Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux
Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a chronic condition that afflicts large numbers of people. The condition is caused by a malfunctioning muscle at the base of the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES); the muscle does not close off properly, and stomach acid and pepsin are then allowed to regurgitate back into the esophagus, causing irritation and heartburn.
Many people confuse acid reflux with heartburn, but heartburn — an acute, burning sensation in the chest caused by stomach acid reentering the esophagus — is merely a symptom. Heartburn does not always occur during acid reflux. Other symptoms of acid reflux are problems with breathing, insomnia, dry coughing and bad breath, and coarseness in the throat. If these symptoms persist, the condition can become serious, as it will erode the lining of the esophagus, causing scar tissue and increasing the risk of esophageal cancer.
Acid reflux is often caused by stress, antidepressant medications, eating large meals particularly before going to bed, eating an excess of greasy or fatty foods, smoking and drinking alcohol, or drinking carbonated beverages. These are behavioral causes, and we can often alleviate acid reflux by simply changing our habits. However, acid reflux can also be caused by other disease that weaken the esophageal muscles, such as scleroderma or hiatal hernia; it is important to consult with a doctor, to rule out any more serious root causes.
Acid reflux, particularly involving heartburn, is typically treated by taking over-the-counter antacids, particularly liquid antacids. More severe cases can be treated with acid blockers or H2 blockers; these medications drastically reduce the production of stomach acid. However, there are a number of home remedies that are also helpful in the treatment of this often painful condition.
It may seem odd to drink apple cider vinegar — itself an acidic substance — to alleviate an excess of acid in the esophagus. But apple cider vinegar is an acetic acid, which is weaker than the hydrochloric acid produced by your stomach. The acetic acid may help offset the stronger stomach acids, creating a milder overall acidic environment (at a pH level of about 3.0). Add about 2-3 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to 8 ounces of water, and drink just before a meal or during a meal.
Ginger root is another common kitchen item that can help alleviate acid reflux. The root has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties; it can help absorb stomach acids, and also calm the nerves. Ginger root is available in capsule form — take one capsule immediately after eating. Or, you can eat it as a food garnish, or drink it as tea. Purchase the root from your grocery store, peel the skin off, grate a small amount of the root into fresh water, and boil it. Adding lemon or sugar may exacerbate your condition; if the taste of the tea is bitter or irritating, adding just a little honey is a better solution.
Fennel seed is a powerful herb that contains anethole, an aromatic natural compound that helps suppress spasms in the digestive system. Fennel seeds also contain magnesium, and are alkaline, not acidic. You can chew these seeds directly; a half-teaspoon after meals should be enough to help.
Various herbal teas can help in treating acid reflux. For instance, mix together equal amounts of aniseed and lavender to make a full teaspoon, then add two and a half cups of boiling distilled water, for a palatable and beneficial beverage. You can add a bit of honey to sweeten the tea (do NOT add sugar or lemon). Use only green anise (not star anise or caraway); the anise helps with digestion, while the lavender reduces acid in your stomach. Some recipes call for adding peppermint as well, and peppermint indeed can help calm stomach cramps and reduce gas, but peppermint also tends to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, thus allowing more stomach acid to enter the esophagus.
A wide variety of other common kitchen items have been known to alleviate acid reflux. Some people recommend dairy products. Drinking a glass of chilled fat-free milk every few hours can ease the burning sensation, offering immediate relief. Even a cup of vanilla ice cream might help — but don’t overdo it! Or drink more water, which helps dilute stomach acid. And to control stomach gas, add a dash of cumin to your water. Apples (organic only) and almonds, well chewed, have also been found to help treat acid reflux.
Or try chewing sugarless gum for half an hour or so after your meal. Chewing gum stimulates saliva production, which in turn dilutes stomach acid and helps wash the lining of your esophagus.
Any one of these solutions might be helpful in alleviating your condition.