Stomach issues are a huge problem among today’s American culture. So many people suffer from GERD, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation and so many of these gut problems can be attributed to a poor diet, the overuse of antibiotics and food allergies. With little relief, many people have learned to live with the stomach discomfort, saying “that’s just the way my body is.” But The Verbal Herbal is here to shine a light on gastroesophageal reflux and heartburn.
What is GERD?
Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter valve opens to allow food to pass from the esophagus into the stomach and closes to prevent stomach juices from flowing from the stomach up into the esophagus. When this valve is weak or not functioning properly, those juices from the stomach bubble up into the esophagus causing a burning sensation that starts behind the breast bone and radiates up into the throat. The Merck Manual describes gastroesophageal reflux, better known as GERD, as “reflux of the gastric contents into the esophagus leading to localized infection.” The heartburn and indigestion that results from GERD can sometimes be so bad and uncomfortable that some people mistakenly think they are having a heart attack.
What Causes GERD?
Although it may seem like an abundance of stomach acid is what causes GERD, it is actually just to opposite. GERD is often the result of not enough digestive juices and a decreased amount of stomach acid. 90% of people who experience heartburn don’t have enough stomach acid.
Even though GERD is most commonly caused by not enough stomach acid, most people think that antacids help to relieve the problem. Although antacids do help to neturalize the acid in the esophagus, they also worsen the problem by decreasing the amount of acid in the stomach as well. Antacids also interfere with digestion and absorption and have many other unappealing side effects and long term use can be dangerous.
Natural Ways to Relieve GERD
So often we turn to pharmaceuticals that alter the chemical balance of our bodies. The body is a well-oiled machine and if we change the way something is supposed to operate we affect the entire body. For wellness purposes it is better to find natural alternatives that encourage proper functioning of the system. Listed below are some things you can do to help prevent and relieve the occurrence of GERD.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Take a shot of apple cider vinegar before meals for prevention or 1 Tbs of apple cider vinegar in a cup of warm water for relief.
- Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks: Certain foods can be irritating and cause cases of GERD. Avoid foods such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate, and fried or fatty foods. You may also wish to avoid citrus fruits and juices, tomato products, peppers and spicy foods because they may further damage the esophageal lining. It is also very important to determine if you have any food allergies or sensitivities by doing an elimination diet. I experienced heartburn after every meal before I realized I had a gluten sensitivity. Since I stopped eating wheat and gluten products, I don't remember the last time I had heartburn. Also, gulping cold drinks my further aggravate the condition.
- Small meals: Eat smaller meals and do not eat less than 2 hours before bed to allow time for your food to exit the stomach and move into the intestines.
- Sit up: Do not lie down. If it is bed time, try and sleep in more of a seated position. If you must lie down, lay on your left side. Laying on your right side can make the condition worse.
- Pass on the beverages during meal time: Don’t drink water 30 minutes before a meal and wait to drink until 30 minutes after. Drinking excessive amounts during a meal can diluting down your stomach acid, interfere with proper digestion and can overfilling the stomach.
- Papaya Enzymes: For on the spot relief, I swear by papaya enzymes. Papaya contains papain which helps to digest proteins. I have turned on so many people to this remedy because it works so well.
- Colonize your Gut: For a healthy gut, make sure you are getting adequate amounts of probiotics.
- Massage your Belly Clockwise: to help move your food down into the stomach and intestines, massage your stomach in a clockwise direction. Adding essential oils like chamomile, ginger and peppermint can add to the relief.
- Stress-Free Eating Habits: Stress causes so many issues and GERD is one of them. To help soothe your nerves and your gut, create a stress free eating environment. Turn off the TV, focus on your meal and chew slowly. For other ways to decrease stress go to Natural Ways to Cope with Stress.
- Chew on This: Chewing cardamom or fennel seeds after meals is a tasty way to promote healthy digestion.
- BITTERS: I always rant and rave about how I think everyone should use bitters and this time is no different. Here is the link to a previous blog post: Feel Better with Bitters.
Herbs to Combat GERD
There are many herbal actions that are helpful in addressing GERD.
- Demulcent and mucilaginous herbs: help to coat and soothe the irritated tissue of the esophagus and provide a barrier from the stomach acid doing more damage. Herbs such as licorice and marshmallow and Slippery Elm can be useful.
- Digestive nervines: help to soothe issues of digestion while addressing the stress associated with reoccurring conditions. Some helpful digestive nerviness include: chamomile, hops and lemon balm.
- Vulnerary: these herbs help to heal the irritated tissue of the esophagus. Calendula is a wonderful vulnerary that can be used for GERD.
- Anti-inflammatory: help decrease inflammation and irritation with calendula, chamomile, licorice, slippery elm and ginger.
- Carminatives: help with overall digestion issues by soothing the gut wall. Herbs that may be helpful include: cardamom, fennel, chamomile, hops and ginger.
- Hoffmann suggests a formula of:
- 2 parts Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)
- 1 part Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- 1 part Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
With so many people needing relief from heartburn, I hope todays post can be helpful for you or for someone you love.
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: Storey Books. North Adams, Mass.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine.
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Mars, B., & Fiedler, C. (2011). The country almanac of home remedies: time-tested & almost-forgotten wisdom for treating hundreds of common ailments, aches & pains quickly and naturally.
: Fair Winds Press. Beverly, Mass.