Everyone at some point in time has experienced some form of heartburn. Often, what we notice is a bitter, sour or acid taste in our mouths. At times, we may feel as if partially digested foods or liquids are moving from our stomach back towards our mouth. Sometimes we may also experience chest pain that increases when we lay down. Each of these is an indication of heartburn.
Before we move on, however it is important to note that heartburn is only an indicator of a potentially larger digestive disorder called acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux is neither a serious disorder nor life threatening. This is especially true for those who only experience it occasionally. There are nonetheless millions of Americans that encounter the discomfort associated with acid reflux monthly, weekly and for some daily.
But what causes acid reflux? Well, when we eat, food moves from the mouth through the esophagus and into the stomach for further digestion. At the end of the esophagus there is a circular band of muscles that relax and allow food and liquids to pass into the stomach. It then tightens and prevents foods and stomach juices from traveling back up into the esophagus. If, however, food or digestive juices escape the stomach and travel back up the esophagus, irritating the esophageal lining, this is when many people experience heartburn.
For some, acid reflux is due to a mechanical disorder where the sphincter muscle at the end of the esophagus becomes weak or doesn’t close correctly. This can cause them to experience acid reflux when lying down as well as when standing up. In addition to mechanical issues that can cause the sphincter muscle to relax, alcohol, smoking, prescription medications and certain foods such as chocolate, onions, spicy foods and mints can also lessen the gripping power of this muscle.
Other reasons people experience acid reflux includes eating large meals. A large meal increases the pressure on the stomach. This pressure can cause stomach contents to literally be pushed out of the stomach and back into the esophagus. In addition, lying down right after a large meal increases your chances of experiencing acid reflux because digestive juices can more easily move in the wrong direction. Pregnancy and obesity can also increase abdominal pressure and increase your risk of experiencing acid reflux as well. Other digestive disorders such as a peptic ulcer or insufficient digestive enzymes in the stomach can also cause stomach acid to build up and back up into your esophagus.
In addition to heartburn, individuals with acid reflux can experience difficulty swallowing, a persistent sore throat or feeling a lump in the throat, coughing or wheezing. In more severe cases, the individual may regurgitate blood or notice that their stool is black, which can indicate that it contains partially digested blood.
Recommendations for Wellness
Eat a number of smaller, more frequent meals instead of one or two large meals daily.
Avoid lying down right after eating. Give your body a couple of hours to digest the food you’ve just eaten.
If you experience acid reflux at night, elevate your head or the head of your bed 4-6 inches.
If you are overweight, begin a diet and exercise program to help you shed a few pounds.
Take a good look at what you are eating. If you are consuming chocolate, alcohol, fried or fatty foods, foods flavored with peppermint or spearmints or acidic beverages such as certain juices, coffee, tea and carbonated beverages, they may be contributing to your acid reflux and should be avoided.
If you are taking prescription medications or suffer from a peptic ulcer, discuss your concerns with to your doctor to help you rule them out as the true cause of your acid reflux.
Reduce your stress level. Sing, dance, meditate, practice deep breathing or do yoga to help your body relax. This will help to reduce the pressure on your stomach.
Carminatives such as chamomile, fennel, ginger, peppermint and sage can work to sooth stomach muscles, increase the secretions of digestive juices as well as promote bile flow.
Similarly, digestive bitters improve digestion through enhanced secretion of digestive juices
Soothing herbs such as aloe vera, marshmallow and slippery elm have traditionally been use to combat the irritation often associated with heartburn.
If you feel as if the foods you are consuming are not being digested properly, try taking digestive enzymes before each meal to help break down foods in the stomach and improve digestion. Food enzymes come in many forms. There are broad spectrum food enzymes that can help to digest proteins, carbohydrates and fats. There are also specialized enzymes that help digest specific types of foods such as fats, proteins and milk.