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Acid Reflux

Acid reflux (aka ‘heartburn’, gastritis or GEDA - GastroEosophageal Reflux Disease) is a condition where the acidic contents of the stomach are partially regurgitated into the oesophagus, causing a burning sensation in the upper chest or throat. While this happens occasionally to most people, around 10% suffer excessively.

Causes

The immediate cause of heartburn is simple: a valve at the inlet of the stomach that should close tightly after food has entered the stomach, opens and allows stomach acids into the oesophagus when the stomach contracts to expel food into the intestine.

Why this happens is less clear. As acid reflux is often associated with alcohol, it may be reasonable to assume that alcohol reduces the efficiency of the valve, allowing reflux to occur. However, many people experience this problem in the absence of alcohol.

Suggested culprits in this case include simple over-eating, obesity (extra body mass and fat placing pressure on the stomach), excessive tea drinking which can ‘tan’ or harden exposed tissues, or drinking fluids that are too hot, causing damage to the sphincter. There is also a strong possibility that the sphincter may become damaged by the activity of bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori (the stomach ulcer bug). About 3/4 of people with recurring acid reflux test positive for H. pylori, and this is strongly indicative of a bacterial component or cause of acid reflux in many cases.

Things to try

For occasional incidences, an ‘antacid’ tablet will normally be enough to deal with the problem, but for those for whom ‘reflux’ is chronic and severe, this is obviously not the answer.

Several drugs have been promoted by the pharmaceutical companies in the past, but these have not proved effective, and in at least one case, have turned out to be be extremely dangerous. As most are designed to reduce stomach acid levels, there are also likely to be nutritional complications.

The first thing to do is probably to look for patterns that might relate particular foods or eating behaviours to the problem. If you can identify something that appears to be causal, then obviously it is just a question of eliminating the problem food or eating at different times or in smaller quantities.

Some natural remedies

Drinking milk and similar ‘traditional’ remedies are not generally effective. The following natural treatments have been recommended:

(1) Raw garlic. Many people have reported relief from eating raw garlic, although this might present a few problems in social situations! Garlic contains compounds (allicins) that can kill H. pylori bacteria and this is worth trying if possible. Simply chew a small clove twice a day or include one in a mixed ‘veggy’ juice made in a blender. The garlic must be fresh - capsules of ‘garlic oil’ do not contain enough allicins to be effective.

(2) Wormwood (Artemisia asiatica). Chewing dried wormwood has been reported as helpful by some sufferers. This herb can also also be obtained a a powder that can be loaded into gel capsules. The various species of Artemisia contain artemisins, compounds which are anti-malarial, anti-viral and may also have anti-bacterial effects.

(3) Aromatic herbs including anise, peppermint, and lavender. Normally taken as a tea to help reduce the strength of the acid in the stomach. Many ‘essential oils’ also have antibacterial qualities. Try mixing together a teaspoon each of dried aniseed, peppermint and lavender and make an infusion to drink. Take the tea morning and evening. (Note: the anise should be the variety called ‘green anise’, not ‘star anise’ or caraway.)

 

 

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