As someone who struggled with heartburn and acid reflux for years, I know firsthand how painful, irritating, and inconvenient these symptoms can be. As it turns out, I’m not alone: the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation says that on average, 5 million Canadians experience heartburn and/or acid regurgitation at least once a week. Imagine filling the Air Canada Centre to its maximum capacity 252 times—that’s how many people are experiencing weekly heartburn!
As I searched high and low for ways to prevent myself from experiencing these horrible, burning sensations, it seemed that the only available option was to take TUMs or Gaviscon. It wasn’t until I was doing my master’s degree in applied nutrition and working at a health food store that I was able to find some answers for myself. Today, I’m here to share some of my best tips so you don’t have to go through the agony that I did—literally!
Let's get one thing straight...
Many medications like acid blockers and neutralizers only mask the problem and can actually make digestion worse in the long term. I had no idea this was the case, and I’ve noticed that so many people have bought into the idea that said medications are the be-all-and-end-all solution.
As it turns out, chronic heartburn or acid reflux (referred to as GERD) may be occurring due to one or more of the following:
· Bacterial overgrowth: if you have used antacids for years and you have used antibiotics, you may have a bacterial overgrowth in your stomach and/or intestines (commonly referred to as SIBO). Typical remedies include oil of oregano and probiotics, as well as cutting out refined sugars.
· Liver congestion: if you take prescription or over the counter medications on a regular basis, or you drink alcohol regularly, your liver might need some TLC. You can use food (lemon water, artichoke, radishes, dandelion greens) or supplements (milk thistle, N.A.C., curcumin) to cleanse.
Please note: if you are taking any medications it is best to use foods instead of supplements, as many supplements can interact with your medication. If you are unsure, talk to a naturopath or a pharmacist.
· Gall bladder inflammation/gallstones:if you have had your gallbladder removed, or just have trouble digesting fats and get pressure/pain under your right rib cage after meals, you may need to cleanse your gallbladder. Try bitters, vitamin C, lemon water and digestive enzyme supplements with bile salts and hydrochloric acid (HCl) to support digestion.
· Food allergies or sensitivities: try an elimination diet of common food allergens such as wheat, dairy, nuts, corn and soy. This involves eliminating one food for a period of two weeks and documenting what happens to your symptoms. Just be sure to pick one food to eliminate at a time otherwise it will be hard to find the culprit!
· Trigger foods: the following foods loosen the esophageal sphincter which lets food flow back up into your esophagus: mint, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, tomato, fried foods and cinnamon
· Constipation: can be caused by various factors including bacterial imbalance, food allergies, digestive issues and liver/gallbladder issues. Constipation affects the whole digestive system and can make acid reflux worse.
Other tips to help heal your gut include:
· Adding more fermented foods to your diet, which include foods like kimchi, yogurt, keifer and sauerkraut
· Consuming raw apple cider vinegar before a meal. The naturally occurring probiotics, enzymes and acids help with digestion!
· Drinking ginger or fennel tea. (Try to avoid peppermint tea as it can worsen heartburn.)
· Reducing sugar intake
· Decreasing your intake of easily fermented foods (FODMAPS), which includes foods like wheat, rye, barley, milk, watermelon, and more.
· Avoiding antacids and other heartburn medications
Speaking from experience, self-diagnosis and treatment can be a very long, frustrating, and expensive process. Your best bet is to see a professional who can determine the true underlying cause of your heartburn and can work with you to come up with a treatment plan that fits your lifestyle.
This article was written by Kristina Virro & Holly Bradich (BSc, Applied Human Nutrition). Combining science with natural approaches to health, Holly's main focus is on digestive health and reducing inflammation. As someone who has struggled with IBS and Celiac disease for her entire life, she specializes in working with these disorders, along with diabetes management and weight loss.