8 natural ways to improve your digestion and end heartburn
If you’ve ever had heartburn—and who hasn’t?—you know it’s a miserable experience. For many people, heartburn is a temporary situation. But for millions of others, untreated, occasional heartburn becomes a chronic condition.
When stomach acid repeatedly escapes the stomach, it damages the esophagus. Eventually, heartburn escalates into a more serious condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
In addition to the sensation of “heartburn”, GERD sufferers might also experience a sour flavor in the mouth or notice the taste of regurgitated food, as well as chest pain, coughing, wheezing, and/or trouble swallowing.
How does stomach acid get outside of the stomach? A malfunctioning muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is responsible.
The LES is a flap that separates the base of the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth and stomach, from the top of the stomach. Normally, it only opens when food or liquids need to enter the stomach, or leave it, as in the case of vomiting. Otherwise, the LES stays closed.
But a malfunctioning LES allows corrosive stomach acids to travel into the esophagus where they can burn its lining and set the stage for ulcers, swelling, and even increased risk of cancer.
A number of different things can lead to a dysfunctional LES, including:
- Consuming nicotine or caffeine
- Taking certain drugs on a regular basis, including calcium channel blockers (Norvasc or Cardene, for example), antihistamines (Allegra and Benadryl, to name only two), nitrates, used to treat angina, and theophylline (Primatene, Quibron, and others)
- Being obese
- Drinking alcohol
- Eating large meals or eating shortly before bedtime
- Eating fried, fatty, or spicy foods
- Having a hiatal hernia (in which a portion of the stomach pokes through the diaphragm and into the chest)
- Food allergies
- Insufficient stomach acid
- Lying down, especially after eating.
Millions of people struggle with the discomfort and pain of acid reflux and GERD every day. Many of them are taking medications – such as Tums, Di-Gel, Rolaids, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix, or Dexilant, to name only a few. These can offer temporary relief, but they should be avoided over the long term.
Often these medications do not treat the root cause of the problem, and their impact on the microbiome is significant—a steady diet of these same medicines can have disastrous consequences for your health over the long run.
Unfortunately, conventional medicine sometimes misses the boat on this all too common condition.
For years, pharmaceutical companies and physicians have claimed that too much stomach acid causes acid reflux and other common digestive disorders. The conventional wisdom is that too much stomach acid causes acid reflux and other common digestive disorders.
But, as it turns out, sometimes the real problem is exactly the opposite—too little stomach acid. I know that may sound counter-intuitive.
...but, here’s how it works.
How Acid Reflux Happens
As we age, our stomach acid levels fall.
When you were a teenager, for example, you had plenty of stomach acid. But by the time you hit your third decade, those levels could be about half of what they were in adolescence. And acid levels continue to drop with each year that passes.
So why do you feel relief when you take acid blockers?
Because by blocking whatever acid production is still occurring, there’s so little acid in your stomach that it can’t reach the esophagus. But here’s the thing, that also means you’re not fully digesting food or absorbing nutrients properly.
All the effort you put into making healthy meals is wasted without stomach acid to break the food into its basic elements to be distributed throughout the body.
The same applies to supplements, too—without stomach acid, you’re missing out on the amino acids, minerals, and vitamins that your body needs.
What To Do If You Really Do Have Too Much Stomach Acid
It doesn’t happen often, but there are people who suffer from acid reflux due to too much stomach acid from time to time. In those cases, there are also natural alternatives, like this one:
- Mix ½ teaspoon of baking soda with 6 ounces of warm water and drink. Baking soda is alkaline, and will correct the excess stomach acid. (If you’re watching your salt intake, hold the baking soda – it’s loaded with salt. Instead, just drink a large glass of warm water to dilute the stomach acid.)
Stomach acid plays a less well-known—but very important—role in keeping you healthy. It protects you from dangerous bacteria, parasites, and other microorganisms.
Studies have shown that low stomach acid is linked to serious ailments, including heart disease, type 1 diabetes, asthma, allergies, depression, skin problems, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
8 Natural Ways To Improve Your Digestion and End Heartburn
If you’re living with acid reflux, here’s my advice: Get a test to measure your level of stomach acid.
If it is out of balance, consider the following 8 lifestyle changes and natural ingredients to get your acid levels under control.
4 Lifestyle Changes that Reduce Heartburn
Keep your head up (literally): Here’s a quick and easy heartburn-reducing trick: Raise the head of your bed a few inches so your feet are lower than your head while sleeping. You can do this with a specially designed pillow, or you may need a handyman to install a small “platform” that raises the top of your bed a few inches. According to patients who have tried this, it works instantly. Just keeping your head elevated prevents stomach acid from slipping through the LES while you’re lying down.
Shed excess weight: Losing a few pounds – or more – can reduce LES dysfunction and ease heartburn symptoms.
End late-night snacking: Stop eating three to four hours before bedtime. Going to sleep with a full stomach makes heartburn more likely, so skip the late night snacks. If you’re hungry, try drinking a cup of warm water. Often times, hunger is mistaken for thirst.
- Consider the possibility of a food allergy or sensitivity: Typically, foods that cause heartburn tend to be fatty (like meat and dairy), spicy, or acidic (like citrus juices). However, many patients find their own “problem foods” by keeping track of what they eat. Just record meals and snacks in a small notebook and mark days when heartburn occurs. If you notice a pattern, such as heartburn following eating chocolate for example, then you know to go easy on that particular food.
4 Natural Ingredients That Soothe the Burn
Digestive enzymes: When you eat a meal, various enzymes help break the food into individual nutrients – fiber, fat, and protein – that your body needs. However, like stomach acid, as you grow older, you produce fewer digestive enzymes. Many patients report feeling bloated and uncomfortable after eating – a key symptom that they are low on digestive enzymes.
The three most important digestive enzymes are lipase, which helps digest fat, amylase, which targets carbohydrates, and protease, for protein. These and other enzymes help make digestion more efficient. And that means you are more likely to absorb the healthy substances in your food and supplements.
There are lots of different digestive enzyme formulas on the market. We suggest trying several different ones to see which works best for you.
Betaine, hydrochloric acid (HCI), and pepsin: The body produces hydrochloric acid (HCI), which in turn helps create a substance known as pepsin. Pepsin makes it easier to digest protein. But aging reduces the amount of pepsin you produce, so supplements are recommended. We suggest taking one pepsin supplement with each meal. (Note: Individuals with stomach or duodenal ulcers should not take these supplements.)
In addition to improving digestion, betaine has also been shown to be important in fighting inflammation, one of the most health-damaging – and common – conditions, implicated in everything from heart disease and cancer to accelerated aging.
Probiotics: These beneficial bacteria are turning out to be one of the most important elements in health.
According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, probiotics can help prevent diarrhea, IBS, ulcerative colitis, urinary tract infections and recurrence of bladder cancer.
While other studies show that probiotics can:
- Promote healthy digestion and elimination
- Help with weight management
- Lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Strong immune system
- Fewer allergies
- Better mood and brain functions
- Increased longevity
- Reduced likelihood of cancer
Probiotics are part of a normal, healthy digestive tract. But the Standard American Diet (SAD) and the practice of overusing antibiotics have killed off probiotic populations in millions of people.
Food first is always a good recommendation, but even live yogurt may not provide what you need. While probiotics are in many fermented foods, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, and buttermilk, there’s no way to tell how many probiotics these foods contain.
Remember, too, that supermarket yogurt contains lots of sugar and very few probiotics. That’s why supplements are the best way to make sure you’re getting the correct dosage.
We recommend products containing a blend of different types of organisms, with at least 10 billion at least 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs) and a mix of lacto and bifidobacteria per dose, like in Newport Natural Health's Microencapsulated Probiotic with FOS.
You can learn more about this top-notch probiotic formula here.
4. Green Foods: Here’s another way the Standard American Diet (SAD) has harmed your digestive and overall health – by promoting acidosis. When acidosis is allowed to run rampant, it attacks the body’s tissues and organs, causing inflammation, lesions, and hardening of organ tissues, among other things.
Eating prepared and processed foods while living a stressful, sedentary lifestyle in our polluted environment makes acidosis a very real threat. Unfortunately, conventional medicine rarely considers acidosis, even though it can weaken the immune system, hasten the aging process, and soften your teeth and bones.
It’s easy to find out if you’re overly acidic. Simply purchase some pH testing strips at the local pharmacy and follow the instructions provided. Combating acidosis is fairly simple; just eat more fruits and veggies, especially greens.
Nearly all fruits and vegetables – except tomatoes, cranberries, and blueberries – are alkaline (the opposite of acidic), so they’re ideal for correcting the condition.
For those who find eating right to be a real challenge, greens supplements are also available and are a good option.
If your digestion is a bit off these days, over-the-counter and prescription antacids might mask the symptoms, but they are not going to solve the problem.
To get the most from your food and nutrients, look into the natural solutions listed here. Your stomach will feel better, and your overall health will get a big boost in the right direction.
Take good care.
Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Last Updated: September 9, 2020
Originally Published: September 24, 2013