Fairly recently and unknowingly, I had severe symptoms of acid reflux or GERD, (gastroesophageal reflux disease). My original symptom was sudden and severe chest pains that brought me to my local hospital's ER. After hours of testing, the doctors ascertained I had not suffered a heart-attack. Great news! They did not however provide any alternative explanations as to why I had pain so severe it hurt to breathe. I also didn’t pursue with them what else could have been behind that attack. While not necessarily the best move on my part, it was 4am, I had been up all night, the pain had subsided, and I was just happy to be discharged and going home.
Over the course of the next 2 weeks, while the heart-attack like chest pains didn't return, I became aware of a burning sensation and tightness in my upper chest area. I also had a sore throat, some difficulty swallowing, and a sensation of food being stuck in my esophagus. Finally, when I experienced the less than pleasant symptom of regurgitation of sour liquid, my eyes became wide opened and I connected the acid reflux dots.
This is a very common condition that impacts more than 3 million of us annually. In short, GERD, (which is acid reflux that occurs at least twice weekly), is when bile or stomach acid flow up into our esophagus and irritate that food pipe lining. I had been treated years ago for acid reflux by my gastroenterologist. At the time, I'd gone on Protonix, a stomach acid suppressant, as prescribed by my doctor. A nutritionist I was a patient of at the time warned me about taking this type of medication for too long. In her view and others, the vast majority of acid reflux occurs because one has too little stomach acid rather than too much. Moreover, long-term, continued use of stomach acid meds is linked to nutritional deficiencies and even withdrawal symptoms.
Long story short, my symptoms at that time quickly abated, I stopped taking the medication after 6 weeks, and I went merrily on my way. That is until I was stopped dead in my tracks by the recent chest pains. Looking back, I had other symptoms prior to the chest pains including difficulty swallowing and the sensation of food getting stuck in my esophagus. I attributed those symptoms though to other conditions I have including Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, (an auto-immune disease that attacks the thyroid).
So what to do this time round? I didn't want to go back on medication, yet I didn't want to endure symptoms that were uncomfortable, unpleasant, and downright scary. I decided to conduct an experiment and self-treat myself for 1 week. If my symptoms were not markedly improved within 7 days, I would bite the bullet, go back to my gastroenterologist, and get back on standard GERD meds. Here's how it played out.
I connected the heart-attack like pain to tomato sauce, (the pains hit me about an hour after having tomato sauce that night). It was my intuition that the acid in the sauce brought on that attack. I read up on other foods that can also trigger GERD symptoms. In addition to tomato sauce, I also abruptly discontinued:
• Hot sauce
• Red wine
• Balsamic vinegar
• Citrus fruit
There are a few other foods indicated in the literature that can also bring on heart burn including fried foods, soda, and peppermint. I didn’t list them though, as they are not things I generally eat/drink.
In addition to eliminating the above, I added freshly brewed ginger root tea to my every day plan. I'd fill up a 16 oz. thermos with boiling water and add several pieces of 1" sized pieces of peeled ginger root and let the tea steep throughout the day. Knowing that ginger has anti-inflammatory benefits, I sipped my ginger beverage in between meals throughout the day to help quiet down my irritated esophageal lining.
Other things I incorporated?
• I slowed down my eating speed
• I ate until I was only 80% full and thereby avoided overeating
• I took my last bite of food minimally 2 hours before going to bed
• I ate an apple a day, (half in the morning and the half in the late afternoon), which because of the pectin may be helpful in alleviating bile injury to the GI tract. (I'd used the apple remedy many years earlier when I had reflux issues and remembered experiencing relief.)
• I slept on 3 pillows at night to discourage stomach acid from traveling upward
• I avoided bending down after eating, (again discouraging stomach acids from flowing in the wrong direction.)
I put this whole regimen together and gave it a week to see if I felt any better. Amazingly, within 24-hours, I absolutely started to experience relief. My chest was feeling less tight. My sore throat alleviated. Each day in fact brought continued improvement. Within a week, I was feeling at least 75% better! Consequently, I did not contact my gastroenterologist, nor did I go on medication. In short, I followed Hippocrates sage words and, “Let thy food be thy medicine.”
I continued my experiment consistently for a good 2 weeks. When I was feeling much better, I slowly, carefully began to re-introduce some of the foods above. I sprinkled a bit of grated cheese on an evening meal. I observed how I felt that evening and the next day. No symptoms. Great! Another day I added a small amount of hot sauce to my eggs. I waited afterwards for symptoms. None again. Terrific! In short, over the course of several weeks, I’ve re-introduced a food here and there in smaller amounts than before. I’ve tolerated it all thus far very well.
It's been a bit more than 2 months since my heart-attack scare. I sleep on 2 vs. 3 pillows now. I'll eat food that was on my elimination list above but a) in smaller amounts and less frequently, and, b) I don't eat/drink all of the potentially troubling items on any 1 given day, (which I was guilty off in the past). I continue to drink and enjoy ginger root tea. But, now that the irritation and inflammation in my esophageal tract has subsided, I partake even in the occasional shot of espresso, glass of wine, and piece of chocolate.
Moreover, having slowed down my eating, I now enjoy and appreciate the smaller amounts of some of my favorites listed above that much more! The funny thing is, I don't need or want nearly as much of them as I used to. The trade-off simply isn't worth it. All without taking any medications that long-term could potentially challenge my body's ability to assimilate nutrients!
Hot off the press and 1 last item: After reading numerous articles indicating that sleeping on our left-side is also beneficial in reducing GERD symptoms, I now partake in that activity as well. Since I ordinarily sleep on my right side, I wasn't sure how natural it would feel to change to the left. Thankfully, it's not nearly as challenging as I imagined. Does sleeping on my left-side help? That I'm not sure about since I was already experiencing relief from the acid reflux symptoms, (thanks to the changes I made above). However, I will continue sleeping on my left-side, along with following through with everything I've mentioned in this article. Why? Because:
Final verdict: Pill-Free Heart Burn Relief, N=1 was a knock-it-out-of-the-park, grand slam success!
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This article is not intended to be, nor to give, medical advice. For any and all of your medical concerns/conditions/symptoms, please contact your physician.