When I was growing up, my Dad would occasionally get heartburn, and my brother and I really never understood why it seemed to bother him so much. From our perspectives (at ages 4 and 6), nothing appeared to be physically wrong, he would just become grumpy after eating.
Flash forward a couple decades to my first pregnancy and my first experience with heartburn, and I regretted my lack of sympathy for him (and regretted the tomato salad I had just eaten!).
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is a type of indigestion that is often felt as a burning sensation in the chest caused by stomach acid creeping up into the esophagus.
Contrary to common assumption, in most cases heartburn is not caused by too much stomach acid, but often too little.
Dr. Jonathan Wright, a well-known expert in the field of digestive health, explains that 99% of the time, a person suffering from heartburn, CERD or acid reflux has too little stomach acid, not too much. As I explained before:
Stomach acid signals something called the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (which separates the stomach and esophagus) to close tightly when the body has enough acid to digest the food that was consumed. When there is not adequate stomach acid to digest a food, the Lower Esophageal Sphincter will not receive this signal and will not close tightly, letting acid and undigested food creep up into the esophagus leading to heartburn and indigestion.
Essentially, the lack of necessary stomach acid slows the digestive process. Food sits in the stomach, creating gas that produces pressure. This pushes the stomach contents, including some of the stomach acid, into the esophagus. This can happen more easily for pregnant women, since there is less space in the abdomen and stomach contents can more easily be pushed up.
Anyone who has experienced heartburn understands the intense pain it can cause and the absolute need for relief. Unfortunately, most antacids and other medications offer short term relief at best.
These over the counter medications offer relief from the acid in the esophagus, but can actually make the underlying problem of low stomach acid worse, and PPIs and other stronger medications can have more serious long-term effects. (1)
While antacids work to neutralize stomach acid in the short term, PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) work exactly like their name suggests, by reducing the action of proton pumps in the stomach that create stomach acid.
PPIs are the third most prescribed drug in the US, yet they are only approved for 1-2 months of continual use (though many people need them for much longer). When stomach acid production is stifled for an extended time, the body may actually create more proton pumps to try to create the proper balance of stomach acid.
This article delves into the problems with PPIs and why natural options can be much safer and more effective.
Natural Home Remedies for Heartburn
My friend Steve Wright, a health engineer who reversed his own heartburn and digestive problems, recently shared four remedies that worked for him (and that have helped his clients):
- Betaine HCL: I wrote about Betaine HCL in depth here, but it is the main component of stomach acid and it supplements the stomach’s own acid when needed. I know several people who noticed an immediate night and day difference in their heartburn, energy levels and sleep from taking HCL. I personally take low dose Betaine HCL with protein containing meals to improve digestion. This isn’t a good option for those taking any type of PPI or other prescription medication though and it is important to check with a doctor or naturopathic doctor first.
- Lemon Juice: Just as HCL can increase stomach acid, taking a natural acid like lemon juice can help supplement the stomach’s own production. This (and the next remedy) were the most effective for me during pregnancy and I took 2+ tablespoons of fresh lemon juice squeezed into a small amount of water as needed to help avoid heartburn or get rid of it once it hit.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Same theory as the lemon juice and HCL, vinegar increases the stomach’s acid content and is a fast natural remedy for heartburn. Steve suggests mixing two teaspoons into a glass of water and drinking every 5 minutes until heartburn has subsided.
- Baking Soda: I’ve never personally used this remedy, and Steve only recommends it as a short term solution to really severe heartburn pain. In times with other natural remed have not worked, he recommends mixing 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda into 1/4 cup of water and drinking every few minutes until heartburn subsides. This would not be a substitute for addressing the underlying low-acid issues, but an effective immediate relief.
Advanced Help for Heartburn
There are so many confounding factors that can affect indigestion and heartburn, and those with severe struggles often have the most difficult time finding the right protocol for their specific problems. Also, the millions of people taking PPIs or other prescription medications for heartburn can’t make an immediate switch to natural options and need to follow a careful protocol to make the switch. Here are some additional articles and information that might be helpful to you.
Do you struggle with heartburn? What has helped you?