To lower symptom severity of acid reflux, many believe reducing stomach acid is the answer. While mitigating stomach acid within the esophagus is necessary to relieve heartburn, the stomach thrives for an acidic environment to enable a number of imperative processes in the body. Learn why stomach acid is good for normal functioning and how to naturally relieve symptoms from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), including uncomfortable indigestion and heartburn.
The Importance of Stomach Acid
Stomach acid is a digestive fluid mostly comprised of hydrochloric acid (HCl), produced by the parietal cells in the stomach and contributes to its acidity. Gastric acid supplies the stomach’s pH of 1.5 to 3.5, which is conducive for carrying out a number of key processes:
• Hydrochloric acid is essential to activate pepsinogen into pepsin, an enzyme required for protein digestion. Stomach acid also helps stimulate additional enzymes supportive of carbohydrate and fat absorption.
• Stomach acid converts many micronutrients into bioavailable forms, including calcium, iron, and vitamin B12. Limiting stomach acid can lead to nutritional deficiencies and increase the risk of associated diseases, including anemia and osteoporosis.
• Stomach acid acts a defense mechanism, killing harmful pathogens that may cause bacterial infections. Neutralizing or inhibiting stomach acid can limit the effectiveness of stomach acid, subsequently increasing the risk of illness and disease. And since stomach acid plays a large role in digestion, its reduction can cause undigested food to grow and house bacteria.
Natural Relief from GERD, Heartburn, and Indigestion
It goes without saying stomach acid plays a significant role in digestive and protective mechanisms. Constant suppression of stomach acid can compromise the immune system and decrease nutrient utilization, which may ultimately transpire into deficiencies, chronic diseases, and infections. But in the case of acid reflux, alleviating stomach acid can lessen symptom severity and is regularly accomplished with acid suppressors and neutralizes. While medications can improve quality of life, and even be lifesaving, for some individuals taking them, chronic suppression of stomach acid can curate a number of health risks. So before turning to the pill bottle, try implementing a more holistic approach for natural relief:
• Lose or Manage Weight
Acid reflux is more prominent in overweight and obese individuals, with some evidence suggesting people who are overweight or obese may be up to six times more likely to have GERD than people who are of normal body weight. Additionally, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests even a moderate amount of weight gain may result in the development or exacerbation of acid reflux symptoms. In fact, moving from a BMI of 22 to 24 (considered to be within a “healthy” range) has shown to double the risk of reflux, encouraging individuals to either lose or maintain a healthy weight.
• Evaluate Your Diet
Not only is diet imperative for losing and maintaining weight, but can influence GERD symptoms. Mint, citrus fruits and juices, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, high-fat and spicy foods can worsen GERD symptoms. If symptoms worsen following the intake of these foods, it is advised to stop eating them until symptoms improve or avoid them altogether.
Regular exercise is essential for physical health and may lead to weight loss. Particularly if experiencing heartburn, lessen symptoms during exercise working out on an empty stomach, knowing food triggers, and easing into a new regimen.
• Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Rather than consuming two to three large meals throughout the day, eat smaller ones and more frequently. Smaller meals and portions puts less pressure on the stomach, which can prevent the backflow of stomach acid into the esophageal lining.
• Sit Up After Meals
Wait three hours after eating before lying down, also avoiding late-night snacks. Raising the head of your bed six to eight inches can also keep gastric acid down in the stomach thanks to the law of gravity.
• Wear Looser-Fitting Clothing
Tight clothing can put pressure on the stomach and exacerbate symptoms, particularly noted with tight belts and jeans. Wear looser-fitting clothing to lessen the risk of reflux and symptom exacerbation.
• Stop Smoking
Smoking has a negative impact on health, including risking and provoking acid reflux by damaging the anatomy of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Research has also shown cigarette smoking can increase the rate at which acid reflux events occur.
• Manage Stress
Stress can eradicate GERD symptoms, with a majority of sufferers identifying it as a common trigger. While researchers are still trying to connect the link between stress and heartburn, health experts encourage individuals to practice healthy coping tactics. Stress-relieving techniques may include yoga, tai chi, art, laughing, meditation, and a warm bath. Sleeping the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night and regular exercise can also reduce stress levels.
• Consider Herbal Remedies
Herbal remedies, such as chamomile and lavender, have been implicated to manage stress and reduce anxiety.