Natural Ways to Treat GERD

Millions of Americans suffer from the painful symptoms of gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), which causes heartburn and other uncomfortable symptoms. The good news is there are plenty of natural ways to treat GERD.

How does GERD occur, exactly? When we eat and drink, food and liquids pass from the throat to the stomach via the esophagus. A group of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) sits at the base of the esophagus. If the LES does not close properly, hydrochloric acid and food and drink can make their way back to the esophagus, and, because this tissue is not intended to handle strong acidity, inflammation occurs. The inflammation causes the feeling we know as heartburn. Risk factors for GERD are smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity, as well as some prescription medications.

People diagnosed with GERD often take over-the-counter antacids or even prescription medications such as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI). But don’t fret—there are plenty of natural remedies for GERD that won’t just relieve the pain of heartburn but will actually improve the pH level of the stomach, allowing for better digestion and less esophageal inflammation. (There’s also a danger of magnesium deficiency that comes along with prolonged PPI use, but we’ll cover that at a later date).

A more holistic treatment for GERD involves a diet rich in phytonutrient-dense vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins. Coconuts, avocados, olive oil and omega-3 fatty acid fish oil supplements (cod liver oil, for instance) are healthy fat sources. Healthy protein sources are wild-caught fish (salmon), grass-fed meat and free range poultry and eggs.

In addition, anti-inflammatory herbs such as cinnamon, ginger, oregano, garlic and turmeric can greatly aid in the digestive process. Avoid large, heavy meals and always eat at least two hours before going to bed. Another idea: drink water with 2 teaspoons of raw apple cider vinegar before a meal high in protein, as this will lower stomach acid and help prepare the stomach for digestion.

Finally, Pharmaca carries a number of natural and herbal formulations for GERD relief. Winnie, herbalist and lead practitioner at our South Boulder store, really likes treating heartburn symptoms with products like these:

  • Enzymatic Therapy’s DGL(in tasty German chocolate chewables)
  • Vital Nutrients Heartburn TX (a powder that can be mixed in water)
  • Powdered forms of slippery elm or marshmallow root (break open a capsule and mix with water–Winnie says it works almost immediately)

Winnie says she’s also seen great success with New Chapter’s Supercritical Omega-7, which helps repair the digestive lining instead of just treating symptoms (and is also great for the skin!).

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  3. Shirley says:

    Every medical website I have referred to says that fat exaccerbates GERD. No one recommends fat for it. Also I cannot understand your recommnedation for animal protein since it is so hard to digest and stays in the intestinal tract for days. I get really constipated from it and that makes the heartburn even worse.

  4. Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy says:

    Hi Shirley – thank you for your question. The intent of the author in this article is trying to convey that “good fats” should be included in the diet as opposed to “bad fats.” We all need to consume fats in our diet and those we choose to eat will make a difference on our overall digestive health. The fats suggested here are good sources to choose (avocados, fish oil, olive oil, etc.) compared to unhealthy fats such as fried foods and saturated fats. Consumption of healthy fats is recommended as a means to lessen your chances of making heartburn worse – not necessarily as a treatment for GERD.

    Regarding animal protein and it not digesting well for you, it may be that you are not producing enough stomach acid to break down the protein. The ability to secrete stomach acid decreases with age (or could be an anomaly for a younger person). Though it seems contradictory, often times the root cause of GERD can be from too little acid in the stomach (and this stands in the way of the body being able to break down the protein). My advice to you would be to try taking supplemental hydrochloric acid (HCl) with a meal that includes animal protein (Thorne Research makes a great product that combines pepsin and HCl, and Natural Factors makes a straight HCl). I would also consider a high quality digestive enzyme formula such as Digest Gold by Enzymedica. With any type of indigestion I also highly recommend a good probiotic such as Bio-K, Dr. Ohirras, Pharmax, Metagenics, Pharmaca brand or Flora. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to ask.
    Kate Brainard, ND

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