*warning – this post has a picture of an esophagus! Just in case people are squeamish*
Everyone knows the Gaviscon guy….
…minding his own business, enjoying a meal, then BAM! Immediately regrets it as the food turns into flames in his stomach, sending him reaching for the nearest ant-acid. The analogy is amusing, but the pain is real. How can we effectively and naturally treat heartburn, and where does it come from?
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is the burning sensation that some people feel in their chest after a meal. In fact, the pain is actually within the esophagus, not the chest (it should really be called esophagusburn, not as catchy though). Usual culprits to bring on heartburn are meals high in fat, overeating, lying down after eating, pregnancy, peppermint, coffee, alcohol, chocolate, and spicy/acidic foods like peppers and tomatoes.
Here’s the most interesting thing: most heartburn is caused by too little stomach acid.
“Emily you’re trippin, I was always under the impression heartburn was from too much acid?!”
Well you’re sort of right….there are some people who do indeed have too much acid in their stomach, pushing its way up into the esophagus. But most of the time the following sequence of events happens:
1. Stomach is low in hydrochloric acid (stomach acid). This can be because of stress, age, smoking, drinking water with meals, lack of zinc….etc. .
2. The little sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus is programmed to close really tight in the presence of adequate stomach acid, as a method of not allowing “splash-back” of acid into your esophagus.
3. If there isn’t enough acid present, this little sphincter starts to relax a bit, which unfortunately allows some acid to splash back, causing irritation and burning in the lower part of your esophagus…..like these pictures illustrate.
Not pretty. Not every esophagus will get as inflamed and damaged as the pic on the right, but over time constant acid in this delicate tissue can be very harmful if not treated.
What can be done to help heal?
If you think you might have damage to your esophagus, ask your GP to check it out. If you want to try some natural remedies at home, here are my recommendations to relieve and help heal your heartburn:
1. Work on diet: practice proper “food hygiene” to avoid heartburn. Don’t drink with meals (wait 1/2 hour before or after as not to dilute your stomach acid). Avoid alcohol, coffee, and strong flavours (spices, mint) that can aggravate your stomach. Consume fewer high-fat meals. Finally try smaller portion sizes as not to overwhelm your stomach, causing it to expand and increase pressure on the sphincter.
2. Don’t overdose on ant-acids: over the counter ant-acids work immediately but their method of action is obviously to decrease the level of acidity in your stomach over time. As you now know, this will lead to an even more relaxed sphincter, leading to more acid splash-back in the future. My choice for immediate relief? Antacid by Naturally Nova Scotia. It is a chewable calcium tablet (made from eggshells) that works to relieve your symptoms.
2. Take a shot of apple cider vinegar before meals: yes you heard right, take a shot of acid to help your heartburn. In a shot glass pour 1/2 apple cider vinegar (ACV) and half water, and sip it before your meal. The ACV will promote production of stomach acid, leading to a tightly closed esophagus. ACV also helps enhance digestion!
3. Heal your esophagus: if you’ve experienced heartburn for a long time you know how uncomfortable it can be. Look for cooling and healing ingredients to help sooth the irritation and heal your esophagus. Aloe Vera Gel or Juice can be drunk straight or mixed with water, and provides the same healing and cooling effects inside your body as it does outside. Slippery Elm powder, Marshmallow Root tea and cabbage juice help enhance mucous production, which acts as a protective barrier against acid.
❤ your body!