Learn how treating heartburn with natural remedies is safe and preferable to modern medicine.
Read more about combining herbs and vitamins: Safe Herb and Vitamin Combinations.
Heartburn and Medicinal Herbs
Discover how heartburn can be treated naturally.
In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Medical doctor Robert Rountree and herbalist Rosemary Gladstar respond for this issue.
Treating Heartburn with Natural Remedies
Q. I have gastric erosion and inflammation due to gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). I am currently taking anti-spasmodic medication and prescription antacids, and am already experiencing side effects. I would like to request information on the following herbs that have been recommended as antispasmodics, anti-inflammatories, or digestive aids: fennel, feverfew, bog asphodel, mandrake, rosemary, and valerian.
received via e-mail.
A. Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) is a condition where the lower esophageal sphincter—a ring of muscles separating the esophagus from the stomach—has become lax and no longer does its job of preventing stomach acid from refluxing, or reflowing, back up into the esophagus. When this happens it results in a sensation called heartburn. The lining of the esophagus and upper-stomach opening lacks the thick mucus coating that protects the stomach walls from acid, so it is highly susceptible to erosion and ulcers.
The most important dietary consideration is to avoid agents that relax this sphincter. These include caffeine, alcohol, and carminatives (herbs that relieve gas and cramps) such as peppermint and fennel.
To treat the erosion and inflammation, I recommend L-glutamine, which can be taken in the pure powder form, 5 g to 10 g daily, or as cabbage juice, 2 ounces to 4 ounces daily.
In addition, deglycyrrhizinated licorice has been shown to be very effective for this condition. It works best when taken as tablets that are chewed thoroughly right after meals. Other agents that you may find helpful are aloe vera juice, marsh mallow root (Althaea officinalis), slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), and umeboshi plum paste (Prunus salicina).
A. While antacids are helpful and often recommended for GERD, I would suggest natural alternatives. Hydrochloric acid (HCA) supplements are available at most natural food stores. The protocol for determining the correct dosage of HCA is detailed in Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Drugs by Michael Murray, N.D. (William Morrow, 1994). Naturopathic doctors often recommend using pancreatin (pancreatic enzymes produced from animal sources) in addition to HCA to aid digestion.
Of the herbs you listed, I would caution against the use of mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) because of its potential toxicity, and I question the effectiveness of bog asphodel (Asphodelus spp.), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), all good herbs but not specific for your situation.
I suggest non-toxic antispasmodics, herbs that aid digestion, and herbs that soothe the irritated tissue of the esophagus. Valerian is a good choice; it is a powerful antispasmodic and helps relax the muscles. Some people, however, experience a stimulating rather than relaxing effect, so take note. Fennel is a good digestive aid and can be used effectively in your situation. I suggest blending it with the gentle, calming chamomile (Matricaria recutita). Chamomile is an effective anti-inflammatory, digestive aid, and digestive nervine (relaxes the nervous system). For chronic inflammation, try slippery elm, which is a nutritive digestive aid and one of the best herbs for soothing irritated tissue. Mix it into a drink with aloe vera juice which also will aid digestion and soothe irritated mucous membranes.
Robert Rountree, M.D., is a physician at the Helios Health Center in Boulder, Colorado, co-author of Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, and an advisory board member for the Herb Research Foundation.
Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar is founder of The California School of Herbal Studies, co-founder of Sage Mountain Retreat Center, and author of Herbal Healing for Women. She has more than twenty years of experience as an herbalist, teacher, and herbal events organizer.
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The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.