Other symptoms include a bitter taste in the throat, bloating, burping, and nausea. If acid reflux occurs frequently, it leads
to gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.
Acid reflux has various causes. One is a hiatus hernia, where a hole in the diaphragm allows the upper part of the stomach to protrude into the chest cavity. Other causes are poor lower oesophageal sphincter tone, pregnancy, and stress. And there's Irritable Bowel Syndrome and diet-related factors such as low fibre, spicy or fatty foods, and being overweight.
The orthodox treatments frequently given for acid reflux are proton pump inhibitors and other drugs which reduce stomach acid production. However, overproduction of acid may not be the underlying cause so reducing production does not always lead to effective treatment. A key point is that heartburn results from acid being in the wrong place, in the oesophagus rather than confined to the stomach, and not necessarily from too much or too little acid production.
In fact, low stomach acid production may in some cases be the cause of the symptoms. Acid produced in the stomach activates the digestion of protein and helps kill bacteria ingested in the food. So low acid production slows digestion, increases gas produced by bacteria and also delays closure of the oesophageal sphincter. Food remaining in the stomach for longer causing delayed gastric emptying, increased gas production and looser sphincter control can result in the backward flow of stomach content and acid into the oesophagus. Reducing acid production would therefore only worsen symptoms.
This demonstrates the importance of trying to understand and treat the cause of the condition before prescribing acid-reducing drugs.
There is a wide range of herbal medicines which can be used to treat acid reflux. The herbs selected will depend on the causes and the symptoms experienced by each individual. The herbal actions include improving protection of the oesophageal lining, reducing inflammation, promoting tissue healing, increasing the tone and effectiveness of the lower oesophageal sphincter, encouraging the stomach to empty its content into the duodenum, antibacterial, reducing gas production, optimising digestive enzyme production, and reducing nervous tension and the effects of stress.
Herbal medicine offers a gentle, effective and safe approach to treating the symptoms and causes of acid reflux without the long term need to take acid reducing drugs.