Summertime is finally upon us! It’s time to break out the BBQ and head to the beach for a picnic or to the cottage or camping with friends and family. The only bad part…heartburn from all the overindulgence!
Heartburn happens to be one of the most frequent complaints; a burning sensation in the chest usually following a meal and sometimes accompanied by belching, sore throat, cough, and halitosis (bad breath) that may get worse when lying down. Not all cases have the characteristic burning, even an undiagnosed cough or sore throat can be caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus and irritating the mucous membrane. Heartburn is a weekly occurrence for over 20% of North Americans. Occasional heartburn is not dangerous, however a chronic issue with heartburn can lead to serious problems.
Common causes of heartburn are pregnancy, obesity, and eating too many spicy foods. Conventionally, we think of heartburn being caused by too much stomach acid backing up the food pipe, so the treatments involve antacids and drugs that shut off production of stomach acid. That is not always the case; paradoxically we often see patients who don’t make enough stomach acid and are unable to fully digest their meals. For these patients the conventional treatments may provide temporary relief, however in the long-term can actually worsen the underlying condition, especially if it is related to low stomach acid in the first place. Once stomach acid makes it above the pyloric sphincter, the doorway that separates them, any small amount can irritate and damage the delicate lining of the esophagus.
The most common offending foods for heartburn sufferers are: alcohol, peppers and tomatoes (members of the deadly nightshade family of plants including tobacco), chocolate, citrus fruits, and coffee. Your food sensitivities can be determined with the help from your ND with a simple blood test or by doing an Elimination Diet.
H. Pylori is the bacteria best known for causing ulcers in the stomach. Unlike classic heartburn however, ulcers caused by infection with H. Pylori usually cause discomfort and pain in between meals or while sleeping rather than following a meal. This is one of the conditions actually associated with low stomach acid as the body shuts down production due to the excessively acidic environment created by the bacteria around the ulcer. H. Pylori is typically tested using either a urea breath test or by measuring antibodies in blood or antigens in stool.
When hydrochloric acid is low, the body is more susceptible to infection, Candida overgrowth, poor digestion and heartburn. If chronic yeast infections either systemic or local are a part of the picture, Candida is a major consideration. People with H. Pylori are more likely to have Candida and vice versa, and both conditions are characterized by poor stomach acid production. To assess if stomach acid production is an issue, there are a few tests that can be done that are relatively easy, fun and cost-effective: the Hydrochloric Acid Challenge and the Baking Soda Test.
There are many ways your Naturopathic Physician can help ease heartburn:
- Simple dietary changes
- Avoid known triggers
- Eliminate food sensitivities
- Focus on an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- Lifestyle modification
- Stress reduction
- Weight loss
- Stop Smoking
- Naturopathic Treatments
- Soothing Herbs; teas, capsules and chewables to replace over the counter ant-acids while addressing the root cause
- Digestive support
- Specialized testing to discover the root cause
- SIBO tests
- Food sensitivity testing
- Hydrochloric Acid challenge
- Comprehensive Stool Testing
- Physical Assessment
- Treating the root cause
- See your ND for details!
One more very important thing to know about heartburn is that some people have mistaken the symptoms of a heart attack for heartburn. If you are worried about chest pain you should not wait to get urgent medical care. If you experience a pain that feels like pressure or crushing on the chest, squeezing, tightness or fullness, if the pain spreads to other areas such as the jaw, or radiates down the arm, or if you experience other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, sweating, dizziness and fatigue seek medical attention immediately as this may indicate a potential heart attack.
Pitchford, P. Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition 3rd Edition. Berkley, California, North Atlantic Books, 2002.