The odds are that you or someone you know experiences heartburn. Around half of North American adults experience it at least once per month. Somewhere between 10-20% have it at least once per week! Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, occurs when the strong acid in your stomach creeps up into your esophagus. It can feel like a burning sensation; hence the name "heartburn." Other common symptoms include bloating, burping, difficulty swallowing, or a sore throat. Often there is a bitter or sour taste as well.
Stomach acid is a good thing, and we all need it. It is essential for good health and optimal digestion, without it, key signals to release enzymes from pancreas and bile from liver to break down food don’t go off. We also need it to protect us against harmful microbes (i.e. bacteria) that lurk in our food and drinks. But we need that acid to stay in the stomach, and not get up to our esophagus!
Stomach acid doesn't usually burn the stomach itself; this is because the stomach is protected by a layer of mucus. But your esophagus doesn't have that same protection. It has a valve that is supposed to prevent things from going the wrong way (i.e. keep food, drink, and acid down; not allow it back up).
The valve will open and close as needed but will remain open if the stomach acid is not strong enough to dissolve and digest food. If that happens, there is any gas build up and it will make the valve open and the acid starts to come back up. When your esophagus is exposed to stomach acid too often, it can cause the infamous burning, inflammation, and other potential issues.
I can never stress enough how important gut health is, and this is just another example. By eating the right foods and avoiding irritating ones like sugar, gluten and conventional dairy, we can keep our stomach acid very low we can avoid the horrible heartburn.
A strong stomach acid will also help with thyroid health, which might be a shocking revelation, but it’s true; see the inactive form of thyroid (T4) is converted to the active form (T3) by the liver, but that won’t happen if there isn’t enough bile, and again all that is triggered by a very acidic stomach.
So before you reach for the Tums, I'm going to share some tips that may help you overcome your heartburn symptoms naturally. Of course, if symptoms last for a long time, or get worse, it's probably a good idea to see your doctor.
Tip #1 – Foods to eat (and avoid)
You may notice that when you eat or drink certain things, you get heartburn soon afterward. These triggers may be different for everyone; but often include onions, garlic, chocolate, citrus, tomato, mint, spicy foods, greasy foods, coffee, carbonated drinks, or alcohol. If any of these affect you, reduce them or even try cutting them out to see if it makes a difference.
Heartburn might also result from a sneaky food intolerance. Try eliminating refined sugar, grains, conventional dairy, and other processed foods for a few weeks and see if that helps. Check out my FREE program that I developed for this purpose to get your started. Try increasing fiber intake. Yes, this means more whole, unprocessed foods, especially steamed veggies!
Tip #2 – How and when to eat
Eat slowly. Use meal times to release stress. Chew your food very well. Don’t eat meals that are too big and don’t eat too close to bedtime. You want to avoid lying down with a full stomach. We’re talking finishing eating 2-3 hours before lying down, so schedule your dinner or snack with this in mind.
Tip #3 – Lifestyle techniques
Sometimes strenuous exercise can make heartburn symptoms worse. If this happens to you, then focus on low-intensity exercises like walking and cycling. If symptoms come on as you’re lying down to sleep, try adding a pillow or two so your head is a bit higher than your stomach.
Another interesting tip is to try sleeping on your left side. Lying on your left side works because the valve that prevents the acid from "leaking" into your esophagus is located on the right side of the stomach. So, when you're lying on your left, the acid is away from that valve.
Tip #4 - Acidify the stomach
Acidify the stomach with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before each meal to help break down food so that you can extract all the nutrients from the meal.
Try these simple, natural strategies. They can help prevent or relieve heartburn symptoms for you and if you have any comments or questions, please don't hesitate to reach out!
‘til next time,