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What is Acid Reflux?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also called hiatal hernia or acid reflux disease, is caused by stomach acid squirting up from the stomach into the food pipe (called the esophagus). This causes heartburn, reflux, or backup of acid  into your throat, or coughing/choking. It can get worse at night as gravity is no longer helping to keep food down in your stomach where it belongs. If you inhale the acid while asleep, which you usually aren't aware you are doing, it can also cause night sweats and worsen asthma or bronchitis. 

Although your stomach has a special mucus lining to protect it against stomach acid, your esophagus does not. A special valve between it and your stomach (called the LES or lower esophageal sphincter) acts like a "one-way door," letting food go down, but not back up. At least on a good day…

Conditions That Aggravate Acid Reflux

  • Being overweight: This shifts the valve out of position so it leaks (herniates).
  • Indigestion: If you don't digest your food properly, it sits in your stomach churning and churning and churning. It should be past your stomach into your small intestine within an hour after eating. If digestion is poor (from inadequate digestive enzymes or low levels of stomach acid), then the food sits in the stomach too long and starts refluxing back up. When this happens, any acid can burn the food pipe. When lying in bed, gravity is no longer keeping the acid down in your stomach where it belongs, so reflux while sleeping can be an especially severe problem.  

Natural Acid Reflux Treatments

Unfortunately, physicians have been brainwashed to treat indigestion and reflux with a lifetime of acid blocker medicine, even though the FDA recommends using it no more than 1-2 months in most cases. And the side effects of long-term use are piling up (but so are profits — especially as acid blockers have been shown to be addictive, causing rebound excess acid secretion when you try to stop them).

A better solution is to fix your digestion — and you'll be amazed as indigestion typically resolves over 1-2 months.

For Daytime Reflux

  • Lose weight: If overweight, even losing 5-10 pounds can help considerably.
  • Improve your digestion: Add plant-based digestive enzymes with meals.
  • Improve stomach acid. Make a salad dressing with 2 Tbsp of vinegar. If OK'd by your holistic physician, you can take Betaine HCL tablets, two per meal (you can find them at most health food stores). Avoid ice drinks with your meals. Your body's digestive enzymes work best at 98.6 degrees.
  • If certain foods still cause indigestion, don't eat them. Your body may be trying to tell you it's junk food and doesn't want it or you may be allergic to the food. Food allergies can be eliminated with NAET (see www.NAET.com ).

Eliminate Indigestion Symptoms

The following supplements are an excellent combination:

  • Antacids that are also heart protective. Do not use plain calcium antacids. Taking calcium by itself may increase heart attack risk 31%. Use an antacid chew that also contains magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K to protect your heart and health.
  • Licorice helps heal your stomach by helping the protective stomach lining to heal. Slippery Elm and marshmallow (the herb, not the candy) also support the stomach lining.

After 4-6 weeks on the above regimen, your doctor will usually be able to switch you from your acid blocker to nonprescription Cimetidine (Tagamet), which only partially blocks stomach acid. This can then be weaned by 200 mg a day each 1-2 weeks till you are off acid blockers. The digestive enzymes and adding acid (as needed—eg- with large meals) and the chewable antacids will then often be all that is needed to maintain healthy digestion.

For Night-Time Reflux

  • Though it's a bad idea to keep your stomach acid "turned off" during the day (you need it to digest food), you don't need stomach acid at bedtime while sleeping. So here are a few tips:
  • Bicarbonate of soda. Take 1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda (e.g., Arm & Hammer) in 4 oz of water at bedtime to neutralize the acid in your stomach (not for children under 16 years old). If you have high blood pressure, substitute food-grade potassium bicarbonate.
  • Don't eat within two hours before bedtime and take 2 caps of a plant-based digestive enzyme an hour before sleep. This will ensure your stomach is empty when you sleep, so there is nothing to reflux for a few hours.
  • Sleep with your upper body elevated. Raise your upper body at least 6-8 inches when in bed (just raising your head with pillows won't work). One way to do this is to place a 6-8" brick or phone book under the legs of the bed (just the two legs by the end of the bed where your head is). Another wonderful solution is to use a sleep wedge pillow.
  • Take 5-6 mg of melatonin at bedtime. This decreases reflux.

Acid Blockers

If other remedies don't work, try a mild acid blocker like cimetidine (Tagamet) 200 mg, which is less addictive than other acid blockers, at bedtime.

Contributor: 

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is a board certified internist and author of the popular free iPhone application “Cures A-Z,” which was ranked in the top 10 of all health/wellness downloads on iTunes. Dr. Teitelbaum is the author of the perennial bestseller From Fatigued to Fantastic! (Avery Penguin), which has sold over half a million copies; Pain Free 1-2-3 (McGraw-Hill); Three Steps to Happiness: Healing Through Joy (Deva Press); the Beat Sugar Addiction Now! series (Fair Winds Press);  Real Cause, Real Cure (Rodale Press); The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution (Penguin/Avery); and his latest, The Complete Guide to Beating Sugar Addiction (Fair Winds Press, 2015).