Ask Gerda: A Simple Approach to Heartburn Relief and Digestive Comfort?
Gerda Endemann, our senior director of science and research, has a BS in nutrition from UC Berkeley, a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from MIT, and a passion for cherry-picking from our wellness shop. She spends a lot of her time interpreting research—established and emerging. And our wellness routines thank her for this. (Yours will, too. Send us your own questions for Gerda: [email protected].)
Dear goop, Heartburn is a new thing for me. I keep telling myself that I just need to meditate and deal with stress better, but I feel acid coming up into my throat every so often. I don’t really want a prescription—are there other options? —Melissa B.
Hi, Melissa. Of course, talk with your doctor—especially if this is a chronic feeling. For occasional heartburn, I like an old-fashioned remedy the best—but with a new twist. The tried-and-true part is chewable antacid tablets containing calcium to sop up stomach acid. The new part is the absence of artificial flavors and colors, talc, and lactose in Genexa’s Heartburn Fix. Everyone should have this staple in their medicine cabinet.
Genexa was founded by two dads who wanted clean OTC medicines for their kids (and themselves), and they’ve made a fantastic chewable antacid that’s organic and non-GMO. I love looking at the list of inactive ingredients and seeing “beet root” instead of “red dye 40.”
These days I’m obsessed with the philosophy of the companies that make products I use. Why not support a company that treats its workers and the environment well? Genexa is a certified B Corp—this means using business as a force for good—and is certified by Green America and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, evidence of its commitment to treating its employees fairly and to caring for the environment.
Back to heartburn—it’s complicated. A sphincter muscle between the throat and the stomach should keep acid in the stomach, and we don’t really know why it stops doing its job. This can be a side effect of certain medications. And it’s commonly triggered by alcohol, spicy foods, and chocolate.
We don’t have easy ways to make this sphincter do its job properly. So we try to get rid of the acid. The problem with this approach is that the stomach makes acid for a reason: It’s needed to digest protein and to absorb iron and vitamin B12. If you can avoid taking antacid drugs every day by taking Heartburn Fix occasionally for quick relief, that’s the way to go. If acid reflux is a chronic problem, acid could damage your esophagus, so (again) consult with your doctor.
As you alluded to, it’s become pretty common to use OTC or prescription drugs—proton-pump inhibitors or H2 blockers—for heartburn. If you choose the drug option, read the label carefully for statements like “do not use this product for more than fourteen days.” Talk to your doctor about the increased risk of pneumonia and Clostridium difficile infections associated with chronic use. Use of these drugs should be tapered off gradually to minimize the rebound effect of increased acid production.
From Ayurvedic medicine, I like a couple of longer-term approaches to a healthy gut. Triphala is a formula used traditionally as a digestive tonic to gently nourish and support the GI tract, as well as to support elimination. This formula is considered to be foundational for any Ayurvedic wellness regimen—as is healthy digestion.
Organic India makes the traditional triphala formula containing a blend of three organic fruits: amla (also known as amalaki), bibhitaki, and haritaki. Try taking this twice daily with water before or after meals.
The fruits in triphala are also part of Reflux Rescue, a formula designed to promote healthy digestive tissue, especially for people with occasional heartburn. Reflux Rescue was formulated for the Planetary Herbals brand by the herbalist Michael Tierra, based on Avipattikar, an ancient Ayurvedic formula.
Please—let me know about your experiences with these products.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.