From Lauren: As I have mentioned, I’m traveling at the moment with my family for a summer vacation. I have a series of guest posts from some awesome bloggers and today Craig from Fearless Eating is discussing a topic near and dear to my heart… how to solve heartburn naturally.
Hello fellow fine readers of Empowered Sustenance! I am excited to be doing a guest post for Lauren today as I’m also quite a fan of her blog. My name is Craig Fear and just like Lauren, I’m also Nutritional Therapist. My practice, Pioneer Valley Nutritional Therapy is located in Northampton, Massachusetts which sits in the Connecticut River valley (also called the Pioneer Valley) in the western part of the state. I’m also a fellow traditional food blogger and you can find my blog at Fearless Eating.
Like Lauren, I’ve recently released an ebook! It’s called The 30 Day Heartburn Solution: A 3-Step Nutrition Program for Stopping Acid Reflux Without Drugs.
And heartburn is the topic of today’s post. As Lauren has written previously, there are many myths about heartburn. Probably the biggest myth is that heartburn is caused by too much acid. The pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars off this myth. And they spend millions protecting that myth by brainwashing both the public and doctors with very aggressive marketing campaigns.
They brainwash you and me with relentless TV, print and digital advertisements. And they brainwash doctors with pressure from drug reps and heavily biased information in the form of industry-funded studies, ads in scientific journals and industry-sponsored conferences.
The Biggest Problem with Heartburn Medications – They Work!
Another reason doctors prescribe them so frequently is because they work so well. In particular, it’s the class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that are particularly effective. Prilosec, Nexium and Pepcid are the most commonly prescribed and are also available in over-the-counter (OTC) versions.
PPIs are really powerful and they work by shutting off the acid pumps in the stomach. So they stop the burning of heartburn BUT THEY DON’T STOP THE UNDERLYING CAUSE. As soon as people stop taking them, the acid reflux comes raging back.
So people become dependent upon them. Now THAT’S a brilliant business model.
But have you ever looked at the back of an over the counter (OTC) acid-blocker? You’re not supposed to take them for more than 14 days! And yet people take them for YEARS and sometimes even DECADES.
There are major consequences to unnaturally lowering your stomach acidity for extended periods. Lauren explained it well in a post that she wrote recently – nutrient deficiencies, imbalanced gut flora, food allergies and further digestive problems can manifest.
These consequences are not theoretical. They are being confirmed in more and more scientific studies. One such study, “Overutilization of proton-pump inhibitors: what the clinician needs to know,” published in Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology in July 2012 stated:
PPIs have been linked via retrospective studies to increased risk of enteric infections including Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea, community-acquired pneumonia, bone fracture, nutritional deficiencies, and interference with metabolism of antiplatelet agents. Reducing inappropriate prescribing of PPIs in the inpatient and outpatient settings can minimize potential for adverse events, and foster controllable cost expenditure.
You can print it out here and help educate your doctor.
But here’s some good news. There are many practitioners including conventional doctors that are becoming more aware of the side effects of PPIs. They counsel their patients to modify their diet and lifestyle so they can manage their heartburn without drugs. And this is good.
But back to the bad news. Unfortunately, what most doctors tell their patients is extremely limiting advice. I call it the “conventional natural approach” to heartburn.
The “Conventional Natural Approach”
I can summarize it in four statements:
1. Avoid your triggers. These differ for everyone but the common ones are chocolate, coffee, garlic, onions, tomatoes, citrus, alcohol and spicy foods.
2. Don’t overeat.
3. Limit your stress.
4. Limit your intake of fat.
You’ll see some variation of those four statements in hundreds of health websites including holistic health practitioners. And it’s not all bad advice.
Avoiding triggers is helpful for sure (albeit kinda obvious).
However, the next two are a little less helpful in my opinion. OF COURSE it’s good to not overeat and OF COURSE it’s good to limit your stress. But that’s a lot easier said than done, isn’t it?
Because what’s one of the most common mechanisms for dealing with stress? Food.
But it’s the last one, limiting your intake of fat that always make me roll my eyes.
And that’s the one I want to discuss in further detail today.
Why is Fat Blamed for Heartburn?
Most doctors’ knee-jerk reaction is to blame everything on fat. So it’s not surprising that a low fat diet is part of the conventional natural approach. But if you’re a regular reader of Lauren’s blog you know that the biggest nutritional myth out there is that fat is bad for you.
When Dr. Weston Price traveled around the world in the 1930s, he found every traditional culture he studied valued healthy fats from pastured animals. Many considered them sacred for fertility and children’s health.
Let me repeat that: No traditional culture on this planet ever ate a low fat diet.
Not even those that tended towards vegetarianism. Take India, for example. Raw, whole fat dairy in the form of milk, cheese, yogurt and ghee forms a foundation of their diet.
Nevertheless, it is commonly reported by patients that a fatty meal will precipitate heartburn. However, consider a 1998 study in the journal Gut found that fatty foods do not influence heartburn when calories are not over consumed.
And I think those last five words are the key – when calories are not overconsumed. In other words, overeating. For whatever reason, so many people blame overeating with eating too much fat.
For example, take a typical American meal of a burger with fries and a soda. Many people will say this meal is a high fat meal and blame it on an episode of heartburn.
But let’s look closer at this meal. And let’s just leave aside the issue of quality and look at it from a purely macronutrient perspective. Well, there’s the bun – carbs. There’s the fries – carbs. There’s the sugary soda – carbs. The ketchup – carbs. And what gets blamed for heartburn? The small meat patty sitting in the middle of this carbfest.
How Fat Can Help STOP heartburn
Fat rarely has anything to do with causing heartburn. In fact, it’s part of the solution!
From a dietary perspective one of the biggest culprits when it comes to heartburn is the overconsumption of carbohydrates, especially refined grains and sugar. These foods are also VERY EASY to overeat as they digest quickly. Of course, they are also our primary comfort foods in times of stress.
But too many grains and too much sugar can really throw our digestive system out of whack. They can feed bacterial imbalances and reduce the acidity in our stomach which can lead to so many digestive problems beyond just heartburn.
Because fat is an essential nutrient, not eating it is very stressful to the body and sets the stage for further cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. Fat digests slower and will help prevent overeating. Furthermore, healthy fats have anti-inflammatory properties that will help heal the gastric lining which I discuss in my book.
If Fat Really Does Exacerbate Your Heartburn
Some of you might be saying, “But I swear eating more fat really does exacerbate my heartburn!”
Yes, this can happen. But it’s not because fat is bad for you. It’s more likely a problem with the gallbladder and/or the underlying low acid production in the stomach. In fact, there’s a common expression when it comes to our gallbladder – use it or lose it! Fat is to your body like oil is to the engine of a car. It keeps things well lubricated and running smoothly and efficiently. Years of no fat or low-fat diets can impact our body’s ability to process fat.
I see so many people who’ve had their gallbladders removed after years of low fat dieting. If you have a problem digesting fat for whatever reason, this is where some supplementation can really help.
But in my book, supplementing is step 3 of my 3-step plan and it’s often not even needed! That’s why I always look to supplementation AFTER a few weeks of dietary changes first. Because when it comes to heartburn, it never ceases to how a few simple dietary changes can immediately stop it.
The Best Diet for Heartburn
A traditional foods diet is always the foundation stopping heartburn. For some, years of heartburn will disappear overnight. I see this time and time again and it never ceases to amaze me.
But there’s an even more important reason to transition to a traditional foods diet. And that’s because unlike the conventional natural approach can help manage heartburn, a traditional foods diet will help reverse years of damage to the esophageal lining and other parts of the digestive system.
Beyond just reducing carbohydrates and eating healthy fats, a traditional foods diet includes:
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi
- Fermented beverages like kombucha, beet kvass and ginger ale
- Bone broths from fish, chicken and beef bones
- Bone broth-based soups
- Raw dairy, if tolerated
In my book I detail why these foods are so important and include simple recipes for how to make them.
So if you know someone who’s been on acid-blockers or any length of time, I’d love if you could tell them about my book. I’m confident that in 30 days (though usually much sooner than that), it will help them not only get off their heartburn medications but it will also improve their overall health as well.
Finally, I’d like to thank Lauren for letting me jump in here today with this guest post and talk a little about my book as well.
About the Author
Craig Fear is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. He opened Pioneer Valley Nutritional Therapy in Northampton, Massachusetts in 2009 and started his blog, Fearless Eating in 2011. He specializes in digestive issues and works with clients both over the phone and in person. The foundation of his practice is helping his clients transition to a nutrient-dense, traditional foods diet. Craig’s interests include hiking, playing guitar, spending time with Lipton (his roommates golden retriever), meditation, rooting for his beloved New York Giants, travel, and writing and blogging about nutrition. He also loves coffee and is only mildly addicted to it.