Imagine this scenario – you’re at a nice Italian restaurant and you just finish swallowing your last bite of fried, saucy, delicious food. As you read over the dessert menu (oh, man, does that tiramisu sound good), you’re hit with a horrible burning sensation. It feels like a ball of fire is traveling up your chest and into your throat. From there, the night is ruined. Does that sound familiar?
If you answered yes, then you know what it’s like to suffer from heartburn. Heartburn is so painful that in some severe cases, people have actually mistaken the feeling for a heart attack.
Heartburn is the main symptom of acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a common condition that affects nearly 50 percent of Americans. In fact, approximately 20 million Americans are taking an acid inhibiting drug right now to treat their severe heartburn. There’s a problem with that statistic, though. Studies show certain heartburn drugs do more harm than good. For example, certain drugs can actually increase your risk of heart attack and ulcers. Desired results? I think not!
To ease painful heartburn and eliminate those dangerous side effects I just mentioned, there are a number of natural remedies you can try instead. Before I highlight the 13 most effective natural heartburn relief methods, let’s talk about what causes acid reflux.
Did You Know …
When people hear the term acid reflux, many assume it’s the result of having too much acid in the stomach. The idea is understandable. You may think if there’s excess acid in your stomach that it will “overflow” and ride back up your esophagus. Well, that is actually incorrect. While it may be hard to believe, acid reflux is usually the result of someone having too little acid in their stomach.
What Causes Heartburn
After food passes through the esophagus and into the stomach, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is supposed to close. When working properly, the LES prevents food and acid from regurgitating back into the esophagus. If someone suffers acid reflux, though, the LES remains relaxed, meaning it doesn’t close. A relaxed sphincter allows stomach acid to travel back up into the esophagus. This is what creates that severe pain that feels like a ball of fire.
In some occasions, acid reflux is a result of a harmful bacterial infection. Studies link Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection to inflammation of the stomach lining and acid reflux.
Also, it’s important to note that certain medications can cause heartburn symptoms. Some of the most common ones include antidepressants, blood pressure medications, osteoporosis drugs, and pain relievers.
1) Avoid Processed Foods
Eating large amounts of processed foods has been linked to acid reflux. They can actually make acid reflux symptoms worse. So the best thing you can do to put an end to painful heartburn is to ditch sugary and fatty foods. Additionally, eating large amounts of processed foods has been linked to poor gut health. This creates a breeding ground for harmful gut bacteria that can negatively affect your digestive health.
2) Eat Fermented Foods
While you work to eliminate processed foods from your diet, start introducing some fermented foods to your daily meals. Fermented foods are rich in beneficial probiotics. Along with benefiting gut health, probiotics can help improve your digestive health.
A prime example of fermented foods is sauerkraut (AKA fermented cabbage). One great thing about fermented foods is that you can make them yourself! Just chop up some fresh vegetables, grab some high-quality unprocessed sea salt (such as Himalayan salt), load everything into an airtight jar, and then let it sit to ferment. If you’re interested in making your own sauerkraut, check out this video for an easy recipe:
As I mentioned earlier, heartburn is typically a result of having too little stomach acid. By introducing sea salt and fermented foods into your diet, you are helping to increase the amount of acid in your stomach. If you are eating a meal that doesn’t incorporate fermented foods, simply having a few teaspoons of fermented cabbage juice (AKA sauerkraut juice) right before you eat will do wonders to improve your digestion.
3) Apple Cider Vinegar
Another way to increase your stomach acid and balance out your pH levels is to consume apple cider vinegar 10-20 minutes before you eat a meal. Try adding one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to an 8-ounce glass of water.
It’s important to note that not all apple cider vinegar brands are created equal. When it comes to choosing the right apple cider vinegar, don’t judge a book by its cover. Rather than looking for crystal clear vinegar, you’ll want to choose one that looks murky. Organic, unfiltered, unprocessed vinegar has a cloudy look to it. Also, when you look through the murky vinegar, you’ll even notice a cobweb-like substance floating in it. Don’t be scared off by this because it’s actually desired. That cobweb-like substance is called the “mother,” which means it still contains beneficial compounds (including probiotics).
4) Eliminate Triggers
Triggers can vary greatly from person to person. There are certain foods, however, that are known to increase heartburn. Common triggers include caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages, tomato-based products, and nicotine products.
The reason many of these triggers cause heartburn is because they relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). For example, let’s take a closer look at nicotine, which is a key part of tobacco. Nicotine is believed to relax the LES, which as I mentioned earlier, is what keeps acid in the stomach where it belongs. While this is an issue for cigarette smokers, people who chew tobacco often experience even worse acid reflux symptoms. That’s because when you chew tobacco, nicotine is constantly being released.
For cigarette smokers, doctors say the constant coughing (AKA smoker’s cough) can also lead to acid reflux because of the increased abdominal pressure. So just in case you needed yet another good reason to quit smoking, here it is!
5) Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes can help your body fully break down the food you eat, which can be hard for your body to do if your stomach doesn’t have sufficient stomach acid. When you eat a meal, food enters into your stomach and comes into contact with a mixture of acid and enzymes. This mixture helps break the food down into small particles that will eventually leave your stomach and float through the small intestines, where more enzymes will further break down that food. So, you see, if your stomach lacks acid, then the digestive process is slowed.
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