Indigestion, heartburn & acid reflux can be a daily misery – but antacids aren’t the only answer.
Linda explains indigestion, heartburn and acid reflux
Many of us will occasionally get indigestion, also known as burping and belching, particularly after eating a heavy meal. This is no real threat to our health – a quarter teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda dissolved in warm water usually fixes the problem.
Acid reflux, however, is another matter. This occurs when the contents of the stomach, including hydrochloric acid, push their way out of the stomach and up the oesophagus (food pipe), sometimes as far as the throat and mouth. In fact, acid reflux can be responsible for erosion of tooth enamel, as well as lung infections due to the acid flowing down the trachea (wind pipe) and into the lung tissue.
The constant flow of acid out of the stomach and up the oesophagus can lead to a condition called Barrett’s Oesophagus, where the cells in the oesophagus change and become pre-cancerous. This can be a precursor to oesophageal cancer.
Antacids are currently the most widely prescribed category of drugs in the UK. These drugs effectively ‘switch off’ the production of hydrochloric acid – however, there is a trade-off being made because, although the drugs will prevent the acid from migrating out of the stomach, problems will begin to manifest further along the digestive tract, in the intestines. This is because one of the functions of hydrochloric acid is to prevent any pathogens, including bacteria and parasites, attempting to gain access to our bodies. Hydrochloric acid destroys these pathogens – however, when we set our stomach acid to zero, we have nothing to destroy these unwanted guests, so they gain access to our intestines and to the rest of the body. Regular use of antacid medication has been shown to increase the risk of the nasty – and sometimes life-threatening – gut infection ‘Clostridium Difficile’, as well as allowing parasites passage into the gut.
Stomach contents and acid can also be pushed out of the stomach by mechanical pressure, caused by stretched and expanding intestines. If our intestines become irritated and inflamed, they will swell, stretch and bloat, pushing up into the stomach, and pushing contents and acid out of the stomach.
Acid reflux, indigestion and heartburn are usually caused by not having sufficient levels of acid in the stomach to break down and digest food. It is rare, particularly in the elderly, for digestive problems to be caused by an excess of acid. As we get older, many body processes begin to slow down, including the production of enzymes and acid in our digestive system.
Many people who take antacids have problems with bloating, excessive abdominal gas and abdominal pain. This is because taking a regular antacid creates an imbalance in our gut bacteria, leading to an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria and yeasts, creating excessive gases and bloating.
I would recommend that anyone over the age of 50 who has weak digestion and is concerned that they are not fully absorbing nutrients from their food, or who has a history of taking antacid medication, to take a good quality probiotic daily, such as my high-strength, multi-strain Live Bacteria capsules, to re-establish healthy levels of “good” gut bacteria.
I also recommend that anyone suffering indigestion take a plant-based digestive enzyme supplement every time they eat. If you’re over the age of 50, it’s highly likely that your digestive system needs a helping hand – try my Digestive Enzymes, especially after your evening meal.
If you regularly suffer indigestion related to “over-indulgence” in food or alcohol, keep a pack of my Milk Thistle tablets handy. Milk Thistle is a traditional botanical remedy used to calm an upset tummy and soothe indigestion – ideal for the morning after eating rich food, or drinking too much.
Finally, drinking coffee after a meal can disagree with some people, irritating the stomach and causing indigestion. Try sipping a cup of my Tummy Tea after your evening meal – a calming blend of herbs and spices traditionally used to soothe the digestive system, it will not only soothe your tummy, but help the digestive process, too.
Linda’s tummy tips
- Stop smoking. Chemicals in cigarettes weaken the sphincter between the oesophagus and the stomach, allowing contents, including acid, to push up and out.
- Try eliminating drinks that contain caffeine, as this is also known to loosen the sphincter between the oesophagus and the stomach.
- Don’t eat when stressed, angry or emotional. If you do, take a digestive enzyme before meals and chew your food well. If you do, take a digestive enzyme tablet before meals and chew your food well.
- Have a couple of pieces of papaya and pineapple before a meal. These act as natural digestive enzymes. Or put a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a little water and drink before meals.
- When lying in bed, use a couple of pillows to elevate your chest slightly. This will help keep the acid in the stomach and stop it moving out and up the oesophagus.
If you already have acid reflux, make an appointment to see your GP and request a test for Helicobacter Pylori (HP). HP is a type of bacteria that lives in the stomach, where it can break down the thick, protective mucosal lining of the stomach, causing acid reflux and ulceration. Treatment is antibiotic therapy and antacids, although there are other naturopathic remedies available including plant-based digestive enzymes and mastic gum.
For more in-depth advice, our Diet Plans section includes nutrition plans and lifestyle tips, plus my Indigestion, Heartburn and Acid Reflux Plan.