Yes, the term heartburn is not meant to be taken literally. Your heart isn't actually on fire, that wouldn’t really work. Heartburn is often referred to as acid reflux. Which is also a bit misleading, as it isn’t the acid that is causing the discomfort.

Heart burn is the colloquial term for of a wider range of conditions collectively known as Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD). The actual root cause of heartburn/GERD is when the pyloric muscle that links the stomach and oesophagus, fails to close properly, allowing acid from the stomach back up the throat.

For some people, heartburn causes just a minor discomfort (mostly after eating), whereas for others the pain is so intense that it is often mistaken for a heart attack.

Usually the symptoms are characterised by an uncomfortable (sometimes painful), constrictive feeling at the base of the neck just behind the top of the rib cage.

Heartburn can be caused by several conditions.. The resulting pain in the upper ‘heart region’ of the chest has a distinct ‘burning’ sensation (hence the name), and usually occurs after eating (especially late at night), and often worsens when a person bends over forwards or lies down on.

What causes the pain?

Our stomachs contain acidic juices which aid in the digestion of certain foods and nutrients that we eat. These juices can sometimes pass back up the oesophagus (throat) in an abnormal fashion. But it’s important to note that it isn’t acidity that causes the discomfort, it’s the epithelial cells in the throat becoming inflamed due to exposure to the acid.

Naturally it this inflammatory response that brings pain and discomfort with it.

What triggers heartburn?

Heartburn can be triggered by eating certain foods. Most notably when eating these in large quantities – especially foods that have a high acid content, spicy foods and ones with an increased fat content. It is often quite common in pregnant women who need to eat more than their bodies are used to. Some medical camps also suggest that stress can lead to the sensation of heartburn though these findings have been largely unsubstantiated.

The main “foods” that can trigger heartburn are alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, citrus fruits and sugary juices, spicy food, fatty food and tomatoes (especially in the form of ketchup or artificial tomato sauce)!

Natural remedies that can help prevent and treat heartburn

The one main thing to look out for in order to prevent the onset of heartburn is to either avoid completely or minimise, the intake of the above-mentioned foods. Another obvious precaution is to limit the amount of food ingested late in the evening and especially right before bedtime. On top of this advice, you’ll be happy to hear that there are natural health remedies available that may alleviate symptoms of heartburn and ones that can prevent it from occurring.

A popular old housewives remedy that does works (sometimes), is quickly downing a shot glass of water mixed with a pinch of baking soda. This simple procedure may curb the acidity in the throat (hereby minimising inflammation of the epithelial cells there) and diminishing the heartburn pain associated with reflux.

Ginger tea and peppermint tea have been known to confer some relief for people suffering from heartburn.

Aloe vera juice is a fantastic preventative and can also be a great soothing remedy for when heartburn strikes. Marshmallow, hoheria, slippery elm powder, liquorice root and bladderwrack are all great natural health remedies for heartburn.

Another plant-derived nutrient, d-limonene, has shown promising effects in recent clinical trials with people with heartburn/GERD. D-limonene is naturally prevalent in orange peel oil. The clinical trials showed that in some people, d-limonene offered both short and long-term relief from heartburn, often even months after stopping treatment.

One tip is to use orange peel oil in aromatherapy or to rub directly on to the chest which will absorb into the blood stream quite quickly – the concentrations of the active ingredient in most pure essential oils is too high to be taken orally– unless they are highly diluted. Peppermint is another great essential oil to use to fend off heartburn.

Hope this article helped shine some light on heartburn and how to treat it naturally. And that it has clarified the condition, especially for those of you who thought the heart actually ignited.

Have a hearty, burn-free week peoples.

by Christopher von Roy BSc, MSc, DCP Immunology


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