If you had a rock in your shoe would you take an Advil for the pain or simply remove the rock?
If you’ve been following me for a while now you know I’m all about getting to the root cause of an issue and addressing it, as opposed to using a Band-Aid approach. In the case of heartburn or acid reflux, Pepto-Bismol and acid stopping drugs like Nexium are temporary relief routes, so let’s explore a long term sustainable option that addresses the root cause instead!
What causes heartburn?
A lot of folks think too much acid causes heartburn and acid reflux because the actual feeling in the body is an ‘acidic’ one. You may have also heard that it’s caused by a faulty sphincter that separates the lower end of the esophagus from the stomach due to too much intra-abdominal (stomach) pressure. In turn this pressure causes tummy distention/bloating which pushes stomach contents back up through the esophagus…which is true; but what is causing the pressure to begin with? Funny enough one cause may actually be TOO LITTLE stomach acid…sorta ironic, isn’t it?
A common approach when heartburn or acid reflux kicks up is to take a drug that suppresses the production of stomach acid, and while these drugs can cause temporary relief they’re just that - temporary…reason being is that the original cause is most likely LOW stomach acid so we’re potentially shooting ourselves in the foot long-term.
Some of the long-term ailments associated with using acid suppressing drugs are:
-Impaired absorption of nutrients (i.e. B12, magnesium, calcium, iron, folate and zinc)
-Increased risk of bone fractures (most likely from nutrient deficiencies)
-Increased bacterial overgrowth in the intestines (talk to someone who has experienced small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, NOT FUN)
-Decreased resistance to infections
-Increased risk of cancer and other diseases (IBS, Crohn’s disease & other autoimmune conditions, depression, anxiety and asthma)
A side but super important note: the most common ‘class’ of acid supressing drugs called proton pump inhibitors were only approved for 8 weeks of use…clients come to me who have been on these things for YEARS!
So that’s the super geeky science stuff; let’s get to the good stuff…what to do!
The simplest and most effective approach in my opinion, is to skip any foods that you may potentially not tolerate all that well from a digestive standpoint. The common offenders are grains, legumes and dairy; however just because these are the common offenders doesn’t mean you specifically can’t tolerate them…it could potentially just be one of the three or something completely different. For instance, I don’t tolerate onions and garlic well (common intolerances). They taste great - however the yumminess isn’t worth the reflux/heartburn I experience after eating them. Same goes for various types of beans, so no chilli for this guy!
You might be wondering, if you’re not able to eat grains, legumes or dairy where in the world you will get calories from? Essentially you’re going to emphasize single ingredient whole foods such as:
Protein – Meat, fish, seafood, eggs, etc.
Carbs – Rice (technically a grain but well-tolerated), potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, rice pasta, squash, oats, quinoa, fruit, etc.
Fats – Nuts, nut butters, oils (skip processed vegetable oils), coconut milk, avocado, butter (dairy but well tolerated by most folks), aged cheeses, etc.
I will say the above is not a 'good' and 'bad' list of foods you 'should' eat vs. foods you 'should not' eat, it's just a starting point.
If you want to simplify things, the safest bet is to eat foods where they ARE the ingredient, as opposed to foods that contain multiple ingredients. For example…steak is steak, sweet potatoes are sweet potatoes and avocado is, in fact, avocado.
The cool thing is once you find out what the culprit or culprits of your heartburn are, you simply skip those foods and never have to resort to a drug or chest discomfort again. The added benefit equates to a better looking, performing and feeling YOU.