Feeling the Burn?

Medications for chronic heartburn and GERD have major downsides. Here’s how to put out the flames naturally.
Feeling the Burn?
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According to the American Gastroenterological Association, 75 percent of people with GERD experience it during the night. This is particularly troubling because acid that comes up when you’re lying down can remain in the esophagus and cause lasting damage, eventually even leading to cancer. Because of the way your stomach is oriented, lying on your right side allows acid to move up, worsening heartburn; lying on your left side helps keep acid where it belongs.

Even more effective than lying on your left side is sleeping with your upper body elevated. But just propping your head up with pillows won’t work; you can end up with a bend in your abdomen that will exacerbate heartburn. The best solution is to raise the head of your bed 6 inches or so by putting bricks under the bed’s feet. This is not always practical, though, Wolf points out: “Some plank beds can’t take the strain; and if you don’t have a footboard, you could slide off the end!” Your bed partner also might not be comfortable. An alternative solution is placing a foam wedge under your torso.  

Putting out the fire
The following natural remedies can help prevent as well as relieve heartburn.

BAKING SODA neutralizes stomach acid. Dean recommends stirring one-half to 1 teaspoon in a glass of water (though only occasionally).  

DEGLYCYRRHIZINATED LICORICE (DGL) (not regular licorice, which can have side effects) protects the mucous membranes that line the digestive tract and acts as an antacid. Chew two to six 380-milligram tablets before meals.  

ALOE VERA JUICE OR GEL works much like DGL and is effective for chronic heartburn; Sierpina recommends drinking one-half cup three times a day.  

RICE BRAN OIL coats the stomach and esophagus. Take one 150-milligram capsule three times a day for a month.  

SLIPPERY ELM, a traditional Native American remedy, coats the stomach lining, says Sierpina. Mix a couple of teaspoons into water and drink after meals and before bedtime.  

APPLE CIDER VINEGAR aids digestion. Instead of drinking plain water with a meal, Dean suggests sipping a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in 4 ounces of water. 

PO CHAI Dean recommends this Chinese herbal remedy for heartburn and indigestion. Follow label instructions. Try: Po Chai ($4 for 10 doses; 

HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES If your heartburn is caused by overindulgence in alcohol or sugar, try nux vomica. When you’ve eaten too much fat, lycopodium is the better choice.   

The Downsides of Drugs
If GERD persists, you may need acid-inhibiting drugs such as Tagamet and Zantac, or even more-potent medications such as Prilosec and Prevacid, which completely block acid production. While these can provide short-term relief, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved their use for longer than eight weeks. Why? Because we vitally need our stomach acid. “As acid is released, it triggers the release of digestive enzymes and bile,” explains Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. “If you stop that mechanism, it’s to the detriment of your digestion.” We also need stomach acid to kill bacteria that can cause food poisoning and to facilitate the absorption of certain medications, vitamin B12, iron and other nutrients, including calcium. Some studies have found that women who take certain heartburn meds longterm experience bone loss in their spine.