Everyone has had heartburn at some point in their lives, but many people suffer from it on a regular basis. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, approximately 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn each month. Heartburn, of course, has nothing to do with the heart. It's a type of acid indigestion in which stomach acid leaks into the esophagus, causing burning and pain.
Food travels down the esophagus and into the stomach when we eat. The stomach secretes hydrochloric acid and pepsin to break down proteins and start the digestion process. The stomach has a mucous lining that protects it from the acid. The esophagus, however, does not. A muscular valve at the top of the stomach keeps the contents of the stomach, including stomach acid, in the stomach. This valve opens to allow belching and then closes.
Heartburn occurs when the top of the stomach's valve allows acid to reflux into the esophagus. This acid burns and inflames the esophageal lining, which lacks the mucous protection of the stomach. This causes heartburn, a burning sensation in the center of the chest. Acid reflux is the more technically correct term.
Although unpleasant, occasional heartburn or acid reflux is not a life-threatening condition. It indicates that dietary changes are required. However, if it occurs on a regular and consistent basis, the repeated burning and inflammation of the esophagus can cause more serious damage. GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a more serious condition. GERD is a surprisingly common condition that affects an estimated 5-7% of the American population.
The problem with GERD is that the constant acid damage can cause esophageal erosion. Scar tissue can form, narrowing the passageway. It also raises the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Acid indigestion can be caused by a variety of factors. Indigestion and acid reflux are caused by poor digestion, irritating foods, and mechanical pressure.
Let's start with the issue of poor digestion. The more protein foods are cooked, the more denatured their proteins become. Proteins that have been denatured become "leathery," making it more difficult for digestive juices to penetrate the tissues and break down food particles. Because water and oil do not mix, greasy fried foods cause the same issue. The grease coats the food particles, preventing the hydrochloric acid from penetrating.
When food is not thoroughly chewed, it is more difficult for digestive juices to penetrate the food; therefore, food must be thoroughly chewed to help digestive secretions blend with food particles. Acid indigestion is also caused by overeating, as the stomach becomes overburdened with more food than it can handle. Food is not properly digested, causing the body to signal for more acid production. Keeping an eye on food combinations may also help with symptoms.
Certain foods can cause acid indigestion because they cause an allergic reaction. Onions, peppermint, chocolate, coffee, citrus fruits, tomatoes, garlic, sugar, and spicy foods are common foods that cause excess acid production in some people. While these foods may cause acid reflux, other factors contribute to acid reflux into the esophagus. Mechanical pressures are usually to blame. Even if acid production isn't excessive, anything that puts pressure on the valve at the top of the stomach will allow acid to enter the esophagus.
Anything that pushes the stomach upward, such as intestinal gas and bloating, excess body weight, tight fitting clothes, pregnancy, and lying down after eating, can put pressure on this valve. Stress tightens the solar plexus and pulls the stomach upward.
A hiatal hernia occurs when a portion of the upper stomach passes through the opening in the diaphragm where the esophagus enters (known as the hiatus). Chronic digestive problems and, eventually, chronic digestive weakness are caused by a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia can be caused by pressure on the stomach from below (as previously described), but it can also be caused by repeated stress and "swallowing" of emotions.
A hiatal hernia causes a "kink" in the top of the stomach valve, resulting in chronic heartburn or GERD. It can also cause heart problems, thyroid problems, and chronic gas and bloating in the intestines. This is a mechanical issue that must be resolved mechanically before any long-term relief can be obtained. Herbs and supplements will not solve the problem on their own.
Because acid reflux is usually caused by poor digestion caused by a lack of digestive enzymes, food allergies, or processed foods that are difficult for the body to digest, the first step is to take enzymes to help foods break down better. Acid reflux, believe it or not, can be a sign that the body isn't producing enough hydrochloric acid to properly digest proteins. Undigested food ferments, releasing waste acids and causing fermentation. Acid indigestion is usually accompanied by poor protein digestion, intestinal gas and bloating, and a heavy feeling in the stomach after eating in these cases. Acid indigestion usually occurs about an hour after eating, and the tongue is pale and often coated.
Take any bitter herb in liquid or powder form (golden seal works well) and suck on it for immediate relief from this type of acid indigestion. This will quickly relieve the burning sensation. Start with enzymes, digestive bitters, and/or hydrochloric acid supplements for long-term relief.
When the stomach produces too much acid, the symptoms will be different from those described above. Protein digestion is excellent, and food digests quickly. The tongue is usually red, and the person is younger. Overeating and stress are common causes of this condition. It could also be due to consuming too many grains and refined carbohydrates while consuming insufficient protein and vegetables. For this type of occasional acid indigestion, an antacid such as Stomach Comfort can be used.
Bloating and gas may be contributing to acid reflux if they are issues. Gas and bloating in the stomach put pressure on it, pushing it upwards against the diaphragm. To relieve gas pressure, take carminatives.
Soothing mucilaginous remedies are required to heal esophageal and digestive tract damage caused by acid reflux. Aloe Vera Juice is one of the best, but there are many others. The burning or inflammation in the esophagus caused by acid reflux can be cooled and soothed by sipping small amounts of aloe diluted in water. Aloe will also help to normalize the pH of the body, reducing general overacidity.
These remedies, when combined with appropriate lifestyle changes, have the potential to eliminate acid reflux and the need for antacids.
Herbal Extracts: Algin