QUESTION: Not long ago, I went to the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack. I felt a squeezing sensation in my chest. The tests revealed that my heart was fine, but that I had GERD. I was prescribed a prescription medication to treat the heartburn. Can you recommend a healthier treatment for GERD?
ANSWER: GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is an excess of stomach acid that rises into the esophagus. This causes heartburn—a burning discomfort behind the breastbone that can be mistaken for a heart attack. If the heartburn occurs more than once a week, you could have GERD.
While prescription medication may be necessary at times to treat GERD, I definitely prefer natural alternatives, since certain heartburn drugs have been shown to have negative long-term effects. In a recent study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016, the class of drugs commonly used to treat heartburn known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) appeared to raise the risk of ischemic stroke.
The researchers studied almost 245,000 Danish adults and found that participants were at 21 percent greater risk of ischemic stroke when they were using PPIs, compared with when they were not using the drugs. The researchers did note that there was little or no greater risk of stroke with low doses of PPIs and that the use of H2 blockers—another group of medications often used to treat heartburn—was not linked to increased stroke risk. That said, there are a number of natural treatments for GERD that don’t produce any serious side effects.
Look at Your Lifestyle
Anybody with GERD should avoid what I call the four evils: tobacco smoke, aspirin, alcohol, and caffeine. These substances have the potential to weaken the sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach below. If the sphincter loosens, more acid can reflux upward causing the irritation and discomfort.
In addition, here are some treatments for GERD that have helped patients of mine. Try one or two for a week and see what works best for you.
Natural Treatments for GERD
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (extracted from licorice root) promotes repair and regrowth of the digestive tract lining and is very soothing. Take it as a tincture under the tongue, a full dropperful three times throughout the day. Or you can also use chewable tablets. Take 250 to 500 mg once or twice a day after meals.
Glutamine is an amino acid that supports the immune system and also has GI tract reparative properties. One patient experienced relief from 1,000 mg of glutamine in ginger tea daily. I suggest 1 to 3 grams a day. Take as powder or capsule.
Slippery elm tea may also be beneficial, taken after meals or at night. This herb is very soothing for the digestive tract.
Kimchi, a cabbage-based Korean staple, was hailed by Health magazine as one of the five healthiest foods in the world (along with yogurt, olive oil, soy, and lentils). Cabbage contains a substance known as vitamin U, which has anti-ulcer properties. Several patients have told me they “cured” their reflux problem by adding this dish to their diet. As a note of caution, while cabbage, along with other cruciferous vegetables, has a reputation for protection against gastritis and ulcers, don’t overdo it. These vegetables have the potential to cause gas, and the last thing somebody with GERD wants is bloating and more GI discomfort.
You can purchase all of these treatments for GERD at most health-food stores.