The human digestive system is among the most perfectly designed systems in the body and should function without a hitch. It prepares food both physically and chemically for use by millions of cells in the body and disposes of what the body cannot use. If we are eating the right foods in the right way, we should not have to rely on antacids or potent laxative medications to get it to work right. Excessive belching, bloating and gas--no matter how commonplace--are not normal.
Most digestive distress can be eliminated by taking simple steps to change poor dietary and lifestyle habits. Diet and supplementation are imperative to restoring optimal function to the digestive system.
Please read the Woodland Health Series Title Managing Acid Reflux by Kate Gilbert Udall. This booklet discusses symptoms, contributing factors, nutritional supplements, antacid use, herbal help, stress, eating the wrong foods, etc.
Antacids work by neutralizing gastric acid. They may help calm the burning feeling, but they don't resolve the problem. They also have side effects that can inhibit the absorption of calcium and other nutrients.
Some antacids contain aluminum, (which is a toxic metal), and can cause constipation, while others contain magnesium which, in excessive amounts, can cause diarrhea. Acid blockers such as Zantac, Pepcid, and Tagamet, are now available over-the-counter and work by reducing acid secretion. Proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) such as Prevacid, Prilosec, and Nexium, are available by a doctor’s prescription and work by blocking the secretion of stomach acid (crucial to healthy digestion), for several hours at a time. Stomach acid is normal and vital to digestion. Of course heartburn and gastric acid that makes its way into the esophagus is not normal or healthy.
Many experts agree that the first place to gain control over heartburn is with lifestyle changes. Pat Baird, MD, RD, FADA, author of Be Good to Your Gut, says that, for many people, getting a grip on heartburn is a question of figuring out what your triggers are. “Some people can drink coffee by the gallon, but give them a glass of orange juice and they’ll have heartburn.” She says that there are five common trigger foods that can cause heartburn: citrus fruits, caffeine, alcohol, fatty foods, and chocolate. Baird suggests keeping a food diary that includes everything you eat and drink as well as all medications, supplements, and herbs you take to see if any patterns emerge.
Another factor besides food that can lead to heartburn is excessive weight. Carrying excess weight can cause intra-abdominal pressure, which forces food to move north instead of south, says David Peura, MD, FACP, FACG, chairman of the National Heartburn Alliance. Tight clothing can have the same effect. Dr. Peura adds that food associated with weight gain—anything deep-fried, fatty meats, rich desserts—also trigger heartburn.
If you have heartburn twice a week or more, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). When these symptoms are present, you will need to see your healthcare provider. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist- a specialist in disorders of the gastrointestinal tract.
There are a variety of natural options for helping to control heartburn. Nutritionist Sue Ayersman, CNS, CNN, says that licorice root (Glycyrrhizza glabra) can relieve heartburn and soothe the digestive tract. “Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root is best,” she says. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root (DGL) does not contain the blood pressure raising properties associated with the whole root.
It’s believed that DGL can protect the stomach lining from stomach acid by stimulating the production of substances that coat the stomach and esophagus. This is something you can take 20 minutes before a meal. Check labels of licorice root supplements to see if the product contains licorice root or DGL.
Phosphatidylcholine (PC), a form of the B vitamin choline and an extract of lecithin, may be an effective remedy for acid reflux. Also available in supplement form, PC is found in many foods, including, eggs, liver, peanuts, soybeans, and wheat germ.
Aloe vera is also helpful for heartburn. “One quarter cup on an empty stomach in the morning can provide some relief.” It can also cause diarrhea, so be careful not to take too much. Two ounces, four times a day should be sufficient.
Digestive enzymes are another way to alleviate heartburn. Our bodies naturally produce an array of enzymes to help facilitate digestion. Each enzyme works by breaking down a specific type of food (e.g., carbohydrates, fats). Found in plants, enzymes are sold in supplement form in many different blends specifically for digestive disorders. Along the same lines, probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, also support the digestion process and, therefore, cut down on the symptoms of heartburn.
A few supplements can actually aggravate symptoms of heartburn—fish oil, red yeast rice, glucosamine, white willow bark, potassium and large doses of vitamin C may be troublesome. Also, be aware that there are some possible reactions for those taking medication with certain supplements. In conjunction with acid blockers, or PPIs, kola nut can increase stomach acid, while valerian and kava can increase drowsiness if used with acid blockers. If you’re taking Tagamet or Prilosec, gingko, ginger, garlic, and ginseng will increase the anti-coagulant effect. Reglan combined with ginseng, ma huang, hawthorne, saw palmetto, or licorice may increase blood pressure, while garlic may decrease it. It is not advisable to discontinue any prescribed medications without first talking to your doctor.
By talking with your health care professional, keeping a food journal, and making some lifestyle changes, you can take control of your symptoms of heartburn.
Click on the link below and go to the page on digestive care. Once there, you can read about digestive enzymes.
American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion by Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD (Wiley 2003); Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com; National Heartburn Alliance, www.heartburnalliance.org; Personal communication: Pat Baird, MA, RD, FADA,: David Peura, MD; Claudia Poole, 7/06; Managing Acid Reflux by Kate Gilbert Udall;
The November 2006 issue of Remedies for Life magazine
These statements have not been reviewed by the FDA and are not intended as a substitute for professional medical care.This information is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any disease whether physical or mental. Please see your doctor for any serious symptoms. Do not discontinue prescribed medications without the consent of your doctor.