Updated: May 28
What does it feel like to have heartburn?
Heartburn is a burning pain in the chest caused by acid backing up from the stomach into the esophagus; also known as GERD or gasto esophageal reflux disease. The pain can be a mild pressure and occur only after certain foods or the pain can be chronic and miserable, radiating into the head and stomach. Sometimes the stomach acid backs up all the way into the mouth causing you to burp up a bitter sour taste.
The reason that heartburn is so uncomfortable is because stomach acid in order to effectively break down food. This extremely acidic burns if it gets anywhere it's not supposed. This acid works great within the stomach because the stomach has a thick mucus lining that protects any tissue from coming in contact with the acid.
The esophagus is a tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. At the bottom there is an esophageal sphincter which opens when you swallow to put food into the stomach then closes tightly to prevent stomach contents from backing up. Heartburn occurs when this esophageal sphincter allows stomach contents to push up.
The esophageal sphincter can get weakened so it is unable to close tightly or it can be overwhelmed by stomach contents pushing up. Specific foods and stress cause the sphincter to weaken. Too much fat or a weak gallbladder can cause the stomach contents to overwhelm the esophagus.
Why heal the underlying cause of heartburn?
- Heartburn is extremely painful and no way to live
- The pharmaceutical solutions for heartburn that neutralize stomach acid make digestion worse and increase your risk of osteoporosis and other nutrient deficiencies.
- Eventually the esophagus can be damaged by heartburn causing trouble swallowing and increasing your risk of esophageal cancer.
How to relieve heartburn
Heartburn occurs when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus. It is also known as GERD or gastro esophageal reflux disease. In order to correct the underlying problem functional nutrition looks at what is wrong in order to correct it. To relieve heartburn you can either
reduce the stomach acid low enough so it doesn't burn or
heal the esophageal sphincter so that it doesn't allow stomach contents to back up and
strengthen the gallbladder so that it doesn't push food up.
Lower stomach acid
The conventional medicine approach is to reduce the stomach acid to stop the burning. You can use antacids that neutralize the acid in the stomach or acid blockers which prevent the stomach from making its acid in the first place. This works great for the immediate problem and I sometimes recommend antacids or acid blockers to stop the pain immediately while we work on healing the system. Stopping stomach acid long term is extremely dangerous as it prevents you from absorbing good nutrients and makes you more susceptible to food poisoning. Only use acid blocking techniques short term while you heal the rest of the system.
Heal the esophageal sphincter
The second step is to heal the esophageal sphincter so that it can close properly. Usually the sphincter gets strong again if you remove damaging foods for 2 days. Foods that weaken the esophageal sphincter include caffeine, alcohol, chocolate and peppermint. Keep in mind that when you stress or over do those offenders then heartburn will recur. Some people need additional
herbs or nutritional support to heal the esophagus and sphincter from damage.
Strengthen the gallbladder to push food down
If fatty or fried foods give you heartburn then you may have to go to the third step to strengthen the gallbladder. The gallbladder is designed to break down lots of good quality fats. A problem occurs if you give the gallbladder no fats or damaged fats. Then it doesn't know what to do and foods back up into the stomach, again pushing through the esophageal sphincter instead of being digested and going down. Specific bitter herbs, vegetables and only the best quality fats can be used to strengthen the gallbladder so it works again.