If you suffer from heartburn and take antacids to get relief, you are not alone.  It’s estimated that 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn or reflux at least once a month.

It’s easy to understand why you reach for the antacids – they work.  You get fast relief, no more of that burning sensation or sour taste at the back of your throat.  It’s the reason why antacids are the third best-selling over-the-counter medication.

Why Do You Get Acid Reflux?

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid (aka HCl) back up into your esophagus (the tube that connects your throat and stomach) because your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is too weak to stay shut. The LES is a valve-like muscle between your esophagus and stomach.  When it becomes too weak it opens up and allows the stomach acid to flow back up.

It’s a common belief that we suffer from heartburn because our stomachs produce too much acid.  That’s why basic antacids (Rolaids, Tums) work to neutralize the acids in your stomach.  Stronger medications known as H2 Blockers (Zantac 75, Pepcid AC) decrease the flow of stomach acid and stronger still, PPI’s (Proton Pump Inhibitors) like Prilosec and Nexium markedly suppress stomach acids.

But contrary to this belief, too much stomach acid is not the problem.

The acid is necessary and overuse of medications which suppress it may just end up exacerbating the problem. Sufficient stomach acid is key in good health. Let’s see why.

Sufficient HCl is key to good health. Here is why:
1. Digestion and absorption pre-requisite 

HCl is essential in the breakdown of vital nutrients. It allows for the digestion and absorption of the trace minerals zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, calcium, selenium, and vitamins B12 and B3. It also triggers the pancreas to produce the bile and digestive enzymes needed to digest and absorb proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. If these nutrients are not properly digested and absorbed, a person can develop a deficiency which leads to other serious health issues. In other words, you can eat all you like and still your body will starve for nutrients.

2. Keeps pathogens at bay

HCl also serves to sterilize the stomach. This helps to kill off pathogens found in food and prevents the overgrowth of yeast, fungus, and bacteria. Those who have low acid levels in their stomach may experience chronic bacterial or yeast infections.

Why would we want too little of something which takes care of such important functions?

The Thyroid and Acid Reflux Connection

If you suffer from heartburn you might also experience bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea.  You see, our gut acts as the epicenter of our overall health and is, in fact, the host to our immune system.  Since 90% of thyroid conditions are autoimmune diseases (this means the immune system gets out of whack and attacks its own thyroid), this means there is a close connection between all that discomfort and what might be out-of-whack immune system.

What if instead of popping antacids you could start to fix your heartburn and all those other symptoms by incorporating lifestyle and dietary changes that strengthen your immune system?  And once you’ve got a strong, highly-functioning digestive and immune system, you might discover you have a renewed energy and vitality that you’ve never experienced before.

6 Tips to Overcome Acid Reflux

Tip #1: Go slow on grains. Make a conscious effort to calculate what the percentage is of  grains (rice, wheat, quinoa, corn, etc) and grain-derived food (bread, pasta, cakes, tortillas, crackers etc) you are eating daily. For many people, it can be as high as 50 to 70%. The issue with grains is: they turn into sugar when ingested and elevated sugar levels throw the pH of the body the acidic way. Reduce your grains to 10-20% of your diet and avoid gluten all together (gluten is found in wheat, spelt, rye and kamut grains). Most people with thyroid conditions find this dietary change very beneficial for the thyroid function too.

Tip #2: Avoid the big culprits. Start to keep a food diary of which foods aggravate your heartburn/reflux the most. Acidic foods like tomatoes, citrus fruit, peppermint, chocolate, spicy food, fried food and caffeinated drinks are common culprits. Alcohol and nicotine are too.  There could be more…do a full Elimination Diet to find out which foods have an effect on you.  Notice how you feel when you eat a lot of fatty, highly processed or sugary foods. It’s not uncommon for stress and medications like Ibuprofen and aspirin to contribute to heartburn as well.

Tip #3: Add more food-based probiotics. Probiotics are the healthy bacteria our gut needs to find a good balance and pH. Make it a point to pack your diet with foods like good quality yoghurt (the commercial big brands don’t count), kefir (home made is best), miso, kombucha, sauerkraut (only lacto-fermented, refrigerated, never from a shelf) or pickled dills. Pill-based supplements are only, as the name implies, to supplement, and should not be the sole source of good bacteria. Learn to make your own fermented foods and how to eat them in my Cooking for Hormone Balance cookbook.

Tip #4: Add Garlic. Garlic is known to be a home remedy for acid reflux. Add it to your cooking generously, about 2-3 cloves per day.

Tip #5: Apple cider vinegar – take 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (you can dilute it in 6 ounces of water) before meals.

Tip #6: Add HCL Betain pills – if the above don’t work, slowly adding some stomach acid pills (in HCl betain format), might be a good idea. I wrote this article about how to dose them.

I hope you find this article helpful. When you fix acid reflux, many of your hormonal issues will improve!