The term indigestion is often used to describe heartburn as well as feelings of gas or bloating after eating, stomach pains, or fullness in the abdomen. Medical terms used to describe indigestion include functional dyspepsia (FD), gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), and non-ulcer dyspepsia (NUD).
These are among the most common complaints in North America, and yet several review articles have concluded that “the efficacy of current drugs on the market is limited at best.” The most popular of these drugs are acid blockers, which work by impeding one of the body’s most important digestive processes—the secretion of hydrochloric acid (HCl) by the stomach.
In the digestive process, stomach acid initiates protein digestion, plus it ionizes minerals and other nutrients for enhanced absorption. Without sufficient secretion of HCl in the stomach, the pancreas doesn’t get the signal to secrete its digestive enzymes. But the manufacture and secretion of stomach acid isn’t just important for digestion. It also helps protect the body from invasion. Stomach secretions can neutralize bacteria, viruses, and molds before they
can cause gastrointestinal infection. So you can see just how much potential harm acid-blocking drugs can cause.
The Natural Approach
With chronic indigestion, the rational approach is to focus on aiding digestion rather than blocking the digestive process with antacids. Indigestion can be attributed to a great many causes, including both increased secretion of acid and decreased secretion of acid. In fact, most nutrition-oriented physicians believe that lack of acid—not excess acid—is the true culprit in many cases.
The first step is to eliminate common causes of GERD/NUD, including overeating, obesity, coffee, tomatoes, citrus fruit, chocolate, fried foods, carbonated beverages, tobacco, and alcohol. In many cases, simply eliminating or reducing these irritants is all that’s necessary to relieve GERD/NUD. Other tips include decreasing portion size at mealtime, chewing food thoroughly, eating leisurely in a relaxed atmosphere, and not eating within two hours of bedtime.
HCI supplementation can produce relief for many. Typically, when heartburn, abdominal bloating and discomfort, and gas occur within 15—30 minutes after eating, a lack of HCl is the cause. If such symptoms occur after 45 minutes, it’s usually a sign of lack of pancreatic enzymes. Keep in mind that pancreatic enzyme secretion is triggered by HCl in the stomach. So taking HCl can lead to improved release of pancreatic enzymes sometimes.
Digestive enzymes are the most effective treatment for pancreatic insufficiency. I have found the best results with multi-enzymes from vegetarian sources. They have a broader range of activity. Follow label directions for dosage.
More Natural Ways to Ease Heartburn and Acid Reflux
There are many promising, yet little-known, natural solutions to heartburn. The following are just a few that may offer help.
Dr. Venessa's Formulas digestion balance is an all-in-one product for indigestion and other digestive upsets. It contains plant enzymes, HCI, vitamin B12, and herbs.
Enzymedica acid soothe is a fast-acting chewable product featuring the company's award-winning plant enzymes, as well as stomach-soothing herbs such as marshmallow.
Source naturals gastricsoothe contains a proprietary blend of zinc and L-carnosine to help protect the stomach lining. It is designed to help lessen indigestion and other digestive complaints.
Michael T. Murray, ND, is the author of more than 30 books on natural health, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Third Edition. He is regarded as one of the world's top authorities on natural medicine, and is a sought-after lecturer and educator. Visit him online at doctormurray.com.