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General characteristics

General characteristics

Heartburn (or acid reflux) is the name given to a painful burning sensation in the chest or neck arising from stomach acids leaving the stomach and rising into the gullet (oesophagus).

The corrosive stomach acids irritate the delicate mucous lining of the gullet and result in the burning sensation that can be very uncomfortable. It has nothing to do with the heart itself, apart from heartburn symptoms occurring close to the area of the heart. Other symptoms include belching, feeling full up, an unpleasant taste in the mouth and in severe cases dental erosion.

Between the gullet and the stomach is a muscular sphincter (the lower oesophageal sphincter or LES) that acts as a secure door, it is closed at all times except to allow food to enter from the gullet, ready for digestion to begin. Sometimes this sphincter can become faulty and allow stomach contents to rise up into the gullet. Several things may weaken this sphincter including overeating at meals, tight clothing, bending for long periods after a meal, stress, certain foods (like fizzy and caffeinated drinks, fried fatty foods, chocolate, citrus fruits), obesity, smoking, eating or drinking just before going to bed or lying down, pregnancy, genetic predisposition, some medications (steroid, painkillers) hiatus hernia, gastritis, old age, infections or low stomach acid levels and also excessive stomach acid production may damage the sphincter itself.

Having an excess of stomach acid will trigger the LES to relax and open. This is why conventional treatments are based on neutralising or reducing the acidity in the stomach. Whilst antacids may relieve symptoms, they certainly do not solve the problem and indeed, if taken long term, actually aggravate the condition. Feedback sensors in the stomach detect a fall in acid concentrations and produce ever increasing quantities of acid in order to efficiently digest food.

Having too little stomach acid results in partial digestion of proteins which also triggers the relaxation of the LES allowing acids into the gullet. Taking antacids in this case will greatly increase the likelihood of chronic heartburn. In fact, about half of all people with regular heartburn have low acid levels. Low stomach acids also increase the presence of harmful bacteria in the stomach (H.pylori) and intestines (E.coli).

Healing objectives are to regulate and normalise the production of stomach acids, improve the whole digestive process, protect and soothe the lining of the gullet and avoiding any aggravating factors through diet etc.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Fresh papaya and pineapple encourage a balanced stomach acid production. Eat  a small piece of either as a dessert after meals.

Add fresh ginger and fennel seeds to your cooking for their positive effects on digestion or take them combined as a refreshing after meal herbal tea.

Eat slowly and calmly, chewing every mouthful thoroughly and avoid stress whilst eating.

Many people find that their heartburn or reflux is triggered or made worse by eating refined carbohydrates such as bread, pastries, cakes etc. Avoiding these types of food may limit the episodes of heartburn.

Do not overeat at mealtimes and avoid bending straight after eating.

Find out which foods aggravate your heartburn and avoid them until the problem is remedied. Common trigger foods include coffee, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomatoes, fizzy drinks, alcohol, fried fatty foods, spicy foods and onions and garlic.

Eat as many fresh vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and seeds (such as caraway, fennel, cumin, coriander, aniseed) as possible.

Avoid processed and packaged foods.

Stop smoking.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Herbs that are full of mucilage are excellent for coating and soothing tender surfaces, providing physical protection and pain relief. They do not interfere with the digestive process in any way and help keep the pH levels in the gullet at normal levels. They include slippery elm, marshmallow root, marigold flowers, comfrey leaf, irish moss, iceland moss and aloe vera. Combine 2 or 3 of these powders and add a heaped teaspoon to some water to make a paste. Eat it off the spoon straight after meals.

Bitter and digestive herbs will improve the digestive process and encourage a balanced secretion of digestive juices. These include gentian root, dandelion root, angelica root, barberry root, artichoke leaf, holy thistle, agrimony and wormwood.

Herbs that are specific for balancing stomach acid secretions include meadowsweet, centaury and holy thistle.

Add half a teaspoon of comfrey leaf to your herbal tea mix occasionally for its soothing and tissue healing properties.

The antispasmodic and calminative seeds such as fennel seed (& dill, cumin, caraway etc) can be used to help ease regurgitation of fluids into the oesophagus.

Herbs such as liqourice, chamomile and turmeric are anti-inflammatories and will help to ease the lining of the gullet.

Combine 2 or 3 herbs in tincture form from each of the above three categories and take a teaspoon of your formula in water before each meal. Be sure to include meadowsweet as this is a key stomach acid balancer.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Take cider vinegar daily to balance stomach acid levels. Take a teaspoon in water before each meal, begin with one teaspoon daily and slowly buid up to 3 teaspoons daily.
Bicarbonate of soda (sodium bicarbonate) helps to neutralise the effects of excess acid and provide pain relief. Half a teaspoon in a little water.

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