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Understanding Heartburn

Written by: Dr. Christine Davis, Naturopathic Doctor

Did you know that heartburn affects 25-35% of the US population? Heartburn (or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is not only painful, but it can also lead to other complications including: asthma, chronic cough, dental problems, Barrett’s esophagus (a change in the lining of the esophagus that can increase the risk of cancer), esophageal ulcers and narrowing and scarring of the esophagus.  It is a result of stomach acid spilling into the esophagus from the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (the valve that separates your esophagus from your stomach).

The traditional medical solution has been to block the acid production, which will alleviate the pain and also the damage from occurring.   However, in blocking the acid production, you block a key step in the digestion process. Stomach acid is necessary to digest food, especially protein and micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B12. Stomach acid activates digestive enzymes in your small intestine, the molecules that break down the food into smaller parts for absorption.  As well, it acts as a barrier from harmful bacteria.  Therefore, blocking acid production from occurring can result in more serious complications such as irritable bowel syndrome, depression, fatigue, dementia, hip fractures and osteoporosis.

So, what can be done?

Firstly, get tested at your doctor for H. Pylori, hiatal hernia and ulcers.  H. Pylori is a bacteria that can exist in the stomach and is a major contributor to ulcers and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining). Hiatal hernias and ulcers can sometimes mimic the pain of GERD.  It may be necessary to have an endoscopy to assess for the presence of stomach ulcers before initiating treatment.

Secondly, identify food triggers and sensitivities.  There are several basic food triggers including: fried foods, alcohol, caffeine, soda, spicy food, tomato and citrus.  It is important to be mindful of these common triggers when eating.  In more recent years, it has been found that food sensitivities including dairy and gluten have a strong link to heartburn.  An IgG Food Panel can tell you what foods you are most sensitive to.  Junk food, processed foods and overeating can all contribute to GERD.

Thirdly, talk to your naturopathic doctor about natural remedies to soothe and heal the gut including DGL, glutamine, marshmallow, slippery elm, zinc and magnesium.

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