Every time I come back to Africa, I’m reminded just how natural the health care is here.
I recently watched one local herbalist cure a patient of chronic heartburn with a tea made from a popular root (more about that soon).
Heartburn is a common disorder of the stomach caused by the overproduction of stomach acid.
In America, mainstream medicine is likely throwing Big Pharma’s “treatments” at you — like proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), which block the production of stomach acid. You might know these better as Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid.
But these PPIs have some pretty BIG downsides you’re unlikely to hear about from your doctor.
Studies show that they can:
- Cause diarrhea and pneumonia;
- Trigger vitamin B and calcium deficiencies;i
- Interfere with anti-clotting medication;
- Increase the risk of hip fractures;ii
- Increase your risk of heart attack!iii
And while PPIs may help relieve your heartburn in the short-term — they won’t solve the problem.
In a minute, I’m going to tell you about some great natural remedies for heartburn that are well-known here in Africa — and to patients who come to my clinic.
But first, let’s look at why mainstream medicine’s PPI “remedies” are not the answer to your heartburn.
The core problem with them is they’re focused on your stomach acid as the cause of heartburn. But the latest scientific research doesn’t support this at all.
You see, as we get older, your body produce LESS stomach acid. Recently published research in the American Journal of Digestive Diseases revealed that 69% of adults over the age of 80 actually suffer from achlorhydria, a condition characterized by LOW stomach acid.iv
Bloating, belching and flatulence immediately after meals are common symptoms caused by low stomach acid.
If excess stomach acid were really the causes of heartburn, children would suffer more than adults. And that’s obviously not the case.
So what’s really going on?
Contrary to mainstream medicine’s claims, stomach acid is NOT your enemy. We need stomach acid, because it helps to digest food and absorb nutrients.
Your stomach acid is also a critical part of your immune system. It helps protect you from harmful bacteria — like H. Pylori, which thrives in a low-acid environment and is a major cause of stomach and duodenal ulcers, gastritis and can even cause gastric cancer.
An overlooked cause of heartburn is your lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This is a small muscle that opens and closes to let food pass from your esophagus into the stomach.
Normally, when food passes, your LES closes and blocks stomach acid from coming back through the esophagus.
The problem begins when your LES doesn’t shut tight. This happens more often as you age. Even a slight opening can let stomach acid, bile and food back into your esophagus. Your upper esophageal sphincter (UES) at the top of your stomach can also let acid into your esophagus.
While antacids may relieve some of the symptoms, they won’t do anything for the underlying problem.
First of all, there are a number of easy ways to avoid heartburn in the first place. I recommend:
- Eating smaller meals: This makes digestion easier and leaves less room for reflux.
- Avoiding form-fitting clothing: Our bellies need room to digest. Tight clothing can put pressure on our stomachs, pushing food back up into our esophagus.
- Taking your time: The process of eating is important for digestion. When you don’t chew enough you miss out on important steps that result in heartburn.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking irritates the membranes of your throat and esophagus. Nicotine also weakens the esophageal valve, allowing your stomach acid to back up.
- Avoiding these foods: Anything spicy, citrus, fatty or fried foods, alcohol, sodas and caffeine. These foods and drinks are prone to allowing stomach acid to splash up into your esophagus.
But sometimes heartburn is unavoidable. So instead of risking nasty side effects with PPIs, I recommend safe natural remedies. Here are my favorites:
Ginger root: This medicinal plant is known in many traditional cultures as a “universal remedy”, especially here in Africa. This is one of the ways herbalists and doctors in Uganda treat heartburn. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and speeds up the digestive process, preventing gas build up. It also helps to regulate bile and gastric juices in your digestive system. Adding a simple tea to your daily diet can work wonders. It also tightens your LES, helping with the back-flow of stomach acid.vii,viii
And here’s one of my favorite ginger tea recipes…
- Remove the skin from a piece of fresh ginger root and chop into small pieces or slices;
- Fill a small pot with two cups of water and boil;
- Add the ginger and cover. Let it simmer for around 10 minutes;
- Try adding a little cinnamon for extra flavor.
Peppermint: The active ingredient in peppermint is menthol, and it’s widely used here in Africa to treat gas and cramps. This herb is also great in tea and has an almost immediate calming effect on your stomach. I also recommend it to patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Menthol has an antispasmodic effect on your digestive tract. You can also buy peppermint supplements. Capsules are available online and in health food stores.
Aloe Vera: This native African plant has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Most people know it as a topical treatment for sunburn and other skin wounds and irritations. But taken as a drink, it can calm your upset stomach, aid food digestion, soothe your esophagus and fight off acid reflux. Aloe juice can be found online and in health food stores, but make sure that you are getting one with pure, organic aloe and no added sugars or juices. I recommend starting with half a cup of aloe juice and working your way up to a cup. Drink every morning on an empty stomach for at least a month or until symptoms subside.ix
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
iHeidelbaugh J, Goldberg K and Inadomi J, “Adverse Risks Associated with Proton Pump Inhibitors.” Gastroenterol Hepatol (NY). 2009 Oct; 5(10): 725-734
iiYang YX, Lewis JD, Epstein S, Metz DC. “Long-term proton pump inhibitor therapy and risk of hip fracture.” Jama. 2006 Dec 27;296(34)2947-53
iiiShah NH, LePendu P, Bauer-Mehren A, Ghebremariam YT, Iyer Sv, Marcus J, et al. (2015) Proton Pump Inhibitor Usage and the Risk of Myocardial Infarction in the General Population. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0124653. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.014653
ivSegal HL, Samloff IM. “Gastric cancer- increased frequency in patients with achlorhydia.” Am J Dig Dis. Apr 1973;18(4):295-9.
vReinke CM, Breitkreutz, et al. “Aluminum in over-the-counter drugs: Risks outweigh benefits?” Drug Saf. 2003;26(14):1011-25.
viOliveria, S., Christos, P., Talle, N et. al., “Heartburn Risk Factors, Knowledge, and Prevention Strategies. A Population-Based Survey of Individuals With Heartburn.” Arch Intern Med. 1999;159(14):1592-1598.
viiLohsiriwat S., Rukkiat M., Chaikomin R., et al. “Effect of ginger on lower esophageal sphincter pressure.” J Med Assoc Thai. 2010 Mar; 93(3): 366-72.
viiiLohsiriwat S., Rukkiat M., Chaikomin R., et al. “Effect of ginger on lower esophageal sphincter pressure.” J Med Assoc Thai. 2010 Mar; 93(3): 366-72.
ixLangmead L, Feakins RM, Goldthorpe S, et al. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral aloe vera gel for active ulcerative colitis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2004;19(7):739-747.