How to Get Rid of Heartburn and Indigestion Naturally

What is Heartburn and Indigestion?

Heartburn and indigestion are really just synonyms of each other and describe a similar group of symptoms. When this disorder progresses, it can develop into a much more severe medical condition called GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. The word heartburn is somewhat misleading, as it is not an indicator that there is a problem with the heart, instead is a problem with the stomach and/or esophagus.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Chest burning, aching (becoming worse with laying down)
  • Bloating after meals
  • Intolerance to spicy foods, citrus, coffee, and other acidic foods
  • Nausea after eating
  • Regurgitation producing a sour or bitter taste creating the sensation of acid in the back of the throat
  • Frequent clearing of the throat

Other, less common symptoms include:

  • Belching
  • Hiccupping
  • Gas
  • Pagophagia (The desire to chew ice)
  • Anemia
  • H pylori infections

Risk Factors

  • H pylori infections
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Use of antacid medications (prescribed and OTC medications)
  • History of diagnosed Autoimmune disorders

Identify the Cause to Find The Cure

When working in the field of Functional Diagnostic Medicine, the goal is always the same: to determine the root cause of any disorder and/or symptom. Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and indigestion have many unique causes that must be determined if there is to be any hope for a reduction or resolution of symptoms.

Causes of heartburn and indigestion vary greatly; as a result, few people find the solution to their problem and are forced to accept a pill that never corrects the underlying cause of their symptoms. Identifying the root cause of any health disorder (including heartburn and indigestion) is almost impossible in western, conventional medicine since it is practically exclusively based on pharmaceutical efforts. As a result, few people have had complete resolution or even partial relief from this disorder and are currently living a life of pain, discomfort, and frustration without having any solutions.

Since you are reading this, you have either: 1) achieved only partial symptom relief or 2) you have achieved no relief at all. If you find yourself in either of these situations, read on to discover the multiple causes of heartburn and indigestion.

The Primary Cause of Heartburn and Indigestion (It is not what you think)

Since the beginning of time, the majority of heartburn, indigestion, and GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) cases have been blamed on the result of having too much stomach acid, or an “overproduction” of stomach acid. In all seriousness, this does appear to make sense to the patient since their symptoms drastically improve with antacid medications and become aggravated when consuming acidic or spicy foods. In this situation it makes perfect sense; however, it is almost never due to having too much acid but these symptoms are caused by having too little stomach acid or acid is in the wrong place altogether.

Why We Need Stomach Acid (And lots of it)

Stomach acid is crucial for survival, with immune defense, nutrient absorption, and helping keep acid where it should be. There are 3 major reasons why we need an abundant amount of stomach acid for survival.

1. Killing Bugs

We are constantly consuming pathogenic bacteria which can be extremely detrimental to our health. This bacteria is found practically everywhere from the food we consume, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Humans are living amongst a constant army of pathogenic bacteria which are attempting to make our bodies their host. Humans have many different layers of immune defenses or barriers, the majority of which cannot be explained here, but are constantly working to protect us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year. It is such a miraculous system that we are not even aware of the eradication of the majority of these threats, such as when we are fighting a common cold or flu. One of the most vulnerable of these immune barriers is the digestive tract; this is where our digestive system connects and communicates with our bloodstream. As a result, any pathogenic bacteria have the opportunity to get within close proximity to access our blood supply and cause serious infection and even death. Fortunately, this rarely happens since we have protective bacteria and ample stomach acid which maintains the integrity of these immune barriers.

This stomach acid is in the form of HCL (Hydrochloric Acid) and not only maintains the environment for allowing healthy bacteria to flourish but also works at killing pathogenic bacteria and parasites that we consume multiple times per day. One of the most notorious of these stomach bacteria is called H-Pylori (Helicobacter Pylori), which has the unique ability to turn off acid production in the stomach by excreting its waste product urease. Once H-Pylori excretes enough urease, stomach acid production decreases which further promotes a favorable environment for H-Pylori to infect the body.

2. Absorbing Nutrients

Many foods which we consume require significant stomach acid to digest. This means that without enough HCL we are unable to extract the precious nutrients required for our body to thrive. There are many nutrients that are dependent on stomach acid for absorption; however, the most common nutrient deficiencies from low stomach acid are calcium, iron, B9, and B12. Common disorders associated with these deficiencies include osteoporosis, osteopenia, iron deficiency anemia, and pernicious anemia.

3. Closing the Door (Keeping acid where it should be)

HCL also has the unique function of keeping the LES (Lower Esophageal Sphincter) closed when required. The LES should only open to allow food to move through the esophagus and enter the stomach; however, when there is reduced stomach acid (HCL) present in the stomach the LES will open. To explain this, I like to say that the LES works off an “acid switch” in that when there is sufficient acid, the LES receives an acid signal and the door stays closed which in turn prevents acid from climbing up the esophagus causing heartburn and symptoms of indigestion.

Stomach Acid’s Effect On The Lower Esophageal Sphincter

The Six Causes of Heartburn and Indigestion

1. Foods

There are many different foods and food types that aggravate and amplify Heartburn and indigestion. Below is a list of the three most common mechanisms and associated foods which cause and contribute to these symptoms

Inflammatory proteins– These are foods that have characteristics of creating inflammation, or “immune irritation.” There are many foods that cause inflammation, and to truly know if a food is causing inflammation (immune irritation), high-quality food sensitivity, or immune reactivity blood tests should be conducted.

In addition to identifying and knowing your specific food sensitivities some common inflammatory foods are:

  • Processed sugars
  • Processed meats
  • Simple carbohydrates- Foods such as breads, pastas, and processed grains all spike blood sugar promoting the need for large amounts of insulin. High levels of insulin= high levels of inflammation.

Foods that are difficult to digest- If your body has the challenge to digest a specific food it will always be inflammatory since foods that are slow to digest begin decaying in your digestive tract. Below are some foods that are very difficult to digest:

  • Gluten– This is a very resistant protein to digestive processes; for everyone, not only gluten-reactive/sensitive individuals
  • Grains– Modern grains have evolved through commercial agricultural practices faster than our digestive tracts. As a result, grains have become (overall) very difficult to break down
  • Dairy– Humans are the only adult mammal to steal the milk of another mammal. As a result, our bodies do not completely recognize animal dairy as a familiar protein which results in a challenge to the digestive tract.

Acidic Foods– These are foods such as processed sugars, coffee (organic is less acidic), processed meats, tomato products, citrus, most canned foods, and any foods rich in preservatives. Acidic foods lower the PH of the stomach (increasing acidity of the stomach), and this tricks the acid-producing cells of the stomach to produce less effective stomach acid (HCL). As a result, acidic foods ultimately replace your effective stomach acid and your LES can open; your existing stomach acid crawls up into your esophagus and you will experience the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion.

Spicy food– Spicy food is not always acidic, few herbs and spices are actually acidic so this must be differentiated from the acidic foods in the causes of heartburn and indigestion. When spicy foods cause a problem, this is an indicator of a problem that has been progressing. It almost always means that the protective mucous lining (barrier) which coats the inside of the stomach has been compromised. When this happens, irritating foods such as spicy foods aggravate the stomach lining. To address and restore the mucous lining of the stomach continue reading.

2. Stress (Physical, Chemical, And Emotional)

When we think of stress we should not only think of it in terms of emotional, but also physical, and chemical. Stress is simply something that pushes the body out of balance or homeostasis at a cellular level. Stress is extremely dynamic, in that what adversely affects one individual may not have any effect on another or may create a different symptom altogether! Stress is a very common cause of a compromised digestive tract and also can be a major contributor to heartburn and indigestion and the most common mechanism is through the nervous system.

Stress, Your Nervous System, Heartburn, and Indigestion

The autonomic (automatic) nervous system is made up of two parts; the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. Our nervous system is highly influenced by stress (physical, chemical, or emotional), and has the ability to push our body into a “fight or flight” (sympathetic state). Once our body has been put into this sympathetic state, all physiological processes that are not required for immediate survival are inhibited or “shut down” and only the processes required for survival are prioritized.

This ultimately or at least to some extent results in many non-survival systems becoming inhibited. One of these non-survival processes is digestion, and when the body moves into a “fight or flight” mode all digestion becomes down-regulated. Some consequences of downregulated digestion include reduced production of digestive enzymes which also includes stomach acid. When someone is in a heightened level of stress, I will always consider this mechanism as a cause of their symptoms of heartburn or indigestion.

3. Autoimmunity

Autoimmune disorders are extremely common and are currently plaguing our society. This is when our immune system becomes confused and starts turning against us and damaging our own tissues. This is a huge topic, you can learn more about autoimmunity and autoimmune disorders here.

Parietal Cell Function

So how does autoimmunity cause heartburn and indigestion? The secret has to do with the small, and fragile acid-producing cells of the stomach. When the immune system creates an excess number of antibodies (immune soldiers) programmed to target parietal cells (acid-producing cells), there becomes a stomach acid deficiency (hypochloridria). This is just one of many examples of what causes low stomach acid that can result in heartburn and indigestion.

4. Hiatal Hernias

Out of all the causes on this list, Hiatal hernias are probably one of the least common causes of heartburn and indigestion. However, when I have a patient that has been struggling with unresponsive heartburn it is absolutely imperative to have an upper GI study performed or a (less invasive) barium swallow- x-ray.

The mechanism of how a hiatal hernia causes heartburn or indigestion is relatively simple. It is simply a mechanical obstruction of the diaphragm which interferes with the LES’s (Lower Esophageal Sphincter’s) ability to close. This allows stomach acid (HCL) to enter the lower part of the esophagus and cause heartburn and/or indigestion.

Hiatal hernia interfering with the lower esophageal sphincter

If this has been confirmed with one of the strategies mentioned above, surgical consultation should be conducted as soon as possible. I have witnessed that when this is the diagnosed problem, Hiatal repair surgeries have literally reversed heartburn and indigestion symptoms- overnight!

5. Helicobacter Pylori (H Pylori)

Helicobacter Pylori

H Pylori is both a cause and outcome of low HCL and the resulting symptoms of heartburn and indigestion. Helicobacter Pylori is a bacteria that most humans are exposed to from the water they drink and sometimes the food they eat.

Another common avenue of exposure is from their pets; most commonly dogs licking the faces of their owners! Dogs tend to have high levels of H Pylori in their saliva and stomachs; however, this does not cause a problem for them since they have a very high concentration of stomach acid which destroys the H Pylori before it becomes problematic.

Any single cause of low stomach acid allows H Pylori to infect the body and once H Pylori has established its presence in the stomach it excretes an enzyme called urease which shuts off the acid-producing parietal cells of the stomach. This in turn creates a low acidic environment which further facilitates Hpylori and allows it to thrive in your stomach causing more havoc and pain.

6. Medications

Medications can be the original cause of heartburn and indigestion, and since pharmaceuticals have an average of 7-14 different side effects this should always be a consideration when searching for the root cause. In many cases, heartburn/acid reflux/ indigestion medications are prescribed for a disorder that is the result of a short-term dysfunction but creates a long-term problem and sometimes dependency.

The most important thing to know about all heartburn and indigestion medications is that they are designed to inhibit or reduce your stomach acid. These acid inhibitors do such an effective job that they almost always are 100% effective at eliminating the painful symptoms experienced with heartburn and indigestion, and are the reason why they are the “go-to” strategy for this disorder. The symptom may disappear, but all of the dysfunction associated with hypochloridria including the risk of developing H Pylori infections will drastically increase.

What Can You Do?

As I emphasized above, the solution to heartburn and indigestion must be specific to the cause if there is any hope of being effective, and more than just the symptom should be addressed. Finding a provider who will guide you through the list of items above will be crucial in overcoming this dangerous and chronic disorder.

In addition, we can help and have been able to work with many clients remotely. Click here to schedule a free 15-minute consultation and we can discuss your unique case.