As long as there have been illnesses there have been "natural remedies" reported to cure them. This is also the case with Acid Reflux or GERD. There are several items that have been touted as the next remedy for GERD. A few of the most popular include; apple cider vinegar, peppermint tea, papaya enzymes, slippery elm bark and probiotics.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is one of the most popular "natural remedies" for GERD. It proponents claim that it will neutralize stomach acid when taken internally. Unfortunately there is no scientific research to back up this claim. In fact, the science would tend to indicate that, at best, it may produce a "placebo effect". At worst apple cider vinegar could increase the problem because it is highly acidic. The main ingredient in apple cider vinegar is acetic acid which has the potential to damage tooth enamel and burn the esophagus.
Peppermint tea is also used quite frequently to aid digestion but for people with GERD peppermint is a definite "no-no". Peppermint is one of the foods that have been proven to decrease the pressure in the LES (lower esophageal sphincter). Less pressure in the LES means more stomach contents in the esophagus and more pain. Though the tea may feel soothing to a raw throat the end result may actually aggravate the problem not cure it.
Papaya enzymes are also supposed to help aid in digestion and decrease GERD. These enzymes break down the non-living proteins in foods we eat. While it seems that papaya enzymes may help digestion it is unclear as to whether they interfere with the absorption of vital nutrients in the body. What is clear is that they have an anticoagulant property. That means they may increase the risk of bleeding and should not be used with bleeding ulcer disease or combined with asprin or other anticoagulant medications. In high doses papaya enzymes can also cause irritation and ulcers in the esophagus. The safer alternative to aid digestion is simply to eat six small meals instead of three large ones.
Slippery elm bark
Slippery elm bark has been used by Native American tribes for generations. It has recently been used for GERD as a tea concocted from the powder form of the bark. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center the slippery elm tea has a demulcent property which means it coats and sooths a raw throat. Whether the tea coats the digestive tract as well is up for debate. Slippery elm also contains a high amount of antioxidants and it is thought that those antioxidants may also offer some protection to the digestive tract. While the research into slippery elm looks promising there is not enough information on its safety and benefits to warrant its use across the board.
The last and most popular natural remedy is the use of probiotics. Probiotics are the "good" or "friendly" bacteria that are found in the digestive tract and in foods such as yogurt, buttermilk and kefir. Probiotics are being added to more and more foods and are also popping up in supplements as well. Their use in treating bacterial imbalances like yeast infections, thrush and antibiotic induced diarrhea is fairly place but their place in the treatment of GERD is not quite as clear.
More research is being done but there are several theories on how probiotics help with GERD. One theory is that they strengthen the lining of the GI tract by protecting it from harmful bacteria like H. pylori. They are also though to help with chronic constipation which can aggravate GERD and they may also reduce inflammation in the GI tract. It is very doubtful that probiotics are the "cure all" for GERD but they may be a good addition to the treatment plan for some people.
While it is always exciting to hear about the newest remedy it is important to remember that these herbal supplements and natural remedies are unregulated. Always check with your physician before adding anything to your treatment plan and research the company you buy your supplements from thoroughly. There are differing severities of GERD so it is doubtful there will be a "one size fits all" treatment. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is_Take this quiz to see whether you know the difference between good and bad foods for Acid Reflux patients!_
Read which natural remedies another doctor recommends for GERD patients.
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.