Thank you for a very informative site! I suffer from heartburn. What causes it, and can it be treated with something more natural than an antacid? Patrick
DR ELSON HAAS REPLIES:
Heartburn can be caused by stress, overeating, irritating foods such as caffeine, alcohol and strong spices like black pepper, or infection by Helicobacter pylori (a bacterium that is a major cause of gastritis and ulcers). The goal of treatment is to soothe and heal the upper intestinal membranes, reduce free stomach acid, and clear up any infection that might be present.
We all have stomach acid, and it in fact protects our bodies against bad bugs. In the case of heartburn, the delicate tissue at the entrance to the stomach is being burned by the hydrochloric acid. Eating more alkaline vegetables (especially steamed) and their juices and broths can help calm the stomach. Even a bit of baking soda (1⁄2 – 1 teaspoonful diluted in water) directly counters stomach acid. Chamomile tea can be helpful, as can calcium or calcium/magnesium tablets or capsules, or more natural over-the-counter antacids (such as chewable calcium-based antacids) or buffered vitamin C (calcium, magnesium, and/or potassium ascorbate).
For persistent heartburn that doesn’t respond to dietary changes and natural remedies within a week or two, see your doctor for a possible prescription, blood test for H. pylori, and a blood or stool test for parasites. If these don’t reveal anything, you may need to see a gastro-enterologist for gastroscopy of your stomach.
Fortunately, many health problems improve in time through your body’s own natural healing powers or with the use of natural remedies. These remedies are not intended to be used over the long term. If your heartburn doesn’t improve within two or three weeks, be sure to call your doctor. If it gets worse, call the doctor immediately.