Dear Annie, what kind of natural help is there for someone diagnosed with Acid Reflux or GERD?
Thank you for your great question. Over 60 million Americans experience acid reflux (also known as heartburn) at least once a month. Some studies suggest that more than 15 million Americans, that’s about 18% to 27% of the total population, experience daily symptoms of acid reflux and GERD. And the epidemic isn’t limited to America. It’s estimated that up to 33% of Asians and up to 25% of Europeans also experience Acid Reflux or GERD every day. Let’s start by understanding a little more about whats going on.
About Acid Reflux and GERD
Acid Reflux or heartburn is also called Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER). All of these terms refer to the backward flow of stomach acids up into the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth with the stomach). Usually any backward movement is stopped by the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. When the LES becomes incompetent or lax the stomach content are allowed to flow in reverse. This is called Acid reflux, and can cause a great deal of discomfort including intense burning sensations in the chest (known as heartburn), usually after eating, and often worse at night. There may be chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and regurgitation of food or sour liquid.
Advanced stages of Acid Reflux is called (GERD) or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. As the problem worsens, symptoms such as nausea, bloody vomit or stools, weight loss and chronic sore throat, dry cough, and hoarseness may also be present. Chest pain is the most common symptom. The pain can last for hours and is sometimes mistaken for a cardiac event.
Common Causes of Acid Reflux
- Structural – GERD is common in pregnancy and obesity. As the uterus or other body tissues put pressure on the stomach and the LES, the pressure causes acid to backup.
- The overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a common type of bacteria found in the stomach and intestinal tract is often present with Acid Refulx and GERD.
- Lifestyle choices that include a diet heavy in foods and substances that loosen the LES or help to alter the biological balance of the GI ecosystem. These include but are not limited to coffee, alcohol, smoking, chocolate and sugar.
- Chronic use of over the counter medications like Aspirin and Tylenol as well as some prescription medication can cause inflammation in the mucosal lining of the stomach, esophagus and LES.
- Too much or too little stomach acid. With an imbalance in the mucosal lining and contents of the stomach there can be either too much or too little stomach acid, both of which can Acid Reflux.
Natural Solutions for Acid Reflux and GERD
Let me first explain that in holistic health and herbal therapies there is no one size fits all approach or prescription to any physical or emotional condition. When seeking to treat any problem naturally, we first identify the cause and try to understand the individual experience or symptoms of each person. Everyone is unique. We all live life and experience things in our own way. We all have a different constitution, diet and background. All of this is taken into consideration when making any kind of individualized suggestion. Please take your own special situation into consideration. If you need help, call your Dr, Herbalist or a knowledgeable friend for help. Now, with that said, let us begin.
Test for H. Pylori
If you have been diagnosed with Acid Reflux or GERD, did your Dr check for H. Pylori? When working with herbal remedies and holistic solutions, we always consider, or assume there is an overgrowth of H. Pylori. However, If you are working with a Dr, they have tests to verify its overgrowth in the upper GI and stomach.
Next, take a look at your diet. Rather than going into a lengthy dietary discussion here, Click this link. It will take you to a very good website about diet changes for GERD by the International Foundation of Gastrointestinal Disorders. Not every dietary recommendation works for everyone. A food journal will help you make sense of what does and doesn’t work for you.
Test Your Stomach Acid
Test if your system has too much or too little stomach acid. Do this by taking 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or herbal bitters. If the symptoms get worse or flare up, you have too much stomach acid. If the symptoms decrease you have too little. It may seem counter intuitive, but when your system isn’t creating enough stomach acid, the LES relaxes. Even small amounts of acid backing up can cause pain and long-term damage.
Herbal Suggestions for Acid Reflux and GERD
Herbs to Work with Acid Refux and GERD
Herbal treatment may work more effectively in a formula or well-rounded protocol with several herbs working together. When considering individual botanicals and their medicinal actions for GERD, we will want to look at the following categories;
Vitalizing Herbs such as Slippery Elm, Licorice root, Marshmallow root, and Chamomile rebuild digestive mucosa and reduce the frequency and intensity of symptoms.
Demulcent or mucilaginous herbs like Slippery Elm, Plantain, Marshmallow root, and Comfrey provide a protective, soothing and healing layer between the stomach contents and tissues. Demulcent herbs help to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn, painful swallowing and sour burping.
Anti-inflammatory herbs reduce mucosal inflammatory response. Calendula, Chamomile, Fennel, Wild Yam, Licorice and Plantain fall into this category.
Astringent herbs may help tighten a lax esophageal sphincter and lesson any bleeding that may occur. Astringent herbs include Plantain, Oak bark, Witch Hazel, Wild Yam root, and Comfrey.
Carminative herbs such as Fennel, Chamomile, Oregano, and Wild Yam assist with the overall digestive process. They can help to alleviate gas and bloating associated with acid reflux and GERD.
Anti-Infective or Anti-Microbial herbs restore the balance of micro-organisms that live throughout our entire digestive system. They may also check any bacterial or viral overgrowth. Herbs in this category include Chamomile, Plantain, Licorice, and Oregano.
Vulnerary Herbs heal the mucosal skin and ulcerations. Calendula, Plantain, Comfrey root, and Chamomile.
This list is by no means conclusive. As you can see, there are many recurring herbs in each category. We’re looking for 1 or 2 herbs in each category for an effective formula. Each herb has many uses.
Herbs to work with Acid Reflux
|Vitalizing Herbs||Demulcent Herbs||Herbs for Inflammation||Astringent Herbs||Carminative Herbs||Anti-Microbial Herbs||Vulneray Herbs|
|Slippery Elm Bark||Slippery Elm Bark||Calendula||Plantain||Fennel||Chamomile||Calendula|
|Licorice Root||Plantain||Chamomile||Oak bark||Chamomile||Licorice||Plantain|
|Marshmallow Root||Marshmallow Root||Fennel||Witch Hazel||Oregano||Plantain||Comfrey|
|Chamomile||Comfrey||Wild Yam||Wild Yam||Wild Yam||Comfrey||Chamomile|
Herbs to Avoid when working with Acid Reflux and GERD
Before we get into protocols, there are a few herbs you want to avoid. If your stomach acid is high, you probably want to avoid bitter herbs like Barberry (Berberis vulgaris and spp), Gentian, and Yarrow. Bitter herbs stimulate digestive fluids and could make symptoms worse.
Peppermint and the mint family in general are contra-indicated in cases of acid reflux and GERD because they relaxe the digestive muscles including the LES. Please pay attention to your body. If something makes symptoms worse even if the literature says it will help, believe in yourself. DON’T DO IT!
One possible Acid Reflux or GERD Formula Mix individual plant extracts (tinctures) or bulk herbs 2 parts Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) 1 parts Plantain (Plantago major) 1 parts Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) or Slippery Elm Bark ( Ulmus rubra) 1/2 part licorice root (Glycoryrriza glabra) Take 30 to 60 drops of the extract 2 to 3 times per day for approximately 5 ml total per day The addition of 1-part Fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare) would be nice in the tea.
For more information about how to make the tea or infusion please see the presentation Nourishing Tea.
GERD Formula by David Hoffman Mix individually prepared herbal tinctures or extracts 2 parts Comfrey Root (Symphytum officinale) 2 parts Marshmallow Root (Althaea Offininalis) 1 part Calendula officinalis 1 part Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) Take 60 to 90 drops (2 or 3 dropper fills) 3 to 4 times per day
Other Natural Recommendations
- Sip on Chamomile tea throughout the day.
- Raise the head of the bed at night if lying down worsens symptoms
- Eat smaller more frequent meals
- Eat 3 or 4 hours before bed
- Gentle breathing exercises with a focus on the inhale and a gentle pause after the inhale may help. (These should be taught by a qualified teacher or yoga therapist).
Herbs and Products from Wonderment Gardens
Wonderment Gardens Digestive Tea is a pleasant mixture of Fennel, Coriander and Cumin to help ease gas, bloating, flatulence and digestive upset
The Reflux Formula By Wonderment Gardens is a tincture formula designed to ease the uncomfortable symptoms of acid reflux and GERD while supporting and healing the system.
Affiliate Product Suggestions
The following are affiliate links. That means, if you purchase a product through one of the links, I make a commission at no additional cost to you. Rest assured I only suggest products I can support and feel confident about. Thank you for your support.
You simply can’t go wrong with Gaia brand herbs. Gaia is a brand you can trust for high quality and sustainable, organic ingredients. These chewable Reflux Relief tablets are made with organic Aloe, Chamomile, Licorice and Spearmint. they are pleasant-tasting and help maintain a healthy stomach acid balance while promoting healthy overall stomach function. Worth a try
Planetary Herbals is another great, longstanding company that you can trust. I’ve been purchasing herbs and formulas from Micheal Tierra’s company since the 1990’s. DGL works well when the pain of digestion and acid comes after eating. Chew tablets 20 minutes before eating for the best results. DGL decreases H. Pylori, heals stomach and esophageal mucosa and decreases pain and inflammation. Pretty darned nifty.
US Wellness Offers high grade organic Chamomile flowers for tea. To make tea put 1 or 2 teaspoons in boiling water for 3 to 5 min. Be sure to cover the cup or pot to keep the aromatic properties in your infusion.
Traditional Medicinals makes a lovely organic Chamomile tea for those who prefer their tea in pre-made pouches.
Below is a search bar for any bulk herbs you may need. My favorite brands right now are Starwest Botanicals and Mountain Rose Botanicals. Whenever possible I always buy organic.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. It is my bliss to have the opportunity to share my experience and research with you. I hope you find it helpful. I would love to hear from you. Please contact me about your thoughts, ideas and experiences.
Notes from Foundational herb craft, actions and energetics of foundational herbalism by Jim McDonald
Notes from David Hoffman’s lecture Gastroesophageal Reflux, Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicines 2009
Notes from Jillian E. Stansbury ND’s lecture Esophageal Disorders, Southwest Conference on Botanical medicines 2003
These statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.
Herbs taken for health purposes should be treated with the same care as medicine. Herbal remedies are no substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you are serious about good health, you’ll want to combine diet, exercise, herbals, a good relationship with your doctor and a generally healthy lifestyle. No one of these will do it alone.
This information is designed to be used as part of a complete health plan. No products are intended to replace your doctor’s care, or to supersede any of his/her advice or prescriptions.