Do you suffer from acid reflux? If so – you know all about it – the burning in your chest and throat, the belching, bloating, hiccups, and sometimes feeling or even being sick. Here’s the good news – like most medical complaints, if you understand the condition, there is much you can do to help yourself feel better.
What Causes Reflux?
Any food you have eaten normally passes down the oesophagus (throat), into the stomach, and on through your intestines. It’s a one-way system. Reflux occurs if something goes wrong, and the stomach contents travel back the wrong way.
Why Does It Happen?
When you swallow food, it passes down your oesophagus and stays in the stomach, because of a valve called the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES). When reflux occurs, the LES is not working properly. This might be because –
- You’ve eaten too much, and the distended stomach holds the sphincter open.
- The sphincter has become irritated, for example, from the effects of smoking, alcohol, or spicy foods.
- You may be overweight or obese, which causes too much pressure on the LES.
Reflux may also be due to stress, which causes your stomach to produce too much acid. Unsurprisingly, reflux often occurs due to a combination of all these factors.
Natural Remedies For Reflux
Before you visit the doctor, take steps to correct any basic underlying factors. You could try some over the counter products, or why not consider a natural approach to treatment with some natural remedies?
Correct The Basics
- Correct your diet – Eat smaller meals, lower-fat, and less spicy foods. Avoid fried foods, pastries, and chocolate. Reflux can also be stimulated by peppermint, coffee, and carbonated water. Instead, eat plenty of high-protein, and high-fibre foods.
Cut down on alcohol or stop drinking altogether.
Lying down flat encourages acid reflux. Avoid eating large meals within 3-hours of bedtime. Don’t drink fluids within 2-hours of going to bed. It can be helpful to raise the head of the bed.
- Stop smoking – Smoking is strongly associated with reflux. It lowers LES pressure, reduces your saliva production, and as a result, the lower end of the oesophagus has prolonged exposure to stomach acids.
- Lose weight – Obesity is a major risk factor for reflux, and losing weight significantly improves symptoms.
Over The Counter Treatments
Over the counter medicines include antacids (e.g. Rennies), which neutralise stomach acids, Other preparations contain alginates (e.g. Gaviscon) which coat the stomach and oesophagus and help give protection from acid attack.
Natural Remedies For Reflux
- Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
Try ½ teaspoon mixed in half a glass of water every 2 hours – but do not take more than 7 x ½ teaspoons in 24 hours, or 3 x ½ teaspoons in 24 hours if you are over 65.
- Myrtle berries
These are potent antioxidants. Oxidative stress occurs in the body when too many dangerous electrically charged particles disrupt tissue repair mechanisms and cause cell damage. Excess acid from reflux causes oxidative stress.
One 2015 study in rats, showed that ingesting myrtle berry extract, effectively counteracted oxidative stress at the lower oesophagus, brought about by excess acid reflux.
In another 2015, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, in humans with reflux, three groups were randomly assigned to take either freeze-dried myrtle berry extract, the standard medical treatment, omeprazole, or a placebo. There was a similar improvement is reflux symptoms seen in all three groups.
In a 2007 trial, a group of patients who had failed to respond to a standard dose of the popular medical treatment, omeprazole, were randomly assigned to either a double-dose of omeprazole, or to stick with their present dose of omeprazole, but in addition, undergo acupuncture sessions twice a week for 4 weeks. The acupuncture group demonstrated significant improvements in reflux symptoms, whereas the double-dose omeprazole group showed no improvement.
The ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin is produced in the gut. One small research study has shown that melatonin 3g per day, had a similar or a better effect than omeprazole, on reducing reflux symptoms.
Iberogast is a natural formulation containing a variety of different herbs including bitter candytuft, chamomile, and liquorice root. Several medical studies have shown that Iberogast, used in patients with gastric symptoms, including reflux, results in better symptomatic relief than a placebo, and has an excellent safety profile.
- Low-Carb Diet
Medical studies suggest a link between a high-carbohydrate diet and reflux. Conversely, a low carbohydrate diet, and even ketogenic diets, which are low -carb but high-fat, can all benefit reflux symptoms.
- Relaxation Therapy
Reflux is definitely exacerbated by stress, so can anti-stress techniques help?
One 2012 study studied gastric acid secretion in a group suffering from reflux, who practised breathing exercises and relaxation techniques for 30 minutes per day for 4-weeks, compared to a control group who had usual care. The relaxation group demonstrated significantly reduced gastric acid secretion compared to the controls.
When To See The Doctor
Occasional, short-lived, episodes of reflux are common and unlikely to be serious, but if you find you have symptoms more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks in a row, it’s time to see the doctor. Other symptoms to watch out for include food sticking in your throat, or unexplained weight loss, as these warrant prompt investigation.
About The Author
Dr Deborah Lee has worked for many years in the NHS, mostly as Lead Clinician within an integrated Community Sexual Health Service. She now works as a health and medical writer, with an emphasis on women’s health. Dr Lee is a medical content writer for Dr Fox (Dr Fox Online Pharmacy).
Dr Lee writes for many media outlets including The Sun, The Daily Express, Bella magazine, Red magazine, Cosmopolitan, Net Doctor, and many more. She remains passionate about all aspects of medicine – including obesity, weight loss, diet, and nutrition.
After qualifying from University of Southampton Medical School in 1986, Dr Lee trained as a GP and after a number of years specialised in Sexual & Reproductive Health (S&RH).
Sexual And Reproductive Health Specialist, Medical And Healthcare Writer, BM, MFFP, MRCGP, DRCOG, Dip GUM, Dip Colp, LOC Med Ed GMC no. 3129913.