ASK CHAR: Do you have any experience with acid reflux? My doctor is suggesting I am having it (due to grad school stress) and is pushing medication. I’m feeling a lot of resistance to that!
I’m so glad that you reached out with your concern. It’s best to have these conversations now instead of later! Our bodies talk to us in a myriad of ways and it is rarely due to a pharmaceutical drug deficiency.
So let’s take a moment to consider what stress does to the body’s resources. It diverts energy from our core, the home of our digestive tracts, into our arms and legs. Because despite our thinking brains, we are still just a bunch of animals, and when stress hits, we are going to raise our fists and fight, or we are going to hit the road and run.
Therefore, food ends up sitting in our stomachs, undigested, and coming back up, which is what many people experience as acid reflux. In fact, unless the pH of the stomach is adequate, the pyloric sphincter, which allows the food to move into the small intestine, doesn’t even open up!
Hopefully, you can now see that the answer isn’t less acid; the answer is more acid. So how do we do that? How do we improve digestion in the face of stress? I have a few thoughts to share…
- We can find ways to slow down, choose our foods wisely and enjoy them. Digestion doesn’t start in the stomach or even the mouth. It starts with the state of our nervous system, and eating on-the-go is a recipe for acid reflux. We want to access the parasympathetic part of our nervous systems when we eat. The parasympathetic nervous system is all about peace, repair and restoration (doesn’t the world need more of this anyway?).
Taking 3 deep, intentional breaths before eating may help.
We can also employ bitter herbs, like gentian, artichoke leaf, dandelion root, and chamomile. If used 15-20 minutes before eating, these can help turn on digestion, making sure that you have plenty of hydrochloric acid, bile flow, and pancreatic enzyme production to digest your food. 10-15 drops of bitterness directly on your tongue may help. My favorite tableted formula for this is Digest Forte from MediHerb, which is available through qualified health professionals.
- Some people praise apple cider vinegar for reclaiming healthy digestion, which would clearly help to acidify the stomach. Put a tablespoon in a cup of water and drink with meals.
- Supplementing with hydrochloric acid is an option. HCL supplements are sold in health food stores, and are to be taken with meals. This isn’t my first choice because it is compensating instead of enhancing function. In other words, I want the body to learn how to make hydrochloric acid on its own
On that basis, Zypan, from Standard Process, is a whole food supplement that both contains hydrochloric acid, along with pancreatic enzymes AND it restores digestive function. Like MediHerb, Standard Process is available through licensed health professionals. Taking 2 with each meal helps many people.
- You may also consider the possibility of food sensitivities. Wheat, dairy, corn and soy are the biggest offenders when it comes to inflammatory foods. Removing these from your diet for 6-weeks can be a life-altering experience, as well as paying attention to the foods that cause or aggravate the acid reflux, like caffeine-containing beverages and vegetables that fall into the nightshade category, such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers.
- If any of the above suggestions make your stomach burn, then we now know that there is damage to your mucosal lining, along with the acid reflux. In this case, you will need to turn to soothing tools like okra, aloe vera juice, marshmallow root, slippery elm root and deglycyrrhizinated licorice, sold over-the-counter as DGL. Considering that the acid hurts because it’s not where it should be, these tools are good to know about anyway and can both bring relief and help the body repair. I make sure these are always in my natural medicine cabinet!
That should give you a few good leads to improve your situation without the use of acid-blocking drugs, which do absolutely nothing to get to the root cause of the problem. After all, your digestion is your immune system, and that’s a part of the body that you want to continue to strengthen, not weaken, for your long-term vitality.
If you are interested in learning more, I can recommend two books: Why Stomach Acid is Good for You: Natural Relief from Heartburn, Indigestion, Reflux and GERD by Jonathan Wright and No More Heartburn by Sherry Rogers.
Digest in Peace!
P.S. If anyone else has a question for our Ask Char series, you can message her in the comments below or send a message privately in the Talk to Me section (scroll to the bottom of that page). While not all questions will be featured on the blog, I will try to answer as many of them as I can, personally.
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