Heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux are an increasingly common problem in Australia and unfortunately, many accept the discomfort as a normal part of ageing. Acid reflux is not a normal or inevitable part of ageing, and relying on antacids to manage the symptoms is not always ideal. As naturopaths, there are many things we do to manage acid reflux and address the problem at its cause.
So What Is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux, or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), is a condition in which stomach acid rises up into the oesophagus, causing burning, indigestion and damage to the oesophageal lining. This can occur for various reasons, but typically happens when the sphincter connecting the oesophagus and stomach weakens, allowing the stomach contents to rise upwards. Some of the factors that can predispose you to reflux include:
- Being overweight or obese (due to increased pressure within the abdomen)
- Pregnancy (also due to increased pressure within the abdomen)
- Certain foods and beverages – typically wheat, coffee, dairy, tomatoes, chocolate, spicy foods and peppermint
- Drinking alcohol
- Certain medications
What Are The Symptoms?
Acidity and heartburn are just some of the symptoms of reflux. Other symptoms may include a chronic, dry cough, pain when swallowing, regurgitation of food, disrupted sleep and chest pain.
All of these symptoms can have other causes as well however, so if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, make sure to get checked by a healthcare professional.
What About Antacids?
Antacids can be helpful to relieve the symptoms of reflux, but unfortunately can come with some not desirable side effects. Essentially, they work by neutralising stomach acid – While this may sound helpful, the stomach is meant to be highly acidic! In fact, it’s the most acidic place in the body, with a pH of around 1.5-2.5. The stomach needs to be this acidic to break down food, facilitate digestion and enable the absorption of many nutrients, like vitamin B12, iron and calcium. For this reason, chronic antacid use can drastically reduce nutrient absorption, and lead to problems such as iron deficiency or osteoporosis. This is why it is so important to find out why you’re experiencing reflux, so we can work out how to address the problem at its cause.
Some Natural Ways to Manage Reflux
The first approach to managing reflux is to identify why it’s occurring and what your triggers may be. Some basic strategies include:
- Losing weight (if overweight or obese)
- Avoiding trigger foods – This includes wheat, coffee, alcohol, spicy foods, peppermint, tomatoes and chocolate
- Eating smaller meal portions
- Taking time to chew slowly and eat mindfully
- Not lying down directly after meals
- Quitting smoking
While these steps will definitely get you off to a good start (and in some cases, resolve the issue), we work closely with our patients to improve the integrity of the gastrointestinal mucosa and improve the tone of the lower oesophageal sphincter. We also use specific nutritional supplements and targeted herbal medicine to protect the mucosa, alleviate the symptoms and support the function of the lower oesophageal sphincter.
Essentially, we work to:
- Reduce triggers (causal factors)
- Provide protection to the oesophageal mucosa
- Reduce discomfort and burning
- Support the tone and function of the lower oesophageal sphincter
- Improve digestive function and increase gastric emptying
- Restore the balance of good bacteria throughout the digestive tract
- Prevent reoccurrence of symptoms
Ultimately, if you’re experiencing ongoing reflux, it’s important to address the problem now, to prevent long-term damage to the oesophagus. While antacids certainly have their place in modern medicine, there’s so much we can do with food, nutrition and herbal medicine to help address the issue at its cause, so you can give reflux the flick!