Healing Acid Reflux Naturally
You've just enjoyed a big holiday meal with friends and family. Now, you're feeling as if someone has lit a fire in your upper abdomen and the flames are reaching up your throat. That's acid reflux. It's triggered when stomach acid backs up into your food pipe (the esophagus). Acid reflux (commonly called heartburn) is a painful and aggravating condition that affects about 60% of the adult population in a given year. A more persistent and serious condition, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) afflicts as many as seven million Americans.
A variety of symptoms accompany reflux - not everyone has them all. People with GERD typically experience symptoms from intense irritation to burning pain in the lower mid-chest or behind the breastbone. Other common symptoms are stomach ache, nighttime cough, and inflammation. Persistent reflux can erode tooth enamel, damage the lining of the esophagus, cause sore throat/laryngitis, interfere with swallowing, and increase risk for diseases of the esophagus.
You may be familiar with prescription and over-the-counter medications for reflux disease, such as proton-pump inhibitors and antacids. At best, these drugs only mask symptoms, providing short-term relief rather than getting to the root cause. From a holistic medicine perspective, possible underlying causes of GERD range from the food you eat to factors such as imbalances in stomach acid, food sensitivities, hiatal hernia, overuse of antibiotics and stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine.
To get to the root cause of GERD, a holistic physician may test for food sensitivities, evaluate your diet and lifestyle habits, and consider a number of other possible causes. Once the underlying cause has been determined, your doctor may recommend diet changes, herbal and homeopathic remedies, as well as nutritional supplements and physical therapies such as abdominal massage and stress management techniques. Your doctor will use therapies and help you make changes that will restore balance and health to your gut.
Below are a few of the supplements and lifestyle changes that can help you maintain a healthy gut and reduce your risk for heartburn and GERD.
Ginger: Treats various gastrointestinal ailments, including heartburn. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, which can reduce irritation in the esophagus.
Licorice Root: Helps increase mucus production and digestive activity, protecting the stomach and esophagus from acid. Licorice root has been known to increase blood pressure in people diagnosed with hypertension. Be sure to discuss use of this supplement with your health practitioner.
Probiotics: Helps maintain balance in the digestive system between good and harmful bacteria.
Adopt healthy habits: Exercise 30 minutes daily. Boost your diet with whole, fresh fruits and veggies, fermented foods, and organic meats. Drink 6-8 glasses of filtered water daily. Maintain a healthy body weight. Properly care for other medical conditions such as diabetes. Don't smoke or overuse alcohol, as this can trigger and aggravate reflux.
Remember, supplements alone do not address underlying lifestyle habits and health conditions that cause GERD. It's important to work closely with a holistic physician to understand the root cause and your best individualized treatment.
Zap Indigestion with Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
An Asian spice well-known for its sweet and zesty zing, ginger has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation and support metabolism and digestion. As a digestive aid, this knobby, horn shaped root has been used in traditional herbal medicine to nourish and warm the digestive organs including the mouth, stomach, pancreas, and liver. Ginger stimulates production of enzymes in all digestive pathways. It also aids in the breakdown of starches and fatty foods. Herbalists have long used ginger to heal upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, and morning sickness.
Modern herbal medicine practitioners often prescribe ginger to prevent and treat nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, cancer treatment, motion sickness, after surgery and for indigestion. Researchers aren't sure of the exact physiological processes that make ginger effective, but current research indicates that compounds in ginger bind to receptors in the digestive tract and help minimize sensations that create nausea and indigestion. Ginger may also facilitate digestion, reducing the time food sits in the stomach.
There are many preparations for ginger including ginger chews and lozenges, fresh or dried tea infusions, capsules, and extracts. And here is a great recipe for healthy homemade Ginger Ale, prepared with a freshly grated ginger.
L-Glutamine for Gut Strength
L-Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid (protein building block) in the body; as such, it has a wide range of functions. Critical for removing excess ammonia (a common waste product in the body), glutamine supports the immune system, muscle and organ growth and repair, as well as brain and digestive functions. It's also been shown to protect against the breakdown of the mucous lining in the gut. Most glutamine is stored in muscles, followed by the lungs, where much of this protein is made.
On a typical day, our body makes enough glutamine to meet ordinary needs. However, when we're under stress (emotional or physical - from heavy exercise to mental illness, injury or surgery), we may not produce enough glutamine to address the stress hormones flooding our body. That's when taking a supplement comes into play. Additionally, a glutamine supplement is often helpful for individuals with medical conditions such as GERD, leaky gut, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, where their glutamine levels may be consistently low.
L-Glutamine supplements are usually in pill form, but you can also find a powder version which should be mixed with a cool liquid. It's critical to remember: Always use cool, never hot foods or liquids. Heat destroys glutamine. Unless otherwise recommended and supervised by your health practitioner, a glutamine supplement is not recommended for children under age 10 or for people with kidney or liver disease, or a history of seizures. Proper dose is crucial to how well L-glutamine works. Always consult with your holistic practitioner before adding a supplement such as glutamine to your diet.
Seeds for Good Digestion: Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)
Cumin is a seed-derived spice with a nutty-peppery flavor that packs a punch from the moment its aroma seeps into your senses. Immediately, Cumin activates the salivary glands which kicks-off the digestive process. Known as jeera in Ayurvedic medicine, cumin is native to the eastern Mediterranean area and is used in cuisine from many parts of the world, including Tex-Mex, Eastern, and Indian. The seeds have been used in folk medicine since antiquity to promote digestion and treat flatulence, diarrhea, indigestion, bloating and gas.
Medicinally, cumin is recognized as a carminative, which means that it soothes digestive irritation, such as gas, and thereby improves digestion. Due to its essential oils, magnesium and sodium content, cumin can also provide relief for stomach ache and irritable bowels. Current research shows that cumin's beneficial effects may be due to the spice's ability to stimulate secretion of pancreatic enzymes, which are necessary for proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients from food. Adding to its nutritional potency, cumin also contains flavonoids and antioxidants, which are beneficial to overall health.
It's best to cook with whole cumin seeds that you grind with a mortar and pestle. Packaged cumin powder is more convenient but it loses its flavor faster than whole seeds. Whole seeds will keep for a year, when stored in a cool, dark place, while powder should be used within six months. For enhanced flavor, roast cumin seeds before using them.