Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (commonly known as acid reflux or heartburn) is a common condition where acid from the stomach leaks out of the stomach and up into the oesophagus (gullet). About 1 in 5 people are thought to experience at least 1 episode of acid reflux a week, with 1 in 10 people experiencing symptoms of acid reflux on a daily basis.The primary symptom of acid reflux is “heartburn”—a burning sensation behind your breastbone that sometimes travels up your throat.
What causes acid reflux?
Conventionally, acid reflux is thought to be caused by excessive amounts of acid in your stomach, which is why acid-blocking drugs are typically prescribed or recommended.
Medical treatments such as antacids, proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs) – may be recommended by your doctor. Antacids neutralise the effects of stomach acid, and PPIs and H2RAs reduce the amount of acid that the stomach produces.
Reducing acid in the stomach may be the wrong solution
It is important to understand that acid reflux is not normally caused by excessive acid production in your stomach; rather it's a symptom more commonly related to:
- Hiatus hernia
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection (about 40%
of people in the UK have H. pylori in their
stomach so it is very common)
It is believed by many medical professionals that reducing the amount of acid in the stomach is a serious medical misconception that adversely affects hundreds of millions of people, as the problem normally results from having too little acid in your stomach.
When stomach acid production is low, the food sits in the stomach for a longer period of time without the nutrients being broken down properly. Thousands of articles in medical literature show that suppressing stomach acid does not address the problem. It only temporarily treats the symptoms.
According to Mitchell Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health "about 60 to 70 percent of people taking acid suppressing drugs have mild heartburn and shouldn't be on them." Part of the problem with PPIs is that when you suppress the amount of acid in your stomach, you decrease your body's ability to kill the helicobacter bacteria. So if your heartburn is caused by an H. pylori infection, it actually makes your condition worse and perpetuates the problem.
Eat unprocessed foods and probiotics
It is important to make sure you're getting enough beneficial bacteria from your diet. This will help balance your bowel flora, which can help eliminate H. pylori bacteria naturally without resorting to antibiotics. It will also aid in proper digestion of your food. Probiotics can be obtained in your diet from fermented foods such as yoghurt and sour cream, mackerel or fermented vegetables (chutneys or pickles). If you aren't eating fermented foods, you may need to supplement with a probiotic on a regular basis.
Addressing low acid production
Because heartburn is typically a sign of having too little stomach acid, it is important to help encourage your body to make sufficient amounts of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid). Unprocessed sea-salt will help to provide you with the chloride your body needs to make hydrochloric acid.
Natural supplements to help fight heartburn and acid reflux
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is important for addressing any infectious component. Good vitamin D levels ensure that the body can produce hundreds of antimicrobial peptides that will help your body eradicate infections.
Astaxanthin: This powerful antioxidant was found to reduce symptoms of acid reflux in patients when compared to a placebo, particularly in those with pronounced helicobacter pylori infection. Best results were obtained at a daily dose of 40 mg.
Glutamine: Research published in 2009 found that gastrointestinal damage caused by H. pylori can be addressed with the amino acid glutamine, found in many foods, including beef, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, and some fruits and vegetables. L-glutamine is also widely available as a supplement.
B vitamins: Research suggests B vitamins can reduce your risk for acid reflux. Higher folic acid intake was found to reduce acid reflux by approximately 40 percent. Low vitamin B2 and B6 levels were also linked to an increased risk for acid reflux. The best way to raise your folic acid (vitamin B9) levels is by eating folate-rich whole foods, such as liver, asparagus, spinach and beans.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.