During my first pregnancy I got the normal pregnancy related heartburn in the 3rd trimester. It was annoying, but knowing it would resolve soon made it easily manageable. In my 2nd pregnancy the heartburn came much sooner, lasting throughout all of the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Again it was annoying, but I wasn't too concerned thinking it would resolve as it did the first time. Unfortunately this was not the case! I was in denial about it for my first few months postpartum (I was also pretty busy!), but it soon became apparent that this reflux wasn't going to resolve on it's own. My symptoms were always worst at night- which is often referred to as silent reflux. You may be experiencing silent reflux if you wake with a sore throat, have more frequent than usual throat pain, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing. One of my more irritating symptoms was ear itching throughout the day. Once I admitted I was having reflux I implemented a few changes right away.
Dietary changes: there are no set in stone rules for what can trigger a person's reflux, but some foods are more common including: caffeine, alcohol, tomato products, citrus, peppermint, spicy foods, and fatty foods. The worst offenders for me were concentrated tomato products and alcohol. Since my symptoms were worst at night, I needed to stop eating within a few hours of bedtime. I will admit that this was the hardest part of my treatment plan by far. I like to have a snack and the occasional glass of wine after I put my kids to bed. However, late night snacks and drinks were a big contributing factor to my nighttime reflux, so I had to give them up.
Physical changes: I had a suspicion that my symptoms were due to a sliding hiatal hernia. Sliding Hiatal hernia is caused when your stomach slides up through the diaphragm intermittently. We can be born with this type of hernia, but some women develop them during pregnancy. To address my hiatal hernia I started to practice Arvigo Mayan abdominal massage nightly to restore balance in my abdomen. This is a massage series that promotes circulation and healthy alignment of our abdominal organs. Mayan massage not only helped my reflux but has helped to reduce other symptoms I've had since pregnancy. If you are interested in learning more about Mayan abdominal massage, I offer treatments in the office, and train patients on how to perform their own abdominal massage at home.
Incorporating Supplements: In my opinion, the easiest natural therapy for reflux is to add in DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice). DGL acts as an anti-inflammatory in our esophagus and stomach, and reduces reflux in most everyone. I added in a DGL chew twice a day- before breakfast and before dinner, and sometimes another before bed. In addition to the DGL chews, I drank 2 oz of aloe juice before bed, to protect my throat and esophagus. I started by using George's aloe (available locally at Sunshine Health Foods), then transitioned to making my own from my aloe plants at home. Lastly, in the morning, I mixed a splash of Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar in a glass of water, which works to restore stomach acid levels and promotes healthy digestion.
What I didn't do: you will notice I haven't mentioned any acid blocking medications such as prilosec or zantac. While these medications may offer short term relief they can cause complications if used long term. Acid blocking medications are not meant to be used for more than 8 weeks. Long term use decreases our ability to digest our food and absorb necessary nutrients including vitamin B12. If you have been relying on an H2 blocker or PPI it's time to try some alternative therapies!
The great news is that this protocol was effective within a couple of weeks! And now I can tolerate the occasional glass of wine and tomato sauce without problems. Long term I intend to keep up the abdominal massage and use the aloe as needed. The goal with many of our natural therapies is to restore balance and avoid the need for expensive supplements daily.
Other treatments I commonly recommend to patients:
Get gravity on your side: prop up the head of your be a few inches.
Add digestive enzymes to food: my favorite enzyme blend is Similase Sensitive Stomach from Integrative Therapeutics.
And if you are still suffering from heartburn, don't despair! If your reflux has been longstanding, or if it is accompanied by other digestive symptoms, a Naturopathic Doctor needs to investigate bacterial imbalance in the small and large intestines. Through proper testing and an individualized approach to treatment, the Holistic Medical Clinic can help you feel better.