Nearly 20% of adults in the U.S. suffer from acid reflux and heartburn.[i] If you or someone you know has endured the burning in the throat or chest, you know how bad it can be. It’s no surprise the market for antacids is so big!
Antacids, however, often only bring temporary relief with frequent use bringing unwanted side effects:
- rebound hyperacidity – where acid levels increase due to use
- constipation or diarrhea depending on the formula
- dangerous drug interactions.[ii]
Acid reflux isn’t a new problem. Many traditional medicines such as Traditional Chinese Medicine identified natural ways to deal with it ages ago. More recently, a better understanding of digestion has also identified simple ways to ease the pain of acid reflux and heartburn. Here are 7 natural ways to deal with the pain and discomfort of acid reflux that can help provide both short and long-term relief.
Although most often associated with the intestines and digestive health, it’s important to remember that acid reflux indicates a problem with digestion. In your gut, you’ve got two types of bacteria: the beneficial probiotic kind that support digestion and absorption of nutrients and others which don’t provide that support. Dominance by the beneficial bacteria keeps your digestion healthy.
A diet high in refined carbs, fried foods and added sugars, however, doesn’t feed these beneficial bacteria. It feeds the others. As these bacteria feed on these sugars, they release gases that make you feel bloated and gassy and increase belching. Researchers have found a link between poor carb digestion, the related unwanted side effects like gas and acid reflux, and the overgrowth of certain “bad” bacteria in the gut.[iii]
Eating probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and miso soup can help restore and maintain proper levels of probiotic bacteria in the gut. Taking a probiotic supplement is another good way to ensure you get the probiotics you need.
Low levels of digestive enzymes [LINK to DIGESTIVE ENZYME ARTICLE] may also play a role in acid reflux. Good digestion relies on digestive enzymes breaking down food. Although the body makes its own digestive enzymes, fresh natural foods like fruits and vegetables also supply enzymes that aid digestion. For example, pineapple supplies bromelain, a plant enzyme known to support protein digestion.
Processed foods, refined carbs, and cooked foods don’t provide enzymes. The enzymes are destroyed during the processing and heating foods also breaks down the enzymes. Eating more natural fresh foods will increase enzyme levels. This in turn supports a more complete digestion and reduces factors like the presence of undigested foods which can prompt gas and acid. You can also find plant-based digestive enzyme supplements that may be helpful.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been an old stand-by for dealing with acid reflux and heartburn. It supports digestion, supplies malic acid which helps the liver, and calms the stomach. Mixing one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with water and drinking with dinner can be an easy and quick fix for acid reflux.
Mixing a teaspoon of baking soda and water is another cheap and effective natural remedy. It might seem too simple but baking soda – aka sodium bicarbonate – is one of the active ingredients in many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription antacids.[iv]
Traditional Digestive Herbs
Chinese Herbal Medicine has recommended a variety of herbs to relieve gas, bloating and heartburn due to poor digestion. Ginger tea or chewing on a piece of fresh ginger after a meal is an ancient remedy to improve digestion and ease acid reflux. Other herbs recommended by Traditional Chinese Medicine to support digestive health include Chinese yam and atractylodes.[v],[vi]
Get Enough Magnesium
Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in digestion, muscle function and more than 300 metabolic function. And according to a recent NHANES survey, almost 75% of U.S. adults suffer from magnesium deficiency. [vii] Without enough magnesium, digestion slows down, increasing the chance of the gas build-up that can prompt acid reflux and heartburn. To get enough magnesium in the diet, it’s essential to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables or take a quality magnesium supplement.
Lifestyle may be the simplest way to prevent and treat acid reflux. Eating a more natural diet, avoiding fried foods and foods loaded with sugar can remove many of the factors that contribute to acid reflux. Eating less also helps as it reduces pressure on the muscle that controls the flow of food into the stomach – and keeps acid out of the esophagus.[viii]
[i] Dent J, et al. Epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review. Gut. 2005 May;54(5):710-7.
[iii] Sachdev AH1, Pimentel M. Gastrointestinal bacterial overgrowth: pathogenesis and clinical significance. Ther Adv Chronic Dis. 2013 Sep;4(5):223-31. doi: 10.1177/2040622313496126.
[iv] Sun J, Yang C, Zhao H, et al. Randomised clinical trial: the clinical efficacy and safety of an alginate?antacid (Gaviscon Double Action) versus placebo, for decreasing upper gastrointestinal symptoms in symptomatic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in China. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2015;42(7):845-854. doi:10.1111/apt.13334.
[vii] Zhang Y, Qiu H. Dietary Magnesium Intake and Hyperuricemia among US Adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(3):296. doi:10.3390/nu10030296.
[viii] Castell DO1, et al. Review article: the pathophysiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease – oesophageal manifestations. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2004 Dec;20 Suppl 9:14-25.