If you’re one of the millions of Americans who suffer from heartburn, you’ve likely been prescribed acid-suppressing drugs. These can temporarily relieve symptoms, but in the long term they often compound the acid problem. In order to heal acid reflux naturally and get off of PPIs or acid blocking drugs, discovering the root cause of reflux is key.
Stress is the number one trigger for acid reflux symptoms. While heartburn isn’t necessarily caused directly by stress, you may be more sensitive to the effects of acid reflux when you’re stressed. A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that the acid levels in stressed people with chronic heartburn were the same as unstressed people with chronic heartburn (1). The difference was that the stressed people experienced more intense symptoms.
Most people think that heartburn is caused by too much stomach acid, but in reality it’s a result of too little stomach acid. Low stomach acid contributes to bacterial overgrowth, which can increase intra-abdominal pressure (think: bloating), causing acid from the stomach to get pushed up through the esophagus, where it leads to symptoms of heartburn.
Certain foods could be making your acid reflux worse. High fat foods, chocolate, and coffee are all common aggravators because they relax the muscle designed to act as a barrier between the stomach and esophagus, allowing for acid reflux (2, 3, 4). Spicy foods can also be a trigger because they typically contain the compound capsaicin, which slows down digestion and can increase risk for heartburn (5).
At Parsley Health, we use a specific gut healing protocol for our patients with heartburn or GERD and work with them on an individualized diet to heal acid reflux for good. That involves getting rid of some of the sugars and processed foods that can fuel acid reflux and identifying trigger foods. We also encourage them to try things like meditation, breathwork, or yoga, to help them get their stress under control, reducing flare-ups.
Sometimes it may also be necessary to use antimicrobial supplements or even antibiotics to kill off overgrowth of bacteria in the upper gut. Supplements might also be used to help heal the stomach lining or help to solve the acid reflux temporarily while the gut heals.
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin completed medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.