Do you have heartburn?
Heartburn, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a very common symptom. Often it feels like a burning sensation in the upper chest area (near the heart). But it can also feel like difficulty swallowing, a lingering cough, or nausea. These symptoms happen because the sphincter, or door, between the esophagus and stomach isn’t staying shut and stomach contents are coming up through the door and into the lower esophagus. Over a period of time this can damage the lining of the throat itself, leading to inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis) and even ulcers in the throat.
Medical doctors often treat heartburn by prescribing acid-reducing medications. They think that if they can reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, that when the door improperly opens and the stomach contents move up, it won’t burn the throat as much. Unfortunately, doctors and patients tend to stay on these medications for too long, which is usually bad news. Reducing stomach acid long term can lead to poor absorption of nutrients, infections and bone fractures. Most acid-reducing medications are only recommended to be used for 4-6 weeks, but I have patients who have been on them for decades! I think there is a time and place for these medications, but I don’t think they should be used for many years instead of addressing the real cause of the heartburn.
Sadly, these acid-reducing medications don’t address the real problem that is causing heartburn, or the reflux of stomach contents into the throat. The problem is a door that won’t stay closed: a loose esophageal sphincter! A naturopathic approach to heartburn and GERD is to tighten that lower esophageal sphincter, effectively keeping that door shut while the stomach is doing its job and digesting food. We can do this by balancing the nervous system’s sympathetic and parasympathetic responses, by avoiding foods and other substances (chocolate, tobacco, marijuana) that loosen the sphincter, and by ensuring proper amounts of things that tighten the sphincter (melatonin, enough stomach acid).
Did you know that a very common reason for that esophageal sphincter to open is actually too little stomach acid! To address this, I often recommend digestive stimulants and good eating habits. I also recommend healing herbs to sooth and restore any damage that has been done to the esophagus.
Heartburn is common, but there are great ways to eliminate it without using medications long term.