Acid reflux can be healed naturally! Instead of opting for medications which can actually aggravate symptoms, Registered Dietitian and functional medicine practitioner Ali Miller explains why you should consider adopting some lifestyle and diet adjustments instead to heal acid reflux naturally. Read more to learn about the function of gastric acid in healthy digestion, how acid-suppressing medicine can possibly harm your body, and more importantly, how you can heal your acid reflux symptoms naturally.
The number of people suffering from acid reflux symptoms has increased greatly over the last 10 years. What is even more alarming, however, is the number of people on acid-suppressing drugs – often times they are using these for no reason at all! Today it’s incredibly difficult to turn on the TV without seeing a commercial showing a body figure radiating with heat and fire as the voiceover suggests that a “purple pill” will do the trick. To make things worse, antacids are usually prescribed as a “preventative” in hospitals, even though these drugs are known to perpetuate and increase the risk for hospital-acquired infections.
The problem with antacids and acid suppressants is they have the potential to cause more damage to your gut if you become too reliant on them or simply misuse them. By suppressing acid, these medicines end up either blocking gastric acid production or buffering gastric acid. This results in reductions indigestion, increased inflammation, immune dysfunction, and even damage to the gut lining. Before I go into how you can treat acid reflux in a more natural and beneficial way, I’d like to talk about the digestive system.
Why Gastric Acid Is Important To Digestion
You might not realize that your stomach is usually extremely acidic! In fact, we need gastric acid for proper digestion. When we eat, pepsin and pepsinogens are released in the presence of gastric acid so that they may break down the protein we consume. Following gastric digestion, proteins are sent to the small intestine for absorption. When there is not enough acid, the proteins remain as large undigested food particles, which can damage the lining of the small intestine. This can lead to “leaky gut syndrome” which occurs when these undigested food particles are absorbed in the small intestine, and the body mistakes the large particles for infectious invaders. Over time, this lack of proper digestion and leaky gut syndrome cause an immune and inflammatory response, which has led to the increase in food sensitivity and allergies we are seeing today.
Maintaining a certain level of acidity is imperative to not only proper digestion but also an important component of the body’s immune system. Gastric acid is essential in protecting the body from pathogenic bacteria. Certain bacteria such as E. Coli are infamous for wreaking havoc in a compromised immune system, often due to depleted gut flora and lack of gastric acid. This allows pathogenic bacteria to grow and eventually overpower the healthy bacteria found in the gut. When the healthy gut flora is compromised, the body is left vulnerable and further prone to infection.
Many of the infectious intestinal bacteria are unable to survive in an acidic environment such as that of a normal healthy gut. The beneficial flora in a healthy gut is a vital function of not only optimal digestion but total body immunity and protection from disease.
So what exactly causes acid reflux?
Eating processed sugars and an abundance of grains is accredited to feeding the negative, pesky bacteria in the gut. Eventually, this causes an imbalance of dangerous gut bacteria, called dysbiosis. Refined foods, sugars, grains, and starches are also responsible for feeding Candida yeast. Similar to bread making, the fermentation of excess yeast in the gut causes CO2 (carbon dioxide) gas to foam and bubble. Over time the constant pressure of gas from yeast fermentation is forced up through the esophagus, taking stomach acid along with it. Adding antacids to the mix only decreases the stomach’s digestion ability, making the yeast even more overpowering, which leads to even more pressure from gaseous production.
Additionally, the traditional western medicine approach to treating acid reflux can actually lead to more acid reflux. Traditional medicine uses acid suppression therapy through the consumption of antacids, proton pump inhibitors, or H2 Antagonists. The problem with these drugs is that they do not address the actual root cause of the problem. Even worse, acid suppressors can make acid reflux symptoms worse by decreasing stomach acidity and hindering digestion. As previously mentioned, gastric acid is vital to the absorption of minerals and digestion overall. Most people with acid reflux are actually not producing enough stomach acid. So, in my functional medicine practice, I recommend treating acid reflux symptoms naturally through increasing stomach acid.
Lifestyle and Diet Tips on How To Prevent and Heal Acid Reflux
Here are my suggestions for Increasing stomach acid in the stomach to help promote digestion. Making these dietary and lifestyle changes can help heal the gut and improve digestion, helping to prevent and heal acid reflux.
Supplement with digestive enzymes: Supplementing with digestive enzymes and HCL can improve acid reflux by increasing the acidity of the stomach to improve digestion.
Try Apple Cider Vinegar: This is another way to increase stomach acidity and digestion, as well as promote bile production. As an additional benefit, it also jumpstarts the body’s metabolic function. Mix 1 tablespoon of Bragg’s Raw Apple Cider Vinegar in 4-6 ounces of water and drink each morning. This signals the release of digestive enzymes, increases the acidity of the stomach, and also encourages the liver to begin bile production to aid in bowl formation.
Reduce Fight or Flight Dining: Ensure proper digestion by eating meals in a relaxed, calm, and mind-full dining environment. Other than the diet itself, the time at which we decide to eat can also play a role in our digestion. Many of us know that we could make some improvements in what we choose to eat, but what most people don’t realize is that the timing of when we eat plays a major role in our digestion too. Fight-or-flight dining, which is simply eating meals when you’re in a higher-stress setting or situation, causes poor digestion which not only leads to acid reflux but will lead to leaky gut syndrome as well. You can learn more about my Anti-Anxiety diet here.
Avoid Antacid Suppressing Drugs: Antacids (Tums, Pepto-Bismol) and Proton Pump Inhibitors (Nexium, Prevacid) will actually increase symptoms by decreasing digestion.
Save water for between meals. Drinking water during eating might “water down” stomach acid, reducing digestion.
Take probiotics to help secure proper digestion and immune function.
Limit foods that feed yeast such as processed sugars and “whole grains” or products made with refined flours often marketed as “whole grain.”
Conclusion: Before taking pills, try healing your acid reflux naturally.
Acid reflux can be quite dangerous for the body, and while antacids and other medicines seem like a convenient way to treat this condition, it’s important to consider natural methods first because meds could potentially take a toll on your digestive health! Following even a few of these tips could go a long way for your stomach, from introducing yourself to a cleansing apple cider vinegar routine to simply changing the time you eat. Your stomach, your gut, and your whole body will thank you!
AND… De-stress and Take a Breath! In my book, The Anti-Anxiety Diet, I thoroughly discuss the gut-brain connection and how digestive enzymes and HCl- are reduced significantly when the body is in fight-or-flight stress response or anxious mode.
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