Symptoms and natural treatments of indigestionIndigestion or heartburn can happen when your body has trouble digesting food. Anyone can get it on occasion, or it can be an ongoing problem.
Heartburn is especially prominent in December with so many holidays accompanied with delicious foods, that prompt us to overindulge.
While acid reflux is a common phenomenon, not all symptoms of it, are very obvious.
When heartburn happens, for instance due to smoking, alcohol, medication, carbonated drinks or some foods that are difficult to process (spices, fats, acids, fiber) may cause a valve-like stomach muscle to loosen, allowing stomach acid to backwash into the esophagus. This exposes sensitive tissue in the chest to stomach acids, causing painful symptoms.
Common symptoms of reflux are a burning feeling in your chest or stomach, burping, bloating, gurgling stomach, acid reflux, heartburn, nausea or even vomiting.
Problems in your GI tract or other health issues also can cause indigestion. These include:
- acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux (GER), or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): A reaction to food and drink where contents come back up from your stomach. The acid can come up into your esophagus, the tube-like organ connecting your mouth and stomach. Acid reflux also can produce vomiting. This condition causes heartburn because of the high acid contents.
- irritable bowel syndrome: a disorder that affects your intestines. Symptoms include stomach pain, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea.
- infection: a bacterial infection from Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) can cause indigestion
- gastroparesis: A condition that affects digestion. If muscles in your GI tract stop working, your body slows down or stops the movement of food. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, bloating, and acid reflux
- ulcer: A sore on the lining of your stomach (peptic ulcer), small intestine, or esophagus
- gastritis: Inflammation of your stomach lining
- stomach cancer: This is a rare condition, but indigestion can be one of its signs
Uncommon signs of acid reflux
Excessive salivationIf you notice your mouth salivating a lot more than usual, it could be acid reflux.
Salivating excessively is a relatively unusual symptom in which people can foam at the mouth, secreting as much as two teaspoons of saliva per minute in response to stomach acid irritating the esophagus.
Radiating pressureMany people often mistake acid reflux for a heart attack, and that is because it can cause extreme and painful pressure in the chest that radiates to other body parts. The radiating pressure is caused by the stomach acid irritating the esophagus and the pain radiating to arms, neck, or back.
A quick way to combat this symptom of radiating pressure is to remain in straight positions either sitting or standing, rather than slouching over or laying down.
This is also another indicator that the pain is because of acid reflux over a cardiac issues, as cardiac pain doesn’t subside even when you shift or straighten your position.
HeadachesThough headaches, mild or extreme, can be indicative of a number of different health issues, many people who suffer from GERD get frequent migraines or headaches. Acid reflux may make some patients feel pain in their head or sinuses, either chronically or with sudden shooting pains.
If you find yourself often having headaches but not many other symptoms of acid reflux, it is most likely the case that the headache may be linked to another issue. Either way, it’s important that you ask a doctor or physician about where the issue might be stemming from and how to handle it.
Chronic coughPeople with a decreased stomach acid are not able to digest their food and it sits in the stomach longer, causing upset, fermentation of carbohydrates, and possible regurgitating what little acid is there up through the esophagus causing reflux.
This regurgitation usually causes a cough, which may develop into a chronic cough lasting for over 2 months.
Hoarse voiceAcid reflux can affect your vocal chords, causing chronic inflammation. Reflux laryngitis can cause chronic hoarseness and affect your speaking or singing. Oftentimes people try to clear their throats, which can actually damage the throat more and make the problem worse. Although the best cure for the hoarse voice in this case is to heal the acid reflux, a temporary fix can be to drink plenty of liquids to avoid a dry throat and avoid overusing your voice.
Difficulty swallowingAcid reflux often causes difficulty swallowing. Chronic acid reflux can cause narrowing of your esophagus, making swallowing of both liquids and solids difficult. Chronic acid reflux creates the sensation that something is blocking your throat.
Bad breathIf you brush your teeth every day and still find that you've got some stinky breath, your acid reflux may be the root of your problem. Just as with many of the symptoms of acid reflux, bad breath is caused by the movement of stomach contents into the esophagus.
Since many people with GERD don't efficiently digest food in the stomach, it can start to decay there and contribute to bad breath.
Breathing issuesIf you have asthma, there's a higher likelihood you could get acid reflux, as coughing or wheezing from an asthma attack can cause the valve-like muscle to temporarily malfunction and loosen.
The reverse can happen as well. Acid reflux can irritate the bronchi and trigger breathing problems like asthma.
Breathing issues because of acid reflux can also stem from stomach acid contents entering the lungs during sleep.
Many people experience heartburn symptoms at night, and they can be quite unpleasant and disruptive. Not so far off from the symptom of coughing, the symptom of nighttime choking can occur because of the back-flow of stomach acid that especially occurs while laying down.
For some people, attacks of choking and retching about an hour after going to bed may signal acid reflux.
BurpingMany of the same things that contribute to gas also cause acid reflux, which means you may feel the urge to burp more than usual. This is because people with GERD tend to unconsciously force excessive air down their esophagus.
Although some people think belching can relieve acid reflux, it can actually make it worse.
Sore throatIf you feel like you have a chronically-sore throat, acid reflux could be to blame. The almost constant perception of a lump in the throat (irrespective of swallowing), has been related to GERD in some studies.
However, you can have a sensation of a lump in the throat for other reasons, including anxiety.
All of the previous symptoms discussed — coughing, burping, choking, difficulty swallowing — can lead to throat pain, especially when done constantly. But if you’re only experiencing a sore throat on its own, it’s most likely that it’s being caused by something other than acid reflux.
Natural remedies for heartburn or acid refluxWhile over-the-counter and prescription medications are available, if you suffer only from occasional heartburn, lifestyle changes and heartburn home remedies may be the route you want to take.
Baking sodaA small spoonful of sodium bicarbonate, can help put an end to the gnawing, burning, sensation of heartburn caused by acid reflux.
Baking soda, as sodium bicarbonate is more commonly known, can help your reflux and in turn help your heartburn because it is a base substance.
It has a pH higher than 7.0, and therefore neutralizes stomach acid. Neutralizing the stomach acid means that if your lower esophageal sphincter decides to be lazy and acid comes up your throat, you don’t get “burned.”
Aloe vera juiceAloe vera is a plant used to soothe burns, and people often think of using it to help something like sunburn, but it can do more than that. It may be able to help with heartburn too because it reduces inflammation. This means when your tummy starts getting irritated and inflamed, or your esophagus is getting eaten away at, a nice glass of aloe vera juice may be just the thing to help calm it down.
People with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or chronic heartburn, experience relief when they chew a piece of sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after a meal. This is because chewing gum stimulates the salivary glands, and increases the flow of saliva.
Any acid that has built up in the gut is diluted and washed away or cleared out more quickly. The clearance of acid then improves the symptoms of GERD and possibly that of occasional heartburn as well.
It’s our regular saliva that we swallow that actually makes normal bouts of reflux here and there completely painless.
Historically, chewing gum was made of mastic gum, which is a time-tested natural remedy to treat acid reflux and still used widely in Greece.
Elevate your headHeartburn tends to get worse at night, thanks to the fact that you’re lying down when you sleep. Gravity works against you, and it’s easier for the digested contents of your stomach to back up into your esophagus, along with acid.
Try elevating your head about 15cm when you sleep by placing blocks under the legs at the head of your bed. Don’t simply pile up extra pillows as it’s easy to slip off of them at night and may cause back problems.
Don’t lie down within 3-4 hours after eating, because lying down with a full stomach makes stomach contents press harder against your lower esophageal sphincter.
How, what, and when to eat
Watch how you eat: don’t inhale giant mouthfuls of food. Take smaller bites and eat slowly, allowing your stomach time to digest and without giving it an excuse to pump out excess acid.
Limit your fluid intake when you have solid food, so digestion can start with the saliva in your mouth.
Eat only when you are hungry, and eat a little less than what you feel like having.
Watch what you eat: You’re probably aware that specific foods trigger heartburn, usually foods high in acid (tomatoes or citruses) or spicy foods. Avoid these as best you can to ward off.
Watch when you eat: Don’t eat within 3-4 hours before bed. Lying down puts more pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter and increases the likelihood of acid sneaking through. Be aware this may prolong the time needed to fall asleep.
Get more acidWhen you have acid burning your esophagus, it seems quite counterintuitive to ingest even more acid. In many cases though, acid reflux is caused by having not enough acid in your stomach, rather than having too much, as over-the-counter or prescription “acid blockers” imply
It is the acid itself that tells the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to tighten and close off.
If you don’t produce enough acid, your LES is going to think it’s no big deal to loosen up for a little bit. Then of course, you get a reflux of acid into your esophagus. If you think this may be your case, try drinking some pure, raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to see if this prevents your reflux, or cuts it off.
Eat a banana or an appleBananas contain natural antacids that can act as a buffer against acid reflux. If you want to try out the simplest home remedies for heartburn first, try letting a few bananas ripen up nicely and eating one every day.
Another option is to try an apple a day. Slice one up and eat it a couple of hours before bedtime to relieve or prevent discomfort.
Ginger can help ease up a number of stomach woes, from nausea to acid reflux. Sipping a cup of fresh tea about 20 minutes before a meal can help calm down your stomach and act as an acid buffer.
Pineapple JuicePineapple juice contains bromelain, which helps with digestion.
Track your triggersIt takes time, energy, and dedication, but tracking what triggers your heartburn may be what ultimately makes it go away in the end. Instead of going crazy with what you eat and relying on over-the-counter medications to keep the acid at bay, keep a little diary of sorts that makes note of what you ate, and if/when it caused heartburn. Also keep track of activities and what you’re wearing (see next part)
Avoid tight fitting clothesThings cinched tightly about your waist or middle can worsen heartburn. If you have super tight jeans on, when you sit down, the waistband is going to sink into your abdomen region. Same goes for tight belts-and even shirts can be a problem for some. This is because all of the above puts extra pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter, which make it more likely stomach contents, will push through and you’ll experience reflux.
Smoking + alcohol = heart on fireSmoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol can set you up for terrible reflux. The nicotine and alcohol both work to weaken your LES, making it that much easier for stomach contents and acid to splash up into your esophagus. Alcohol is also going to irritate your stomach in general. The solution? Quit smoking, and drink less. Doing both will improve your health overall, in addition to relieving acid reflux.
Maintain a healthy weightBeing overweight increases your risk of GERD, and you’re going to suffer from occasional heartburn a lot more as well. This is because unnecessarily added pounds will put pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter. It will be more likely to loosen, and overtime it may simply weaken.
MustardMustard is an alkalizing food that is full of minerals, and contains a weak acid in the form of vinegar.
Because of its alkaline properties, it will help neutralize the acid that may come creeping up your throat, and therefore may neutralize the pain of acid reflux. It seems to be the most helpful if you’re feeling a bout of heartburn creeping up, or if you’re in the midst of one.
Snack on almondsA natural remedy for heartburn is to eat some almonds after every meal or even snack, preferably organic almonds. Almonds apparently neutralize juices in your stomach, relieving and preventing some instances of heartburn.
Drinking chamomile tea about an hour before you plan on going to sleep can help reduce inflammation in your stomach, and possibly balance out the acidity levels as well. It also does wonders for relieving stress, which can trigger acid reflux, and will help you sleep through the night as well.
Other supplemental remedies
Apart from taking food items you can find relief from heart burn with some natural supplements, such as limonene, and mastic gum.
If you think your digestion needs some extra help with enzymes, think about digestive enzymes or bromelain.
For those that have problems digesting fats, bile acid can help.
When heart burn is the result of stress, licorice root will calm you down and provide gastric relief as well.
ConclusionThe name heartburn is used for a good reason. The searing, burning, pain does indeed feel like someone lit a fire in your chest, and let the flames spread to your throat.
Certain medications may quell the discomfort, but they can have long-term side effects, create dependency, are hard on your system, and often times aren’t even necessary for occasional acid reflux. It may be awhile of trial and error when using natural remedies to find what works best to treat your heartburn, but in the long run, it’s well worth it.