GERD be gone! Herbs for heartburn

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a disorder of the esophagus and is the most common reason for heartburn. GERD occurs when a muscular ring called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is weakened, which allows irritating, acidic stomach contents to pass up into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn. Other symptoms include regurgitation of food into the mouth, leaving an acid or bitter taste. People with GERD may also experience coughing while lying down and difficulty sleeping after eating.

Studies on GERD reveal that the following dietary changes and herbal supplements may significantly improve symptoms.

Diet and lifestyle changes: Most people who suffer heartburn know that certain types of food can aggravate the condition. According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, the most common “triggers” of GERD-related heartburn include fatty foods, chocolate, caffeine, onions, spicy foods, mint and alcohol. Eating a large meal or lying down soon after eating may also bring on a spell of heartburn. Smoking is another strong risk factor for GERD, as nicotine weakens the LES. Studies show that obese people experience heartburn and GERD more than people of average weight.

DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice): This form of licorice comes in a chewable tablet and is taken before meals. It decreases inflammation and forms a physical barrier against stomach acid to protect the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. In one study, compounds in DGL were found as effective as a common drug treatment for GERD.

Aloe vera: The gel from this plant is one of the first things we reach for to soothe a burn or sunburn, and it is used for heartburn for the same reason. Aloe contains a gummy material that acts as a soothing emollient on injured and inflamed tissue. It also dilates capillaries to increase blood flow to damaged tissue and speed up healing. Both of these features can soothe and heal sore tissue in the esophagus, as well as ulcers. For heartburn relief, experts recommend drinking a half-cup of aloe vera juice between meals.

While mint is considered a heartburn trigger in some cases, many people — and herbalists — swear that peppermint and spearmint can help heartburn, along with other digestive complaints. Herbalist James Duke advocates mint, and also considers camomile a great choice for heartburn and stomach distress.

Chronic irritation from stomach acid can lead to serious problems, so do discuss your case with a health professional if you suspect you suffer from GERD or long-term heartburn.

Sources: The Green Pharmacy by J Duke, St Martin’s:1997; Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (2nd Ed) by M Murray and J Pizzorno, Prima:1998; The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs, Reader’s Digest:1999; mayoclinic.con; healthwell.com