Today, we look at the root cause of acid reflux and heartburn, and what you can do to stop the pain and discomfort forever.
Contrary to popular belief, that burning sensation you get in your chest after eating a full meal or certain foods isn’t caused by having too much stomach acid.
Acid reflux and heartburn occur when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) fails to close completely, allowing stomach acid to splash into the esophagus.
Ninety percent of the time, the reason for the LES malfunction is due to low stomach acid, also known as hypochlorhydria. That’s because adequate stomach acid levels are required to signal the lower esophageal sphincter to close.
Unfortunately, stomach acid levels decline with age, poor nutrition, and stress.
Studies have found that 30 to 40% of men and women over the age of 60, have little to no acid secretion because of atrophic gastritis-chronic inflammation of the stomach lining.
If hypochlorhydria is untreated, and heartburn happens more than twice a week, it can develop into GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. This can lead to serious complications, like scarring, ulceration, and cancer of the esophagus.
GERD is a very common disease.
Researchers estimate that about 20 percent of people in the United States have GERD.
Other than heartburn, acid reflux and GERD may cause symptoms like tasting regurgitated acid, difficulty swallowing, sore throat, dry cough, hiccups, bloating, dark bowels, nausea, vomiting, severe cramping, and pain when lying down.
For decades, the medical establishment has treated people suffering from heartburn and GERD by prescribing antacids or acid blockers.
Although these drugs can alleviate symptoms, they don’t address the underlying cause.
As a result, many people who take acid blockers end up relying on them for the rest of their lives.
This is serious because the side effects of these medications may lead to other problems like osteoporosis, bacterial infections, and damage to both the kidneys and liver.
To stop acid reflux at the root, it’s important to understand why low stomach acid causes acid reflux.
When food enters the stomach, it releases a strong acid called hydrochloric acid, which has a pH of 1.5 to 3.0.
Stomach acid, also called gastric acid, is extremely important for digesting food, particularly proteins and meats.
It helps kill bacteria in the food and produces enzymes needed for digestion such as pepsin.
Gastric acid signals the pyloric sphincter at the bottom of the stomach, to open and empty the mixture of food, hydrochloric acid, and enzymes (called chyme) into the small intestine when it reaches the right pH.
If you have low stomach acid, the chyme will not be broken down properly, and this creates an environment that is friendly to the growth of bacteria. These bacteria eat the carbohydrates fermenting in the stomach. The bacterial overgrowth and poorly-digested food cause excessive pressure in the stomach.
When there’s too much pressure in the stomach but the pH isn’t acidic enough for the pyloric sphincter to open, the only way for the body to release that pressure is by opening up the LES.
The pressure released into the esophagus causes the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux, which are often misdiagnosed as high stomach acid.
Even if you have little stomach acid, any amount of it going from your stomach to your esophagus will cause discomfort or pain. This is because your esophagus was never designed to handle stomach acid.
When this happens regularly, the LES weakens and becomes “leaky”, making the problem worse.
Having low stomach acid leads to inflammation in the gut and throughout the body. Chronic Inflammation damages your small intestine, makes it hard to digest and absorb nutrients, increases your food intolerances, triggers small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and causes leaky gut.
Now, you may ask: what causes low stomach acid?
A variety of factors can lead to low stomach acid. These include aging, poor diet, chronic stress, chronic inflammation, medications like antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), and deficiencies in nutrients necessary to make stomach acid.
Another cause of low stomach acid is hypothyroidism which goes untreated. This is because thyroid hormone is required to produce stomach acid.
An H. pylori infection (a bacterial infection of the stomach) can make it harder for your stomach to produce acid. This leads to poor absorption of iron and vitamin B12 and can cause SIBO.
Next, here are the 3 steps you can take to increase stomach acid and stop acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD.
The first thing you can do to increase your stomach acid naturally is to take betaine hydrochloride or betaine HCL.
Betaine is a compound that is found in food, such as grains or beets. Betaine HCL is an acidic form of betaine that works the same way as hydrochloric acid in your stomach.
Before you supplement with HCL, take two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, ACV, to test if your stomach lining is ready. ACV helps stimulate stomach acid production. If you feel gastric burning, you are not yet ready for supplementation.
Instead, take a tablespoon of ACV with each meal for 4 to 6 weeks to improve your digestion. Dilute it in water until you can tolerate it. If you do not experience any discomfort after drinking ACV, you are ready to take 1 to 2 capsules of betaine HCL with a meal. This helps reduce bloating and discomfort after eating protein-rich foods.
You may need to increase your dosage until you no longer feel burning or discomfort, and then lower your dosage over time.
Next, you need to make sure you’re getting enough potassium, sodium, and zinc in your diet. These nutrients are needed by your body to produce stomach acid. Keep watching for a list of the best and worst foods for acid reflux.
Third, you will want to reduce your stress levels. Stress can cause your stomach muscles to tighten up. Researchers found that people with acid reflux and GERD who were anxious and stressed became more sensitive to smaller amounts of acid in the esophagus, and reported more painful symptoms.
It takes time to fix low stomach acid. If you already suffer from acid reflux, here are FOUR things you can do to reduce inflammation and relieve the pain and discomfort.
First, avoid foods that trigger or aggravate symptoms of acid reflux and GERD.
Cut back on carbohydrates (especially refined carbs) because they can cause bacterial overgrowth, gas, and bloating.
Go gluten-free, because foods that contain gluten are a common cause of heartburn.
Limit your intake of high-fat foods because they contribute to heartburn. Unfortunately, it’s not just fried foods, pizza, potato chips, and fast food. It also includes healthy fats like cheese, nuts, and avocados. High-fat foods stimulate the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK) which relaxes the LES and triggers heartburn.
Also avoid foods and drinks that trigger acid reflux like peppermint, coffee, carbonated drinks, chocolates, alcohol, citrus fruits, onion, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and spicy foods.
Next, add these anti-inflammatory foods and drinks to soothe acid reflux and help make stomach acid.
Root, leafy vegetables, and legumes like potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, spinach, broccoli, green peas, lentils, and mushrooms. These are fiber-rich and help digestion.
Non-citrus, low-acid fruits like watermelon, apple, banana, and pear.
High-fiber, whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa.
Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt. These contain probiotics and help increase stomach acid.
Low-fat, lean protein like chicken, fish, seafood, tofu, and egg whites that are baked, broiled, poached, or grilled;
Ginger, chamomile tea, and lots of good, clean water.
Third, make some lifestyle changes.
If heartburn is keeping you up at night, try sleeping on your left side. Sleeping on your right side can worsen reflux symptoms because it makes it easier for stomach acid to flow into the esophagus and cause heartburn.
For the same reason, you can elevate the head of your bed, or use a wedge to raise your upper body while sleeping.
Eat smaller, more frequent meals and have dinner at least 3 hours before bed to allow more time for digestion.
Obese or overweight? Consider losing at least 10% of your body weight. Excess belly fat squeezes your stomach, so more fluid is pushed upwards into your esophagus.
And If you smoke, quit smoking. Nicotine can cause the LES to relax and malfunction.
Last but not least, try these proven natural remedies for acid reflux:
In studies, participants who took melatonin were able to reverse their GERD symptoms, while only about two-thirds of those taking PPIs were successful.
Licorice extract known as DGL has been found to block inflammation and reduce heartburn by 50% without disrupting gastric acid production.
Demulcent herbs like slippery elm and marshmallow root powder are known to relieve reflux symptoms fast. When you mix them with water, they become very sticky and coat the esophagus and stomach lining. This barrier protects the mucus layer and reduces inflammation.