Why is it so common? Heartburn is in many respects a plague of modern lifestyle habits and choices. Let’s face it, we eat in excess, too much of the wrong foods and too quickly. Other habits like smoking and drinking as well as abuse of pain killers only exacerbate the stress we put on our digestive processes. Mechanical stresses such as obesity or even pregnancy also increase our risk of indigestion. After enough time, these habits take a toll on our digestive resources including our protective stomach lining, our digestive enzymes and our stomach acid production. The signs are many: heartburn, burping, and feeling bloated, full and tired shortly after a meal.
Why mainstream treatments fall short. The most common treatments recommended in mainstream medicine for heartburn are acid-blockers such as Zantac, acid neutralizers like TUMs and acid barriers, for example, Pepto-Bismol. You will notice a common theme here: an anti-acid approach. This Band-Aid approach, while helpful or even necessary in the short-term to reduce discomfort or heal an ulcer, is counterproductive to the digestive process. Stomach acid is essential to the digestion of proteins as well as important nutrients like iron and calcium and acts as our first line of defense against foreign microbes, but long term use of acid blockers increases our risk of a range of conditions from pneumonia to osteoporosis.
Natural treatment options. It goes without saying that poor lifestyle choices can be the largest obstacle to overcome when it comes to curing indigestion. Losing weight, eating unprocessed foods, managing portion sizes, avoiding late night meals, managing stress, quitting heavy drinking and smoking and the like are all key prerequisites to full recovery. There are also helpful hacks such as raising the head side of your bed a few inches for nighttime reflux. You also might want to ask your doctor about your medications since many of them can exacerbate heartburn by relaxing the valve that is supposed to tightly close once your food enters the stomach. These medications include calcium channel blockers (for blood pressure), NSAIDS (for pain), some antidepressant or anxiety medications and more.
Herbs and supplements for heartburn. Once those plans are in action many natural supplements can be of assistance. Nature provides a plethora of soothing and healing remedies that can help manage our pain and even heal irritated digestive tissues or ulcers in some cases: aloe vera leaf, licorice root (in the form of DGL), mastic gum and slippery elm. They are best taken at the end of a meal for heartburn and on an empty stomach for gastritis or ulcers. Two great options are NOW® DGL with Aloe Vera and NOW® Ulcetrol™ which also contains Zinc L-carnosine, clinically shown to heal the stomach lining. While deglycirrhized licorice (DGL) is relatively safe, even long term, ask your doctor before using regular licorice. Another popular remedy for heartburn is NOW® Betaine HCl which is essentially a natural acid. This may seem counterintuitive if you have been popping antacids, but low-stomach acid can worsen symptoms of acid reflux and is an issue, particularly in the elderly. While not for everyone, a trial run can often reveal a potential deficit in acid, particularly if symptoms seem to reside. Make sure you read the label cautions before starting any new supplements.
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Thalia Charney, MA
Nutrition and Health Education Manager, Puresource
Bio for Thalia for consumers
Thalia Charney is an author, educator and speaker and the Nutrition and Health Education Manager for the NOW® Brand in Canada. Thalia brings a wealth of experience from her many years as a health coach as well as her insights gained from having authored Canada's most comprehensive book on navigating food products: The Confident Food Shopper: The Guide to Food Labels and Fables. She uses these as a springboard to bring a balanced, broad and insightful perspective to any health topic. Asked about her opinion on any topic and the answer is more often than not... “it depends”. With wisdom comes nuance and she enjoys sparking debate and thought as much as imparting educational tidbits.