How to Get Rid of Heartburn Without Medications Can Be Tricky
Heartburn, GERD (GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease), acid reflux and any type of indigestion is MISERABLE. I know from experience because I was miserable when I developed GERD as an 8-year-old kid. I took Prilosec and Zantac and the occasional Tums for YEARS. I felt terrible if I didn’t have medication on a daily basis. This combination stopped working reliably in my 20s and I had to move on to stronger medications.
What I didn’t know then was WHY I had GERD. My gut was severely damaged from the NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) I was taking for arthritis. I also had undiagnosed food allergies and a history of chronically taking antibiotics which decimated my gut flora.
As a pharmacist, I learned that drugs like Prilosec (known as PPI’s) were initially only intended to be used for about 6 weeks in order to increase the pH of the gut so the inflamed stomach tissues and esophagus could heal, then stopped. However, patients were not healing over the short term and the acid reflux was returning as soon as the medications were stopped. Thus begun long-term use of PPI’s.
I had the opinion for many years that if it kept the heartburn away, who cares? I wasn’t having side effects and I felt so much better. But as I got older and my health started to fail more and more, I started changing my diet and taking supplements. I found over time that I no longer needed the medications and felt better without them.
Because of very minimal side effects, PPI’s and other antacids seem safe to take; however, there are long-term effects.
Here are a Few of the Important Functions of Stomach Acid
- Digestion of food (especially protein)
- Signaling other digestive enzymes
- Initiation of peristalsis: the movement of gastric contents through the GI tract
- Killing of pathogens like harmful bacteria and parasites
- Assimilation of minerals and vitamins like B12
If these functions do not occur, this leaves you vulnerable to poor digestion and other long-term digestive problems, gut infections (like parasites…EEK!), an overall weakened immune system, mineral and vitamin deficiencies and bone loss.
If you’re having symptoms of heartburn or digestive pain and you are taking medications to manage it, you are masking the actual problem. In many heartburn cases, the actual cause is too little stomach acid in the first place! Food does not digest from the stomach readily and sits there too long and begins to putrefy an off-gas. Then the body overproduces acid in a delayed response and burning, pain and bloating occur. Especially, in this case, medications that lower stomach acidity helps the symptom but actually worsen digestion and ensure the problem doesn’t go away.
What Are the Causes of Heartburn?
There are many possible causes of heartburn; such as medications you are taking (most common culprits are aspirin and other medications for pain and inflammation and even some anti-depressants), foods you are eating (pop, sugar, and bread frequent offenders) and a congested gallbladder. There are tons of interventions that are very successful to actually heal your gut and esophagus, but they must be tailored to YOU based on your cause.
How to Start Healing
A good place to start in healing your digestion is to take a high-quality probiotic for at least 3 months and start eliminating processed foods like bread and sugar, deep fried and pre-prepared/packaged foods. You can also try a swig of apple cider vinegar(ACV) before eating your meals. If your esophagus is particularly raw from long-term heartburn, ACV may be too harsh. You can get it in a pill form or betaine hydrochloride tablets. Healing foods that are often helpful are Rachel’s Tea, peppermint, aloe vera, bone broth, and beets.
You may need to wean down on your medication as you are doing these interventions rather than stop abruptly because your body is used to having help regulating its internal acid pump. Dropping the dosage for a while, then later using it every other day can help staunch the rebound effect.
If you need help figuring out the cause of your acid reflux, come into The NHCAA. We can help.
Your Holistic Pharmacist,
Dr. Amanda Childress