amount of sugar and processed foods you are eating, remove the gluten or other foods you may be sensitive to that are harming your gut lining, and replace your carbohydrates with nutrient dense fruits and vegetables (cooked rather than raw to start). Repopulate your good bacteria and natural stomach acid with fermented foods and probiotics, heal the gut lining with l-glutamine, and add in some digestive enzymes to give that digestive tract some extra help.
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