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Heartburn 101: Identify and Relieve Heartburn

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a symptom of chronic reflux, aka gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and occurs when food remains undigested due to lack of stomach acid. The food ferments and sits in our gut, causing pain and attracting bacteria, including H. pylori, which can erode stomach lining and produce ulcers.

Also, if we have poor parasympathetic tone, the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes, allowing alkaline contents and bile from the stomach to flow up into the esophagus and leading to inflammation of the surrounding tissue.

Symptoms of GERD include chest pain, indigestion sensation in throat or abdomen, cough or asthma present at night, feeling full after eating very little, bloating, and burping.

Complications of long-term heartburn can include gastric ulcers, injury to enamel of teeth, and esophageal cancer.

What causes Heartburn?

Many people think heartburn is caused by too much acid, but heartburn occurs because there is not enough acid in the stomach (hypochlorhydria). The stomach needs to be a pH of 1 (which is very very acidic and is the pH needed to strip paint off of a car) in order to properly digest and assimilate food.

Risk factors:

  • Alcohol, smoking
  • Caffeine, fatty foods, chocolate
  • Pregnancy, excess body weight
  • Hiatal hernia

How to determine if you have Heartburn:

Home test: Drink 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar in a little water 10-15 minutes before a meal. If no symptoms are present after meal, the acid in the apple cider vinegar helped with digestion, pointing towards a low stomach acid picture helped with addition of acid before meals.

How to relieve Heartburn:

Naturopathic medicine has an abundance of ways to eliminate heartburn and bring relief. Here are the top two:

  • Cut out the CRAP
    • C: chocolate, caffeine, citrus, cigarettes
    • R: refined carbohydrates (processed foods), rapid eating
    • A: alcohol, acidic foods
    • P: peppermint, packing food in late at night
    • Also spicy and fried/fatty foods and STRESS
  • Use bitter herbs (gentian, skullcap, dandelion) or apple cider vinegar before meals to increase hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach so it can break down and absorb food.

Did you know?: Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), aka omeprazole, are a drug class that work by stopping acid secretion, which relieves pain temporarily. PPIs are harmful to the body because they stop the digestion process and decreases absorption of nutrients, including calcium, leading to increased risk of osteoporosis and other problems related to nutrient deficiencies.

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