Updated: May 25
When I was pregnant with each of my children I experienced heartburn when I lay down and tried to sleep. Heartburn is common in pregnancy because the baby is taking up space and pushing the abdomen upwards, and the contents of your stomach back into the oesophagus.
Many people suffer heartburn, or gastro-oesophageal reflux, when they are not pregnant. There can be many causes for reflux such as being overweight, eating too much, eating too fast, fatty meals, alcohol, coffee and acidic foods.
Some people also have food intolerances, histamine intolerance, anxiety or a sluggish digestive system that contribute to the reflux. When a client comes to see me with heartburn, these are some of the common ways that we address the problem:
Keeping a food and symptoms diary:
A food diary is a great starting point for a range of digestive problems, including reflux. Keeping a diary which tracks what you are eating and the symptoms you experience for a few weeks can often identify the food or food groups that are causing the reflux.
Once we identify the food culprit(s), we eliminate it for 3 months to give the stomach a rest from the foods that were causing problems. Tomatoes, citrus fruit and eggplants are common culprits. After some naturopathic gut healing, we slowly reintroduce any of the foods you choose to eat again.
Cut back on coffee and alcohol:
Coffee and alcohol can both hinder digestion and cause food to remain in the stomach for longer than usual. They can also contribute to histamine intolerance by suppressing the enzyme that breaks down histamine.
I recommend only 1 coffee per day, however some clients have found relief from reflux by completely eliminating coffee and switching to herbal tea.
I suggest to everyone that 3 or 4 days per week should be alcohol free days. Try cutting back the number of drinks you have on the weekend to see if it has a positive impact on the reflux.
Some people prefer to drink their alcohol and suffer the consequences, however acid reflux is damaging to the mucosal cells in the oesophagus and can lead to complications, and even cancer, if the reflux continues.
Gentle exercise is good for our health and the digestive system, however people with reflux should be aware of the timing and the intensity of their exercise. Exercising too hard or too soon after a meal can cause the reflux to worsen.
In my own practice I have noticed that people who are anxious and busy and rush their meals can suffer from heartburn. I strongly recommend mindfulness in all aspects of eating.
Be mindful of the size of the meal you plan to eat. Be mindful of what's in the meal and if it contains foods that often trigger reflux. Be mindful of sitting and relaxing to eat your meal so that you can digest it well. Be mindful of chewing instead of gulping your food.
Naturopaths treat reflux as a digestive system problem and we aim to improve all functions of the stomach.
I prescribe bitter herbs to stimulate digestive enzymes and digestive acid to deal with incoming food quickly and efficiently. I also recommend nutrients for healing the mucosal cells in the stomach and the oesophagus. Healthy gut cells are able to produce sufficient amounts of enzymes and acids to breakdown food.
Naturopaths may also prescribe herbs to calm and reduce the symptoms of reflux and lessen any food intolerances. In my experience herbal medicine, in combination with diet changes and lifestyle changes, works gently to heal heartburn.
Reflux isn't just experienced by pregnant women and overweight people. Most of the people I have treated for reflux have not been overweight. Excess weight that is carried on the hips is not a concern for reflux.
People who are overweight and tend to carry it on their abdomen can find that their stomach is pushed upwards, especially when seated, and this can contribute to reflux. If this is you, then weight loss will be part of the wholistic treatment of your reflux.
If you regularly experience reflux or heartburn then please reach out for a consultation. I would love to help you to enjoy eating again without worrying about what foods might upset you.
Hi! I'm Simone Jeffries. I am a naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist and certified wellness coach. I'm also a foodie and an advocate for eating a whole food diet.
This blog contains information from my Bachelor of Health Science degree, continuing research, and from experience gained from working with men and women in my clinic.
The blog is not intended as individual health advice and you should seek assistance for medical conditions. Reflux can have serious consequences if not properly diagnosed and treated.