WHAT TO DO FOR HEARTBURN: How To Alleviate And Prevent Heartburn
You’re likely familiar with the experience of a burning sensation in your chest and throat area after a meal. Perhaps it was a fatty steak or your favorite spicy dish. Then over the next 15 minutes to 2 hours, heartburn appeared.
Fact checked by Nattha Wannissorn
It’s a common occurrence for many, although some experience it as a constant need to burp or cough after eating instead of a burn. All of these symptoms often relate to the same root cause issue.
If you’re like me, you’re most interested in finding solutions that help you to overcome such challenges and feel better fast. In this article, we’ll give you the tools and insight that can help you find the relief you’ve been looking for.
Continue reading as we dive into:
- What causes heartburn in the first place?
- Some of the simple, natural, and effective tools for remedying heartburn.
- How you can make heartburn a thing of the past for yourself and those you care for.
Why Am I Getting Heartburn?
Heartburn is commonly mistaken as too much stomach acid/digestive juices. However, in most cases, the exact opposite is true. As was demonstrated in the case study of a 42 year old female professional athlete who was suffering with acid reflux (heartburn) as well as IBS and Hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid).
To address her digestive issues, she took a functional nutrition approach and did experience some improvement through diet and lifestyle changes. However, it wasn’t until she integrated supplemental Betaine Hydrochloride, which increases her stomach acidity, with her meals on a consistent basis that she found lasting, pain-free relief from her digestive problems.
Another reason you might experience heartburn is as a result of the aging process. In a clinical study of 359 elderly individuals aged 60-99, there was a significantly higher incidence of heartburn caused by digestive tissue damage in older individuals than in younger individuals.
Those with heartburn also had other signs of low stomach acid, such as lower blood levels of digestive enzyme precursors, and certain nutrients that required stomach acid to absorb. These nutrients tend to be deficient in those with chronic gut inflammation and weak stomach acid production.
What Is Heartburn In The First Place?
Technically speaking, heartburn refers to the exposure of the esophagus and upper digestive tract to damaging acids which can cause:
- Localized discomfort in the chest area
This discomfort is often, though not always, limited to a burning sensation in the throat and chest. And while HCL can be partly responsible for the damage caused in heartburn, pepsin (a protein-digesting enzyme in the stomach) may contribute to the damage as well. This is specifically why BiOptimizers HCL Breakthrough contains no pepsin.
When you experience low stomach acid and insufficient digestive enzyme production, your digestion slows down. The low stomach acid also reduces the activation of digestive enzymes in the stomach. All of these allow bacteria in your food to ferment your food in the stomach and small intestine.
This fermentation creates both acidic by-products as well as excess gas, which can cause acid regurgitation. The pressure from the fermentation gas forces the damaging stomach contents up into the esophagus, where you may feel the burn in the chest and throat area.
In these cases, the first line of defense that I’ve personally used and recommended to clients for years is 1-3 tsp of raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) in a half glass of room temp or warm water. If this basic vinegar home remedy provides relief by increasing the acid content of your gut, then you can be fairly certain that too little rather than too much HCL is likely an issue.
Due to the way scientific research is incentivized and funded, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever see a study on the effects of ACV on heartburn. What we do know is that ACV works well for many individuals who have tried it as a simple heartburn remedy.
At the very least, there is virtually no risk in starting with this approach. If it happens to make things worse in your case, you can simply drink more water to dilute the acid. Alternatively, drink water with a tiny pinch of baking soda to neutralize the acid right there and then, just be ready to burp.
What Contributes To Heartburn?
There are multiple potential causes some of which include:
- Mental/emotional stress which inhibits the production and secretion of HCL, Pepsin, and digestive enzymes.
- Aging, which is associated with reduced stomach acid and digestive enzymes.
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection which neutralizes stomach acid and is often associated with ulcers.
Although the mainstream treatment with ant-acids and PPIs (proton pump inhibitors), may bring temporary relief, these drugs often end up making things much much worse. They eliminate stomach acid altogether and allow pathogens to grow out of control in the unnatural alkaline environment. This alkaline stomach contributes to infections like H.pylori and may even lead to Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).
Most gut bacteria are in the large intestine. Very little of them are in the small intestine due to the cleansing movement of the gut. When some bacteria overgrow in the small intestine, it’s called SIBO. The overgrowth can contribute to many digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and even food allergies.
What To Do For Heartburn
1. Avoid Heartburn Trigger Foods
If you’re someone with a sensitive stomach who experiences heartburn/acid-reflux, reducing or eliminating some of the following foods may prove beneficial:
- Very spicy foods and peppers (black pepper, white pepper, chilis, cayenne etc.)
- Carbonated and/or caffeinated sodas
- Alcohol, especially hard liquors
- Gluten and gluten containing grains/breads
- Mint (tea, leaves etc.)
- High fat foods
- Red meat
- Caffeinated beverages, especially black coffee or tea on an empty stomach
- Very acidic foods / fruits such as tomatoes, unripe pineapple, oranges, lemons, and limes etc. These can be a trigger for heartburn, and, if you’re currently recovering from past reflux episodes and have a damaged esophagus, these can cause further irritation.
- Deep fried foods
- Food eaten right before bed (laying down with a full stomach can trigger reflux)
These foods are common heartburn triggers, but this is not an exhaustive list. You may find other foods trigger your heartburn, but this is certainly a good place to start when you’re trying to eliminate the most probable foods that contribute to heartburn.
As I say to my clients, the simpler you can make your diet while correcting digestive issues, the easier it is going to be to identify problem foods and speed up your recovery.
2. Eat Foods That Soothe And Reverse Heartburn
While some foods make heartburn worse and trigger episodes of acid reflux, other foods and herbs can help. They may protect against/help reverse heartburn, or help heal the esophageal damage.
Some of the best choices when it comes to foods and herbs that can reduce/reverse heartburn include and are not limited to:
- Fresh lettuces and greens
- Melons and Cucumbers
- Yogurts / Milks (grass-fed / organic dairy or plant based)
- Raw Honey
- Fennel and Fennel seeds (hint, you’ll always find these at Indian restaurants as they know that it balances out the spices they tend to use)
And for foods or herbs that can help to heal the damage caused by heartburn, the following are of particular interest:
- Okra and other slimy vegetables
- Aloe vera gel (from fresh leaf or extracted and bottled, this is a particular favorite of mine and has helped many of my clients recover from all kinds of digestive issues)
- Raw Honey (let it slowly drip down and coat your throat for best effects)
- Slippery Elm powder
- Marshmallow root powder
As you can see, the kinds of foods that are most helpful include those that have a high water content, and are more on the cooling and sweet side of things. Many have a gel-like consistency, such as okra, aloe, slippery elm, and marshmallow. The latter two are widely available as powders and can be taken as tea alongside these soothing foods.
3. Keep A Food And Symptoms Journal
Consider implementing when making any dietary change is to keep a simple journal of:
- What you ate
- When you ate
- What your stress level was at the time
- And what your symptoms were in the following 15 – 120 minutes
The food and symptom journaling is very valuable as it provides a written record where you will keep track of any improvements and start to uncover which foods are best or worst for you. Most people don’t remember what they ate from yesterday and how they felt after, so it’s important to write it down.
4. Take Health Supplements That Can Help Heartburn
Many supplements can help reverse and alleviate heartburn and it’s no surprise that they all work by supporting healthy digestion. Here, we’ll highlight a couple that have served many very well in their quest for relief from this painful and often persistent condition.
Digestive Enzyme Supplements can help you digest food faster, leaving less components that can trigger heartburn or feed the bacteria overgrowth.
If foods aren’t being broken down because of low enzymes, then it’s going to be nearly impossible to optimize your overall health, let alone digestive health. Taking 2-4 capsules of a good digestive enzyme with each meal is a good starting point for many.
One key thing to look for when it comes to digestive enzymes and HCL products is the actual potency of the enzymes present. At BiOptimizers you’ll find world class potencies across all their digestive products because they know that for therapeutic results, you need therapeutic strength.
While discount brands will have a mere sprinkling of active enzymes, MassZymes and HCL Breakthrough both have a broad spectrum and high potencies of the enzymes. Broad spectrum means the products include multiple forms of protein, fat, carb, and sugar digesting enzymes.
MassZymes even contains enzymes which help digest fiber and sugar that could otherwise cause bloating. Spend your money wisely and go with a trusted brand to ensure you’re getting high quality and potent products.
Betaine HCL supplement, is another top choice to try if symptoms of heartburn are consistent after meals. Betaine HCl helps make the stomach more acidic.. Because many cases of heartburn stem from chronic stress and deficient levels of stomach acid, taking HCL helps to improve digestion directly and supports healthy stomach acidity that protects you against pathogens.
Because HCl supplements lower stomach pH, it keeps the lower esophageal sphincter – the valve between your stomach and throat – closed. Therefore supplements like HCL will often improve or eliminate heartburn symptoms altogether.
In a review of the evidence supporting meal time supplementation with Betaine HCl for low stomach acid, they refer to the common practice of taking 1 additional capsule of HCL with each main meal until a slight discomfort or burning in the chest is noted. At this point the individual reduces that dose by 1 and continues at that level. This practice is often called the Betaine or HCL test. The study went on to say that “at this time, we are unaware that this popular protocol has been rigorously tested in a research setting, though thousands of clinicians follow such recommendations with positive anecdotal outcomes.”.
Probiotic supplements also show promise for improving heartburn. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 6 trials involving 422 participants found that Lactobacillus probiotic supplements tended to reduce heartburn symptoms and dysbiosis (overgrowth of bad bacteria) resulting from low stomach acid.
Protein digesting probiotics which actively out compete and clean up bad bacteria such as those in P3OM are likely to be some of the most effective for you to try. They both support digestion of what could be a trigger food, and a gut bacteria balance in general.
How to Find the Right Balance For You
Heartburn is increasingly common, and yet very reversible which can inspire hope for all who are experiencing it. The key is to take your time, chart any changes you make, and to embrace new soothing and healing foods. As you let go of common food offenders, also be sure to address your mental/emotional stress and watch how much better your body can feel and perform as a result.
Now because we’re all unique, you will have to experiment, ideally with guidance from a qualified nutritional professional to determine what factors in particular are contributing to your case of heartburn. From there, start to revamp your diet to remove trigger foods and add in specific cooling and soothing foods. Also, try some high quality supplementation to ensure the best results possible.
If you take this kind of holistic and evidence-based approach, not only will you improve your symptoms of reflux/heartburn, but you may also completely reverse and eliminate them. Your body is miraculously constructed and built to regenerate and thrive. All you’ve got to do is believe it to be so. Address the causes at the root, support it with the kinds of nutrition and nourishment it needs and it will take care of the rest. Be well and thrive on!
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