Updated: Apr 14
Today I’m bringing those together to explain how I work with people to stop heartburn and heal the underlying cause.
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid leaks up through the esophageal sphincter and touches the sensitive esophagus which is located near the heart. The stomach is supposed to be extremely acidic to sterilize and break down food and the esophageal sphincter is supposed to close tight after you swallow to prevent food from leaking up and causing heartburn.
#1 – If you’re on acid blockers – First talk to your doctor about using natural therapies and sampling off of acid blocking medication. You may be able to work with steps 3-6, then skip your acid blocker medication to see if digestion has improved. If this doesn’t work and you experience pain, then go back on the acid blocker until you can heal the underlying cause and stop acid blockers safely.
#2 – Improve stomach acid. For some people, the fix is simply sipping diluted organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar before a meal. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it works for occasional heartburn. The mild vinegar triggers good strong stomach acid which causes food to digest and flow down and the esophageal sphincter to close. Some people are unable to produce enough stomach acid, even with the apple cider vinegar. In this case we can supplement with hydrochloric acid tablets while also investigating why they can’t produce stomach acid.
#3 – Strengthen the esophageal sphincter. Caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, peppermint and stress can weaken the esophageal sphincter muscle which keeps stomach contents down. You won’t have to stop your favorite treats forever. I recommend taking 3 days off – a simple cleanse to remove weakening substances listed above and reset that muscle. After a few days, most people can go back to moderate intake of these treats. Of course, they will have heartburn again after a stressful week of too much wine, coffee and stress. Fortunately they now know how to take a break and strengthen the esophageal sphincter.
#4 – Increase gallbladder function If your heartburn is caused by fatty foods then we work below the stomach, on gallbladder function. Bile is created in the liver then stored in the gallbladder and then released just below the stomach to combine with food and break down fats. It’s like soap, emulsifying fats and oils in foods so that they can go down. What happens when fats and oils aren’t broken down? They float up! Undigested fat floats up, again pushing into the esophagus and causing heartburn. You can avoid bacon, pulled pork and fatty sausage to avoid this problem. You can also improve bile flow so that it’s ok to enjoy an occasional fatty meal! I use a mild oil and lemon drink, dandelion, milk thistle, turmeric and a variety of other herbs to improve bile flow so that you can enjoy an occasional fatty meal.
#5 – Stop the acid – this does not heal the underlying cause, but it helps, temporarily to stop the pain. Alginate tablets taken after a meal can create a float on top of your stomach contents to prevent it from bubbling up into the esophagus. Alginate is the best emergency tool because it doesn’t shut down digestion to work. Alginate can also be used while you’re working on weaning yourself off of acid blockers.
Other therapies involve taking antacids to lower stomach acid and stop the burn. Tums and acid blockers are ok to take temporarily, but they don’t heal the underlying cause and can make heartburn worse in the long run. If you have heartburn and need an antacid then do take it to stop the pain. We can work on healing the underlying cause at another time.
#6 – Heal the damaged esophagus – ongoing heartburn can cause damage and scar tissue to the esophagus over time. It’s helpful to sip demulcent healing liquids to coat and heal the esophagus. Aloe vera juice, slippery elm, deglycerized licorice, bone broth and L-glutamine powder are soothing and healing to the esophagus lining.
#7 - When it's not digestion - sometimes heartburn is caused by a hiatal hernia which is a muscular problem. Your chiropractor or body worker may be able to help with this. Next week I will be sharing a video with some ways to help with hiatal hernia.
In a thorough heartburn healing plan we want to strengthen digestion so it’s strong enough to break down and get all the nutrients out of food. To do this we need to strengthen stomach acid, close the esophageal sphincter, improve bile flow and heal any damage to the esophagus all while avoiding any more damage or pain from heartburn.