Acid Reflux, Heart Burn and Indigestion
Heartburn can be a debilitating condition affecting approximately 29% of the Canadian population or roughly 7 million individuals. Although many people attempt to manage symptoms without medications, people typically resort to the use of prescription drugs which can result in a number of long term complications. In the majority of patients suffering from heart burn, excessive stomach acid production is thought to be the culprit but in fact stomach acid production is typically normal. Dietary changes, lifestyle interventions and several nutritional supplements are very helpful to manage, if not completely reverse the cause of acid reflux in the majority of people.
A quick anatomy lesson.
Powerful muscles in the esophagus, stomach and intestines propel food along a one way course. During normal digestion, valves stop the contents in each area of the gut from moving in the wrong direction or back up towards the mouth. What this means is that in order for heartburn to occur the muscles of the stomach are moving its contents in the wrong direction and that the valve between the esophagus and the stomach is allowing erosive stomach acid or bile to invade the esophageal area.
What went wrong.
Although heartburn can occur in anyone, this condition will most often affect people that are diaphragmatically challenged. That’s right. The diaphragm muscles become excessively weak, which is partially responsible for allowing stomach contents back into the esophagus. If we consider a circumstance that often results in heart burn such as pregnancy this concept will be easier to grasp. During pregnancy upward pressure on the stomach and the diaphragm muscles result in the almost inevitable consequence of heartburn in an overwhelming 80% of women. Excessive abdominal weight is also a strong risk factor for heartburn for the same reason. Another major cause of heartburn is poor fat digestion or what was known in the past as a bilious attack. What this term implies is that indigestion is a consequence of inappropriate bile secretion and the abdominal discomfort that can follow. After-all any good gastroenterologist will tell you to avoid fried food, spicy foods, coffee and alcohol if you suffer from indigestion. It is often also advised to reduce weight and meal sizes, which can help reduce pressure on the diaphragm. Further, it is known that many people that have their gallbladders removed will no longer suffer from indigestion and other gastrointestinal disorders.
How to fix it.
Although the lifestyle and dietary changes mentioned above are essential to long term success, they are often insufficient on their own. Further, if a hiatus hernia (in which part of the stomach is poking through the diaphragm) has occurred things can become even trickier to reverse. Whether from pregnancy, excess weight, or from other causes, heartburn can be reversed without the need for drugs or surgery. The first step required to take, is to strengthen the diaphragm. When people have a “strong stomach” what they really mean is they have a strong diaphragm. Exercise and deep breathing practice are a good place to start, but if you fail to breath with your diaphragm you will not be successful.
What to take.
A good source of liquid calcium carbonate and magnesium oxide away from meal time is a good place to start. It is important to take the calcium carbonate away from food to reduce the impact this supplemental calcium can have on proper digestion. Another , important consideration is a good old fashioned bitter herb (or herbal blend) taken at meal times. Bitter herbs help to settle the gut down and prepare your stomach for digestion. You might also consider a cup of peppermint tea, which may also help to relieve heartburn symptoms.
Diaphragmatic dysfunction is a key player in the heartburn saga. Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing can be a major corrective approach to heartburn treatment and prevention. Although supplements are a safe and effective way to manage the symptoms of heartburn they are less successful at reversing the likely cause of heartburn. During the initial phases of treatment it is wise to avoid some of the indigestion aggravators such as fried foods, coffee, spicy foods, alcohol, citrus fruits and even tomatoes. Using bitter herbs to support the healthy production of bile from the liver can also be very helpful for several months or until symptoms resolve.