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Herbal Remedies and Nutrition for Acid Reflux

I have long been plagued by acid reflux, which has pushed me to find solutions in the natural medicine realm. After much learning and years of experimentation, I am here to share some unexpected remedies that worked for me, as well as some other considerations.

Acid reflux involves a burning sensation near the solar plexus or in the rib cage, and is caused by stomach acid being pushed back up into the esophagus. Reflux can cause chest discomfort and pain, burning hunger sensations and horrible insomnia. The insomnia in particular I have found to be the largest motivator for me, and these remedies have helped immensely. There are several causes of this, one being a weak sphincter.

One interesting prevailing theory is the link between Helicobacter pylori infections in the stomach and acid reflux. Many naturopaths can test for acid reflux and prescribe antibiotics to get rid of the H. pylori, which for some people can be curative. Ask your naturopath about getting tested, and do some research for yourself. H. pylori is notoriously pesky and difficult to get rid of. Personally, I tested negative for H. pylori infection.

Two natural remedies that I take daily to help me manage my acid reflux...

  1. L-glutamine: I get the micronized L-glutamine from Natural Factors. I take a scoop in water every morning, and sometimes one before bed if it's a bad day. This remedy has been transformative for me in managing the symptoms. L-glutamine eases inflammation, and theoretically helps heal the gut lining if taken over time. It has helped me through some of the worst episodes, relieving the pain within about an hour.

  2. Mastic Gum capsules: Mastic gum is a type of tree resin (see photo) from a tree in the mediterranean. It has been used traditionally for stomach issues, especially to regulate stomach acid. It is also used to kill H. pyIori. I get the Mastic Gum Capsules from Jarrow Formulas. I take one capsule before bed to prevent reflux keeping me awake at night. I will take a capsule during the day (ideally on an empty stomach) if symptoms are bad. Don't take more than two capsules a day, as mastic gum is fairly strong. There are H. pylori treatment regimens that involve taking larger doses in a short period of time. I tried this and my reflux was better for a while, but then came back.

Mastic gum dripping from the trunk of a mastiha tree

There are many herbal teas that are recommended for acid reflux. I have two of these to be particularly helpful, so I'll list them here:

  1. chamomile: chamomile is the perfect mix of slightly bitter and soothing to inflamed tissues. It also relaxes the stomach muscles (especially when combined with lavender and lemon balm in tea).

  2. marshmallow root: marshmallow contains long chain polysaccharides that turn into a slimy mucilage similar to flax or chia seeds when in water. These long chain molecules coat and sooth the inflamed tissues of your GI tract.

Main foods that can trigger acid reflux...

  1. Spicy food

  2. acidic foods (vinegar, citrus, sour fruits, citric acid)

  3. alcohol

  4. coffee

  5. chocolate

  6. tomatoes (raw and cooked)

  7. high fat foods (bacon, potato chips, fried food, etc)

  8. cheese

Foods that can help acid reflux...

  1. cooked vegetables

  2. whole grains (brown rise, whole grain bread)

  3. high water content foods (Celery, broth based soups)

  4. cucumber

  5. nuts

  6. fennel and ginger

  7. melons

Though it may not completely get rid of it, eating less of your trigger foods can alone get rid of most uncomfortable symptoms of Acid reflux.

The connection between emotions and acid reflux...

You know when you are thinking about something happening at work, or in your relationship, and your stomach feels tight? Feelings are physical things, and they occur in your body. Certain feelings and thought patterns can be a major causative factor in acid reflux.

Educated by the Ayurvedic chakra system, we know that the solar plexus charka (the stomach basically), corresponds to issues with personal power, control and security. Healing from past abuse, learning to let go of control, and learning to be safe in your body are therefore the best remedies for stomach issues. This path can be difficult to walk, but I can tell you that dealing with some of my own issues in this department has been instrumental in reducing the severity of my symptoms.

Do any of those things strike a chord with you? I invite you to notice if there are any particular emotional triggers for your stomach. When does your stomach feel the most tight? What are you thinking about in those moments?

You may be asking, what is there to be done about all that? Of course, it will look different for each person. Grabbing a self help book or seeing a therapist is a great place to start. Breathing exercises can also be extremely helpful to relax the nervous system, which helps relax your stomach.

Simple lifestyle changes that can help ease reflux symptoms...

  1. avoid overeating

  2. eat slowly

  3. don't drink too much water with meals

  4. tilt your bed up or sleep propped up on pillows

  5. avoid constrictive clothing, especially around the abdomen

A note on pharmaceutical treatments...

I have zero judgement for folks who choose traditional treatments for GERD, heartburn and reflux. I have taken Omeprazole, which I found helped me in the short term and did not help in the long term. I have not tried the other treatments yet.

That said, I would definitely examine the long term consequences risks and side effects of the medications your are taking. Proton-pump inhibitors, the most common medication for reflux, have been found to increase the risk of certain diseases. I keep some Omeprazole on hand in my first aid kit in case of emergencies, and choose to manage my symptoms with the tools described above. It really all comes down to how much effort you are willing to put in, and what risks you are willing to accept. There is no wrong answer.

Good luck with your journey, and may your stomach be tranquil!


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