Heartburn feels like it sounds.. like your heart is burning. But that's only true if you don't really know where your heart is and you think it's in the middle of your chest rather than off to the left. But that's a minor detail, we'll leave that for the surgeons ;)
Although the burning sensation starts in the middle of the chest it often radiates up the neck, or throat. It's usually caused by acids from the stomach coming up the oesophagus where it doesn't belong. This is the most common reason for heartburn and it's called GORD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease, catchy, I know). Because it can be a sign of a more serious condition (roughly 0.6% of the population have this) it's always worth checking in with your doctor for a diagnosis before trying medications, home remedies or herbs.
- acid reflux
- a sore or inflamed oesophagus
- bloating and belching
- feeling nauseous
- being sick
- pain or difficulty swallowing
- bad breath
Omeprazole is one of the most heavily prescribed drugs in the UK. It's one of a few commonly used proton pump inhibitors (PPI's). This group of drugs (including Omeprazole) reduces the amount of acid the stomach makes.
Often the real cause of heartburn is a rubbish diet. But diets are not the easiest of things to change. Instead, PPIs are sometimes used long term in place of dietary improvements. However, these drugs may cause nutritional deficiencies, such as low B12, Iron, Magnesium, and Calcium, as they interfere with how well you absorb your food. I've put some research links at the bottom if you want to read more. The good news is the side-effects of PPI's quickly rectify when you stop the drug.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories
- Certain foods; Spicy foods, alcohol, carbonated drinks, fried foods, citrus, tomato, chocolate, coffee and onions.
- Being overweight
Diet and Lifestyle changes
By cutting out the foods listed above you will reduce your chances of getting heartburn. You can see that a lot of them are just unhealthy foods anyhow. I believe that the term spicy foods relates to hot-spicey not spices like cardamon, cinnamon and cumin which are spices but not spice-y. The anglicised Indian curries we have in the UK are both spicey, fried, and often include tomato and onion. Having that with a beer, and bobs-your-uncle, you've probably got heartburn! I wouldn't expect anyone who likes chocolate to avoid it altogether just try to make sure it's less than 45g of chocolate each day. Fizzy drinks can be replaced with fruit cordials and soda water but drinking plain water and teas will be best while the body repairs. While these foods are normally thought to be problematic because they increase acidity Hoffman claims they actually relax the lower oesophageal sphyncter, making the acids flow back on themselves. If you're that way inclined that is. In terms of lifestyle, the most important thing you can do is try to plan meals and take the time to cook for yourself. This is by no means easy but it will be life changing. If you make these changes most people will be totally relieved of their heartburn.
- Cut out problem foods listed in risk factor section
- Introduce whole-foods
- Stop smoking
Some of these tips are for when you have symptoms and some are preventative. Changing the acidity of the gut is only a temporary measure as the true cause is really acid in the wrong place, rather than too-much acid. Because Bicarbonate of coda and Apple cider vingegar do just that, they shouldn't be seen as a long-term solution and won't work for everyone as some schools of thought see heartburn as a lack of acid. I would recommend trying the slippery elm above and beyond the vinegar and bicarb.
- Bicarbonate of soda. try 1 tsp in a glass of luke-warm water. Drink this until symptoms subside. This can be used instead of Apple cider vinegar or as well as if you prefer. That would be twice as strong though.
- Apple cider vinegar. This will change the Ph of the stomach, lowering its acidity. Add a teaspoon to a glass of luke warm water and drink till symptoms subside.
- Probiotics help us break down our foods and while we normally think of this as starting in the bowels it's thought that taking probiotics can also help the stomach to function. It's unlikely that the flora is actually living inside the stomach itself as it is so acidic but it is possible that good flora can help the digestion so much either side of the stomach that the stomach responds positively to this change. I recommend the brands Bio-kult and Optibac for their diversity in the strains of bacteria they use.
The main aims of herbal treatment are to reduce the damage of the acid to the lining of the oesophagus and improving the tone of the sphyncter so that the reflux ceases. There is debate over the use of Chamomile in GORD because it relaxes tissue and will relax the oesphageal sphyncter as well. But, it seems that it is very helpful for some and worsens things for others. It is probably worth while an experiment.
- Tone the oesophagus with Astringents. If your diet is pretty good it could be that the oesophagus itself isn't toned enough to keep the acid where it should be. The herbs we'd use for this are Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatorium), Sweet flag (Acorus calamus), or Marigold (Calendula officinalis).
- Protect the oesophagus with Demulcents. Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) or Marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) powder. Add 2 teaspoons to a little water and mix into a paste before filling the cup with water. Drink this before each meal. For a super-tasty recipe see below.
- Heal the tissues which have been harmed by acid traveling up the oesophagus with Vulneraries. Marigold (Calendula officinalis) or Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita).
I realise I haven't given a recipe here but I feel like Heartburn is something each individual really needs to receive a prescription for when it comes to herbs. I have however put together a tasty way to have slippery elm powder. Which you can get the recipe for below. The advice given here should not be used in place of a medical practitioners. Correct diagnosis is key to any treatment protocol. If you are unsure in any way you must see your health practitioner first.