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Heartburn is so common now it’s thought of as normal, but in reality it’s far from it. When you feel that familiar sour stomach, acid burps and bloating after meals, it’s your body’s cry for help with digestion. Treating GERD or heartburn with acid reducing medicines can be helpful for short-term relief, but long-term can inhibit absorption of calcium, iron, protein, Vitamin B12, folate, zinc, Vitamin C, magnesium and more. Long-term deficiencies in these nutrients lead to osteoporosis, anemia, lowered immunity to infections and other serious consequences. The good news is there are natural remedies that are real solutions for acid reflux relief.
Chances are if you’ve been to a doctor for this condition, you’ve been told you have too much stomach acid and need acid reducing medicines to bring the level back to normal. Research shows low stomach acid is actually far more common than excess stomach acid, and the symptoms are the same. The older we get the less stomach acid we make. With low stomach acid, food is either fermented or basically rots in the stomach because there isn’t enough acid to break it down. In addition to not getting the nutrients you need from the food, the pressure from the gas that builds during this process causes bloating, then the valve between the stomach and esophagus opens, allowing the contents to wash up into the esophagus.
By supplementing with Betaine HCl, stomach acid normalizes and food is broken down properly. Dose is determined by how you feel when you take it; start with one pill before meals, and increase until a slight burning is felt in the stomach, then decrease by one pill and that’s your dose. Your dose may change over time; many people need less acid supplementation as digestion improves and are able to wean off the supplement.
Famous for its helpful effects on insomnia, there is actually 400 times more melatonin in the gastrointestinal tract than there is in the brain. In the stomach, melatonin protects the mucosal lining from damage caused by free radicals and NSAIDs. It also modulates the production of HCl and pepsin. Studies show its efficacy is comparable to Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) like Prilosec. In a daily dose of 6mg of melatonin at bedtime, it takes 6 weeks to reach its full healing potential for GERD.
In Russia, China and Europe, pine nut oil is widely used to heal gastrointestinal tissues damaged by erosions from GERD and ulcers from Peptic Ulcer Disease. It is estimated now 1 in 10 people develop an ulcer in their lifetime. Pine nut oil is rich in free radical scavengers and helps heal mucosal tissues from erosion and ulcer damage.
Meadowsweet is an often overlooked herb is anti-inflammatory and relieves pain while toning, coating and soothing inflamed mucosal tissues. Make a tea from 1 teaspoon of powder in 4 ounces of hot water, steep for 20 minutes and drink 3 times daily. Add slippery elm bark or marshmallow root for an even more soothing brew. It coats and soothes as it goes down, so capsules are not nearly as effective as the tea.
DGL chewable tablets. DGL is the form of licorice root that doesn’t raise blood pressure. Taken before meals, it provides a protective coating for the stomach and esophagus to prevent erosion and damage from acid reflux and h. pylori, the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers.
Magnesium is a smooth muscle relaxer that helps open the pyloric sphincter at the bottom of the stomach and empty its contents into the small intestine. It’s estimated 80% of Americans are magnesium deficient, and it’s not commonly tested for in the doctor’s office. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) deplete magnesium so much that the FDA has issued a warning for anyone taking these drugs. Supplementation of magnesium glycinate or malate at 400-800mg is ideal; if diarrhea occurs decrease your dose.
Zinc is a key player in the formation of stomach acid and is critical for healing the lining of the digestive tract. PPIs deplete zinc so supplementation of up to 75mg daily may be needed for at least 3 months after PPI therapy to restore healthy levels.
Iodine is another key player in the formation of stomach acid. Look at your fingernails. Do you see healthy white half-moons (lunulae) coming up the bottom 1/3 of at least 8 of your fingernails? If not, you may be iodine deficient. Supplementing with at least 400mcg of potassium iodide or 1 drop of Lugol’s solution daily will help bring iodine levels up, and the “moons” of your nails will grow as your iodine level increases.
Himalayan or Celtic sea salt contains almost 100 essential trace minerals as well as the chloride necessary to make stomach acid. Just ½ teaspoon daily is enough to support your stomach acid production. If you have high blood pressure and are sodium sensitive, you can decrease the sodium by making a saturated salt water: simply add ¼ cup of Himalayan or Celtic sea salt to 1 quart of filtered water, shake well and let sit for a day; take ½ teaspoon daily diluted in 4 ounces of water.
Many people report relief from heartburn with probiotic-rich foods and supplements, especially fermented milk products like yogurt and kefir. Work up to one cup per day, in divided doses if needed. Probiotic supplements are not well researched for acid reflux but anecdotally perform better with higher potency and more diverse strains in the product. Probiotic dosage is 1-2 capsules per day on an empty stomach.
Apple Cider Vinegar and sauerkraut juice are the most popular folk remedies for acid reflux. One tablespoon in 4 ounces of water can be drunk slowly throughout the day to improve digestion and balance stomach acid production, though should be avoided when you have erosions or ulcers.