Natural Solutions to Heartburn and Dyspepsia
By Stephen Holt, M.D.
Millions of Americans suffer from conditions of simple digestive upset. Symptoms of gut distress occur most commonly as a result of an imbalance in digestive function. While persistent gastrointestinal symptoms require medical evaluation, studies have shown that there are natural supplements available that can be used to manage many digestion-related problems without use of prescription medications.
Obviously, in cases where there is persistent digestive upset, especially those associated with “red flag” symptoms (i.e., difficulty in swallowing, vomiting of blood, etc.), self-management is ill-advised. However, several natural options do exist for the more common types of digestive upset, such as irritable bowel syndrome and non-ulcer or functional dyspepsia, which don’t involve “bad” tissue changes like those found with inflammation or cancer.
Each year, billions of dollars are spent on prescription drugs developed to soothe the esophagus, stomach, and intestines without first considering that there might be a simple, gentle natural solution. Much discomfort in the upper digestive tract occurs as a result of gastric acid attack on the digestive lining, infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), and oxidative stress. There is a myth that currently dominates popular thought that neutralizing or reducing stomach acid is a successful way to approach heartburn. This has led to the rampant (sometimes even long-term) practice of using potent acid-lowering prescription drugs, such as proton pump inhibitors and Prilosec®, which actually suppress the gastric cells from producing acid necessary for proper digestion. This is unfortunate since simple lifestyle and nutritional changes and the correct use of dietary supplements have been used effectively as a first-line approach to dealing with many types of uncomplicated digestive upset.
The antioxidant ellagic acid, found in pomegranates and raspberries, has documented effects on reducing acid in laboratory studies. This is a very clever trick of Mother Nature, where specific natural substances can provide nutritional support for the normal body function of acid secretion and provide other benefits, like antioxidant protection. Restoring the harmony of digestive function can be further supported by taking probiotics (friendly bacteria), prebiotics, enzymes, and other substances that can help repair and detoxify the digestive lining.
While irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia are classified as diseases, there exists significant clinical evidence that nutritional and lifestyle approaches can reduce, even alleviate many instances of these digestive problems, without placing many at risk of prescription drug side effects.