Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Natural Heartburn Remedy, Even for Pregnant Mothers

Heartburn and Problems with Conventional Treatment
Heartburn is a common ailment, and the conventional treatment is to take antacid tablets to reduce the symptoms. However, heartburn is actually a symptom that indicates poor digestion and the presence of acid reflux.  Taking antacid tablets only exacerbates the problem.  According to the article Acid Reflux: A Red Flag,
In the standard treatment of acid reflux, most doctors prescribe medicine to lower acid levels in the stomach...Stomach acid is extremely important to good digestion. Under normal circumstances, stomach acid not only helps break down protein into usable components, it also destroys food-borne viruses, pathogenic bacteria and parasites. But with low acid, one of the body’s first lines of defense against harmful microorganisms becomes compromised.
...Under normal circumstances, the stomach acid would have broken proteins into peptides before allowing them to enter the small intestine. But when insufficiently digested protein enters the small intestines, due to inadequate stomach acid, the pancreas in turn does not get the signal to release adequate pancreatic juices. In addition, if the small intestine lacks a healthy flora, production of enzymes called peptidases is also reduced... Their function is to further break down proteins and carbohydrates into usable nutrients. As yeast and other unhealthy flora coming from the stomach take over the small intestine, dysbiosis will develop. This causes the mucosal lining of the intestinal tract to become damaged, leading to “leaky gut syndrome.” Gut permeability allows poorly digested proteins and carbohydrates to “leak” through the intestinal tract.
In short, heartburn signals poor digestion, taking antacids will reduce stomach acid, and low stomach acid can eventually lead to a leaky gut.  As described in Gut and Psychology Syndrome, a leaky gut can lead to all sorts of problems like allergies, eczema, lupus, and even autism.

Heartburn During Pregnancy
Heartburn is especially common during the second half of pregnancy.  Hormones released by the placenta can relax the valve separating the esophagus and stomach, allowing gastric acids to leak back up.  Additionally, digestion becomes sluggish due to hormonal changes and in late pregnancy the baby crowds into the abdominal cavity.

I experienced lots of heartburn during both of my pregnancies.  I was not inclined to take antacids, as I generally try to avoid taking pharmaceuticals.  Luckily, I stumbled upon a great remedy: I ate a lacto-fermented pickle with almost every single meal, and sometimes even between meals.  While I got some strange looks from co-workers wondering about my apparent pickle addiction, this really kept the heartburn at bay.

Fermented Foods: A Wonderful Remedy for Heartburn
Rather than take antacids for heartburn, try adding fermented foods to your diet.  Fermented foods can be consumed before, during, or after a meal to lessen heartburn. Fermented foods help your body to properly digest food, and this reduces heartburn.  Over time, consuming fermented foods can also make your gut healthier since fermented foods provide beneficial bacteria.

A Wide Variety of Fermented Foods
There are many different fermented foods to try, including: 
Fermented foods can be easily prepared at home, and the cost is much less than buying these foods in the store. Nourishing Traditions has a large selection of recipes for fermented foods. Cultures for Health also has video tutorials on making kombucha, milk kefir, and water kefir soda. You can even very easily turn store-bought condiments into fermented foods, using this method described by Cheeseslave.

Beware that many of the foods sold in stores have been pasteurized, thereby killing off the beneficial bacteria. Certainly, any store-bought fermented foods would be located in the refrigerated section of the store. Nonetheless, make sure to carefully read the product labels as it is not always obvious which items have been pasteurized.

Do you regularly eat fermented foods, and do you notice any difference in your digestion when you do?  What is your favorite fermented food?

This post is part of Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Pennywise Platter at The Nourishing Gourmet, Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade, Real Food Wednesday with Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist!

33 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I've been having a touch of heartburn recently and didn't realize fermented foods could help with this...although I'm really getting ready to start fermenting! Thanks for the tips & the links!

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  2. Hi Sarah,

    For heartburn (when it comes on) try swallowing about a tablespoon of vinegar - my husband has been using this method for years with success, and he used to be on prescription meds for heartburn. He actually hardly ever needs it now... but when he does - it works. Apparently the stomach thinks it doesn't have enough acid, so it begins to over-produce... so a shot of vinegar sends the message that there is enough, and the stomach stops producing it... and the heartburn goes away.

    Beth

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  3. I hope it works for you, Megan.
    Beth, thanks for the tip about the vinegar!

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  4. Oh boy...I am so glad you shared this info. I couldn't agree with you more. I suffered terribly from acid reflux and my doc put me on meds. Well, I got pneumonia 3 years in a row!!!

    I knew something was wrong so I did a little research and found out that all those acid reflux drugs decrease the good acid in your stomach so you absorb less nutrients! No wonder I was sick. I stopped taking the meds immediately.

    And the sad thing...I actually needed more good acid to help me digest my food. I added fermented veggies to my diet and I also started taking 4 ounces of kefir every morning when I get up. I am so much better now.

    Thanks for all this great info.

    Love,

    Mary

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  5. Mary, I'm glad to hear that fermented veggies and foods have worked so well for you. I have become more and more disillusioned with pharmaceutical products and doctors, and your story illustrates exactly why!

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  6. Hi Sarah,
    Wow, that is great advice.
    I wondered why I'd been so well lately, & free of any tummy niggles.
    It must be the Kefir I drink every morning:)

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  7. Thanks for sharing your tips.
    I find it interesting that you are a former aero space engineer. My husband is an aero space engineer that turned naturopath/Master Herbalist/sport nutritionist..

    Have a good weekend!

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  8. Hi Jo, what a small world! Right now my job is homeschooling and staying home with the kids but I have thought about perhaps pursuing naturopathy or midwifery at some later date!

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  9. It must be something about those air planes...I came across another Naturopath in DC, and another one in Wyoming and both used to be aero space engineers.

    It is always good to be able to be home with the children if possible.

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  10. Do you know of any locally available (Las Cruces) store varieties to try? Friend is suffering from terrible heartburn and before trying to get her to make homemade version hoped she could try something commercially available (simple) to give it a try. otherwise doctors want to put a tube down her throat etc and trying to avoid that path if possible. Thanks! Mary

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  11. Hi Mary,
    I buy the Bubbies Dill pickles in the refrigerated section of the Mountain View Market. They probably have them at Toucan too. They're not organic, and fairly pricey, but they are great. We eat a LOT of them. A few years ago I contacted the company and verified that they are indeed raw and not pasteurized.

    Also, your friend could try kombucha drink which is sold at the Mountain View Market as well as Toucan Market. I would recommend the GT's brand, either the Original flavor or the Guava Synergy are our favorites.

    Oh, and they also sell raw kimchi in the refrigerated section of the Mountain View Market, too (although I haven't tried it).

    If you are the Mary I think you are, it's good to hear from you and I hope you and the little one are doing well.

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  12. it's me and I love your blog. :) someone at work pointed me to it. I haven't tried any of the recipes yet but I'm really thinking about getting a dehydrator to try some of the "cracker" ones. my daughter adores anything that can be called a cracker so hoping these might be little healthier. - Mary

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  13. Just wanted to say I've done the vinegar thing - added about a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar to some water and it totally worked! And fast! Also, I have noticed that I don't get as much heart burn anymore since I've started eating lacto fermented foods. Question: I wanted to try some Bubbies pickles to see how we like them before trying to make our own, but the ones I saw at the store looked a little funny. They had white cloudy stuff at the bottom of the jars - is that just from fermenting? This particular store sometimes has some older stuff in it, so I was a little wary buying it until I found out if that was normal. :)

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  14. Hi Sarah, was wondering if you had any thoughts on this related to acid reflux in BABIES. Do you think if the breastfeeding mother does these things in her diet it will assist the baby as well? Obviously very small babies can't be eating fermented foods or kefir just yet, but wondering what moms could try. It seems like upping the probiotics and staying away from the super complex foods would help (like a GAPS diet)? I know that is a far-fetched call for many moms right now who have never heard of WAPF, or Paleo/Primal, much less even GAPS, but just trying to help point in the right direction.
    Also, I sorta want to know for my own benefit in case I encounter this with baby #2! (Hopefully not)

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  15. Kelsey - the cloudy stuff in the Bubbies is totally fine. I think they even brag about it somewhere on the label.

    Megan - here's what I found about acid reflux in infants (from the article Acid Reflux: A Red Flag):

    Special Advice for Infants Suffering from Acid Reflux

    Infants who suffer from acid reflux are in terrible discomfort. They often have colic and do not sleep well. The first step is to work with a holistic practitioner who is familiar with the Weston A. Price Foundation principles. If the mother is nursing, she will need to work on healing her gut with a diet rich in nutrient-dense, probiotic foods to pass their benefits on to the baby. Following the aforementioned program for healing will be a good first step. If the baby is still not thriving, it may be possible to look at the several options for homemade formula that the Weston A. Price Foundation offers, as these are rich in probiotics and may help to heal the acid reflux. Mom should address any problems with mercury toxicity before conception or after weaning—not during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

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  16. Thanks Sarah! I went back and read that WAPF article and it was very informative. It sounds like the author essentially healed her leaky gut through a gaps-like diet (bone broths & fermented foods). Amazing the power of healing foods!

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  17. Do you have the recipe you use for lacto-fermented pickles on your site? I couldn't find one. I'm new to eating vegetables this way and pickles is one way I can do it. Thanks.

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  18. Sarah, I Googled "GERD, WAPF" and you were the fifth hit!
    Funnily enough, this symptom has come on (terribly) within days of introducing kefir to my diet. I'm thinking NO dairy for me for a while. Bum.

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  19. Hi Anonymous - I don't have a special recipe for lactofermented pickles. I've used the recipe in Nourishing Traditions, but wasn't very excited about the flavor. That is something I am hoping to try more of this summer. I think sauerkraut is the perfect beginner vegetable. There is a recipe here: http://nourishedandnurtured.blogspot.com/2011/05/thyroid-goitrogens-and-recipe-for.html

    Lauren - that stinks! Are you sure the kefir is causing the heartburn? I've never heard of that happening. I hope you feel better.

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  20. I'm coming back to this article because my doctor recommended I take Maalox or something like Zantac to help with my recent bout of stomachaches. I really don't want to take something over the counter if I can combat it naturally with real foods.
    I'm very confused though; I can't tell if he thinks I'm over producing or under producing stomach acid. He recommended I try more alklaline foods. What do you think; what would you do??
    I really want to nip this in the bud (and enjoy eating again!) and do as much as I can for my gut before #2 arrives...I feel like I will be bathing myself in kefir until that happens :P

    I'm strongly considering trying the apple cider vinegar option (drinking a few tablespoons a day) or dissolving Baking Soda in water, but if that seems counterintuitive for what a GAPS person would do, maybe I have it backwards?

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  21. Hi Megan,
    Like you, I would try to avoid the Maalox! The apple cider vinegar option should be great (and actually it is recommended for GAPS people to add a little vinegar or lemon juice to their water all the time anyway). I would avoid the baking soda as it is a very strong alkalizer (my understanding is that heartburn is often caused by low stomach acid anyway, so adding a strong alkalizer would be detrimental in that case. That is why baking soda is not allowed on GAPS.)

    I had tons of heartburn during both pregnancies and ate so many fermented pickles! Probably at least 4 each day. That really seemed to help.

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  22. Thank you so much! Trying ACV or lemon juice seems like an easy, quick fix. I need to find these pickles you like; maybe they are at our local healthfood store! (I could try fermenting them myself but I'd have to drive quite a ways to Whole Foods to get the right kind of cucumbers!)

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  23. We don't have Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. But I do get the fermented pickles at our local healthfood store. They are Bubbie's brand. Not organic, but you gotta take what you can get! Homemade sauerkraut would work as well. (Bubbies sauerkraut is pastuerized, but their pickles are still raw. Good luck!

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  24. wow, thanks a lot for the food secret. I am going to try this.

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  25. In response to your comment, "Beware that many of the foods sold in stores have been pasteurized, thereby killing off the beneficial bacteria," I am pregnant and have read that one should avoid unpasteurized foods. I love the kombuchu sold in Whole Foods, but if I saw it was unpasteurized, I probably would pass. What is your view on unpasteurized products for pregnant women? Thank you.

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    1. Hi Ellen,
      Most kombucha IS unpasteurized, and indeed much of its benefit comes from the probiotic content. In my opinion, pasteurization is only necessary when you can't trust the source. For instance, milk from factory-farmed, unhealthy cows should absolutely be pasteurized, but milk from our local, grass-only raw milk farmer is trustworthy and I am happy to drink it raw. Pasteurization destroys all probiotics and many enzymes in foods, and thereby much of the benefit in foods can be lost during pasteurization. But it really comes down to being able to trust the source of your foods. If the foods are produced in unhealthy ways (such as factory farming), then they are much more likely to be contaminated with illness-causing bacterias.

      You will of course have to decide for yourself whether you want to consume any unpasteurized products during your pregnancy. I enjoyed raw dairy, kombucha, and fermented veggies during both of my pregnancies, but I was also confident of the sources of those foods (and many were made in my own kitchen).

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  26. I wonder if Takeru Kobayashi gets bad heartburn

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  27. I am pregnant with heartburn and was looking for a natural alternative, but I thought it wasn't a good idea for pregnant women to ingest foods that aren't pasteurized?

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    1. You would of course have to decide for yourself. But I think unpasteurized products are fine so long as they are from a trusted, healthy source. For instance, raw milk from cows raised in a confinement operation and fed grains would not be good, as those cows are unhealthy and that makes the chance of their milk being contaminated and unhealthy higher. But milk from a grass-only farmer, with healthy cows is great! The same goes for fermented veggies. If they are made properly with good ingredients to start with, then they should be fine. I enjoyed lots of raw milk, homemade fermented veggies, and raw kombucha during both of my pregnancies. In fact, my whole family has been eating lots of those foods for the last 6 years with no food borne-illnesses of any kind. But you do have to be sure that the source of these foods is good.

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  28. As I read it, it seems like there are 2 different causes to reflux in pregnancy:
    1) "Hormones released by the placenta can relax the valve separating the esophagus and stomach" and
    2) "digestion becomes sluggish due to hormonal changes."

    It seems like the suggestions here are only to increase digestions, and therefore only treating the second of the two cause.

    Last pregnancy and this one, I have tried everything: apple cider vinegar, heartburn teas, pickles, raw almonds, coconut oil, papaya extract, digestive enzymes, probiotics, kombucha, kefir, etc (I have tried it all!) and nothing works. Not only do they not work, they do not even minimize the discomfort. Even tums does nothing to help, the only thing that gives me any relief is Gaviscon (which is a foam barrier to prevent acid leaking up).

    After reading this, it got me thinking: if the problem for me isn't poor digestion and it is just that the esophageal sphincter is too relaxed, than wouldn't all these things make it worse, in my case?

    In other words, if my problem isn't sluggish digestion, but a weakened esophageal sphincter, is there anything natural I can do to help? Any natural alternative to gaviscon, perhaps?

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    1. Hi Krystle,
      Practicing deep breathing ( such as the deep belly breathing done in yoga) is supposed to strengthen the esophageal sphincter. Might be worth a shot if you haven't tried it. Hope this helps!

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  29. 34 weeks pregnant right now....terrible heartburn / reflux (which leads to vomiting for me) the whole entire pregnancy, and struggling to every day to convince myself that I can go another day. :-(

    As Krystle commented, Gaviscon is the only thing that gives me any relief at all (not complete, just enough to get a few hours of sleep at night) but it causes major problems further down the digestive tract....constipation and issues with rectocele. So last night I pretty much made the committment not to take it anymore, because the short-term benefit is not worth the problems I have for the next 2-3 days every time I take it. But that leaves me with nothing.

    I've tried just about everything (although not the unpasteurized things you mentioned). A friend recommended last week the baking soda and water mix, and I was googling it to make sure it was safe for pregnancy and this website came up. Some interesting thoughts here but I, like others, am scared to try the unpasteurized stuff during pregnancy after every handout my doctor has given me tells me not to.

    By the way, I do not have these problems at all when I'm not pregnant....did have this with my first pregnancy and it resolved about a month after I delivered. Hoping that happens again b/c I don't know how much more I can take. And, I will not be doing this pregnancy thing again...I have told the husband it's time to snip, snip. :-)

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  30. To reduce heartburn during pregnancy without hurting your baby, you should try the following:

    Eat several small meals each day instead of three large ones.
    Eat slowly.
    Avoid fried, spicy, or rich foods, or any foods that seem to cause relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter and increase the risk of heartburn.
    Drink less while eating. Drinking large amounts while eating may increase the risk of acid reflux and heartburn.
    Don't lie down directly after eating.
    Keep the head of your bed higher than the foot of your bed. Or place pillows under your shoulders to help prevent stomach acids from rising into your chest.
    Ask your doctor about using over-the-counter medications such as Tums or Maalox, which are generally safe to use during pregnancy. You may find that liquid heartburn relievers are more effective in treating heartburn, because they coat the esophagus.
    Wear loose-fitting clothing. Tight-fitting clothes can increase the pressure on your stomach and abdomen.
    Avoid constipation.

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