June 19, 2013

A Natural Approach to Acid Indigestion

Did you know that about 42% of the United States population has had acid indigestion[1] at some point? Also known as heartburn, acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or dyspepsia, acid indigestion is characterized by a burning pain or discomfort that may move from your stomach to your abdomen or chest, or even up into your throat. Other symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain, wheezing, asthma, dry cough, hoarseness, or chronic sore throat
  • Regurgitation: a sour or bitter-tasting acid backing up into your throat or mouth

    1. Bloating, hiccups, flatulence, burping or nausea
    2. Bloody or black stools or bloody vomiting
    3. A narrowing of your esophagus, which creates the sensation of food being stuck in your throat[2]
    Acid indigestion is mostly caused by poor eating habits, such as eating late at night, eating spicy or deep fried foods, eating too much or too fast, and poor food combining. Other factors include age, stress level, alcohol, sugar and coffee consumption, as well as:
    1. Eating large meals, lying down or bending over at the waist right after a meal
    2. Being pregnant, overweight or obese
    3. Snacking close to bedtime
    4. Eating certain foods, such as citrus, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions. Avoid eating nightshades: tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant
    5. Smoking cigarettes
    6. Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, certain muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications[3]
    Simply put, stomach acidity can be controlled in the short run through herbs and other complementary modalities and in the long run by monitoring the digestibility of the foods being in eaten. A balanced diet is key to all successful healing. A simple formula is as follows:
    1. Primary foods such as whole grains and proteins each make up 20-30% of diet. Brown rice is highly recommended as it has the same pH as our blood. Proteins repair tissue and maintain metabolism, so eat first grade meats, tofu, tempeh, and beans
    2. Secondary foods such as fresh seasonal vegetables and seaweeds (such as kelp and irish moss)  should make up 30-40% of the diet. These provide important minerals and vitamins, as well as stimulate the elimination of toxins. Amaranth, in particular, is recommended as an acid neutralizing green vegetable.
    3. Tertiary foods such as eggs, dairy and fruit should consist of only 5-10% of diet, while fats and oils such as olive, butter and ghee are about 2%. Fruit is high and sugars, and can be enjoyed seasonally and in moderation. A moderate amount of quality unsaturated fats assists in the burning of stored fats and can lead to weight loss.[4]
    4. Spices are carminatives, which prevent and relieve gas, as well act as digestion aids. A few examples:
    1. Sweet basil is good to use as a tea for indigestion
    2. One or two bay leaves can be added to soup or beans
    3. Ginger tea is of great benefit to the stomach, intestines and circulation[5]
    Herbs that are able to act as antacids and effectively neutralize the excess acid in the stomach and intestines are recommended, as well as demulcent herbs that protect the stomach lining. A few recommendations include:
    1. Infusions of fennel mint, dill, chamomile, aniseed or lemon balm taken after a meal may all help to relieve gas and bloating.
    2. Bitter decoctions like gentian or dandelion root taken before a meal stimulate the digestive system. [6]
    3. A heartburn remedy of marshmallow root, hawthorn  berries, peppermint, wild yam root, fennel seed and ginger root can be brewed as a tea and taken as needed. [7]
    4. For stomach acidity, combine 1 dandelion root, 1 part slippery elm, 1/8 part goldenseal and 1/8 part of calamus root can be combined as a decoction or in a gelatin capsule. One half cup of tea or two capsules can be taken every hour as needed. [8]
    5. For a soothing after tea meal, simmer in filtered water 2 parts Marshmallow root, 6 parts Hawthorn berries, 3 parts peppermint, 6 parts Wild Yam, 3 parts fennel seed and 3 parts Ginger root can be simmered for an after meal tea. [9]
    Some other natural alternatives for managing acid reflux include:
    1. Practice moderation
    2. Acupuncture treatments
    3. Chiropractic treatments
    4. Stress reduction through hypnosis or meditation
    5. Complete eating three hours before bedtime
    6. Drink 1-2 tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar in an 8 oz. glass of water one to three times a day[10]
    While acid indigestion can be controlled by lifesyle changes, improved diet and better eating habits,  it can also be a symptom of a more serious illness, so consult with your primary health care provider if symptoms persist.

    This article is purely informational and should not be substituted for medical care. Please consult your health care provider before trying any suggestions for your self.

    [1] Kushner PR (April 2010). "Role of the primary care provider in the diagnosis and management of heartburn". Curr Med Res Opin 26 (4): 759–65.
     [4] Tierra, Michael, L.Ac., O.M.D. The Way of Herbs (New York, NY: Pocket Books, 1998) p.86
    [5] Tierra, p.78
    [6] Mabey, Richard The New Age Herbalist (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988) p.202
    [7] Tierra, p. 255-256
    [8] Tierra, p. 284
    [9] Tierra, p. 256
    [10] Bragg, Patricia The Miracle of Fasting (Santa Barbara: Health Science, 2011) p.161