(Originally published November 30, 2016)
Heartburn, or acid reflux is a common condition experienced by many people. What exactly is going on? At the bottom of your esophagus you have a sphincter (a circular muscle) that normally stays tightly closed in order to keep the acid in your stomach where it belongs. When this muscle is too relaxed, it allows the acid to wash up into your esophagus, causing pain and damage to the cells. What keeps this muscle nice and tight? Stomach acid! Like all things in the body, this sphincter has a job, and keeping stomach acid high will give it more reason to do its job (think of the "use it or lose it" motto of the muscles...) Most people who suffer from heartburn actually have low stomach acid. In order to stimulate the gastrointestinal system to feel primed for digestion and make HCl (hydrochloric acid), you need to spend a little time preparing to eat. You know how it feels when you are stressed out and eat a sandwich on the run or when you are upset: it just sits in your belly like a brick of lead. When you are in stress mode, the body is focused on keeping you safe and not on digesting your meal. Switch your nervous system into "rest and digest" mode to get the juices flowing and help the system digest your food and move things down instead of up:
1. Spend some time preparing the meal. The act of cooking and smelling the food will give your body time to prepare for the meal and get the juices flowing.
2. 15 minutes before you eat, drink a glass of water with either a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or some digestive bitters (these are herbs that are easily found at your local health food store or at the clinic). This will stimulate the acid production in your stomach so it will be ready to digest your food.
3. Another option is to take HCl pills with your meal or digestive enzymes, to achieve the same effect by adding the acid and enzymes to your system. These can be useful for cases of extreme deficiency, or for when you are switching off of antacid medications but don't stay on them forever as the goal is to get your body to produce them itself.
4. Sit and eat at the table. Turn off the news and put away the paper and focus on your meal. Give it the time it deserves; chew your food and don't stuff yourself. Food is your nutrition and your medicine. Make sure to leave three hours of non-eating time before bed.
5. Include protein with your meal. Protein also stimulates the production of HCl.
There are also things that can cause this lower esophageal sphincter to loosen, allowing the acid to reflux up.
1. STRESS. As discussed above, the body isn't in digestion mode when you are stressed. Any techniques you have to reduce this will help.
2. Foods such as tomatoes and mint. Alcohol and cigarettes. Coffee and chocolate. Spicy foods. Even with a strong system, these things can cause some burn. Skip the lasagna and wine for a while if you are suffering from reflux.
So why am I not suggesting antacids?? As you know, antacids can do wonders to relieve acute symptoms of heartburn, and they are good in a pinch when you are in pain, as well as natural remedies such as licorice, slippery elm, and aloe vera. However, being on these medications long term will reduce your stomach acid and this acid is a necessary component of digestion! You need this to break down your food and absorb your nutrients, especially protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B. Taking these medications on a regular basis will not resolve the cause (as you can see, if you stop the medication, the burn comes back). They only serve to mask the symptoms and lead to nutrient deficiencies such as anemia and osteoporosis. Focusing on the tips above will improve the workings of your digestion so the heartburn goes away, without having to rely on medications forever. Keep in mind, these suggestions are for basic heartburn. I do not recommend them if you have acute gastritis or peptic ulcer disease as they may worsen your condition.
Want to know more? Contact the clinic! Acupuncture can eliminate heartburn by setting your system in order, strengthening your stomach, and moving energy in the proper direction. We can also discuss eating habits and address stress with acupuncture and herbal therapies.
For more info:
Gastric Balance: Heartburn Not Always Caused by Excess Acid by Jim English
NutritonReview.org -April 22, 2013https://nutritionreview.org/2013/04/gastric-balance-heartburn-caused-excess-acid/
Why Stomach Acid is Good for You by Jonathan Wright and Lane Lenard by Amy Berger
The Weston A. Price Foundation - December 11, 2013