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Heartburn and Low Stomach Acid: Bitter Herbs

Updated: Oct 29, 2020


The Heartburn Misunderstanding

Heartburn feels like burning in the throat, tastes acrid and is disruptive to life. According to the WHO in 2017 $10 billion were spent on antacids. These over-the-counter medications inhibit stomach acid productive in one manner or another. This cycle of feeling the burn, taking antacids and repeating is largely contributing to continuance of acid reflux.

Physiology of Cardiac Sphincter

The reason that taking antacids worsening heartburn is because the body is sending a message. This message is most likely that there is not enough stomach acid to properly digest food nor close the valve that separates the stomach from the throat called the cardiac sphincter. As mentioned in Heartburn: Beyond Antacids digestion first begins with the aroma of food cooking. Today this first and crucial step to stimulating digestion is missed. We eat on the run and often times while attending to other things like emails, news and social media.

Ways to Increase Stomach Acid

As a naturopathic doctor there are many options in our tool kit to get stomach acid producing again. Some ideas include supplemental stomach acid, digestive enzymes and my personal favorite bitter herbs.

Bitter herbs

Bitters herbs taste, well, bitter! All cultures historically ate bitter foods, usually leafy greens of some sort to help stimulate digestion. Most importantly bitter herbs help to stimulate the production of stomach acid leading to the proper closure of the cardiac sphincter or the lower esophageal sphincter.

A bitter herbal formula consists of 3-5 herbs specific to the person’s unique constitution (defined: a person's physical state with regard to vitality, health and strength as per Merriam Webster) and sold as a tincture. Typically, a dose is between 5-15 drops on the back of the tongue 10-15 minutes before eating for best outcomes. Taking bitters post meal is effective as well at reducing fullness and stimulating the digestive system.


References

Yarnell, E. (2011). Bitter herbs. In Natural Approach to Gastroenterology (Vol. 2, pp. 1261–1311). East Wenatchee, WA: Healing Mountain Press.

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