You’ve just enjoyed a southwest burrito at your favorite restaurant. 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 your doctor to understand the root cause and your best individualized treatment.