Q and A: GERD and Hyperacidity Remedies

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Rosemary may aid in esophagitis treatment.

In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Herbalist Chanchal Cabrera and medical doctor D. Paul Barney responded for this issue.

Q&A


I have esophagitis, sometimes called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Licorice has often been recommended by health-care practitioners, but I have been reluctant to take it because of my labile hypertension. Comfrey has also been recommended, but I am scared of taking it due to FDA recommendations.

I have spoken to many individuals without any positive results–can you help?
D. M.
Trenton, New Jersey

Are there any herbs or herbal combinations that can be used instead of antacids? As common a problem as this is, I can’t remember seeing any articles or advertisements addressing this condition with herbs.
O. V.
Clearwater, Florida

Hyperacidity and GERD are both treatable with herbs. First, be sure your lifestyle is not a contributing factor. Never eat on the run, when you are anxious or upset, or when you are not actually hungry–your digestive juices are not flowing and dyspepsia (indigestion) will result.

Avoid coffee, artificial sugars, and all refined and processed foods. Chew your food very well and do not drink a lot of fluids while you eat. Avoid very cold foods because they slow down the digestive system. “Food combining” may be useful–keep your protein separate from carbohydates and eat fruit separately.

One of the best herbs for both of these conditions is slippery elm (Ulmus rubra). This is made into a thin gruel with water or sprinkled on porridge. It is soothing and healing to the stomach lining and will soak up excess acid. Peppermint (Mentha x piper­ita) can also be very useful. Drink it as a strong tea. It helps regulate the acid level and eases any griping or spasmodic pain. Two other herbs that regulate acid levels and promote normal healthy gastric activity are meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and centaury (Erythrea centaurea). Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) may also be effective. Licorice can be very helpful but cannot be effectively used where there is water retention or hypertension. Using comfrey in small doses should be safe providing there is no concurrent liver disease.
–Chanchal Cabrera

Esophagitis is caused by stomach juices which regularly are refluxed from the stomach up the esophagus toward the throat. This irritates the lining of the esophagus and can cause erosions such as ulcers. This condition is often associated with hiatus hernia but can also occur by itself. This condition can generally be helped by not eating after 6 p.m. and raising the head of your bed on blocks 4 to 6 inches tall.

Herbal treatment may consist of the use of chamomile, white willow (Salix alba), angelica (Angelica spp.), mullein (Verbascum thapsus), and licorice, but you should be aware of the cautions about using any herb; for example, licorice shouldn’t be used by people with hypertension. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) may also be useful.
–D. Paul Barney 


Chanchal Cabrera, an herbalist and clinical aromatherapist, has been a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists since 1987. She is associate editor of Medical Herbalism newsletter and is a member of the advisory board in botanical medicine for Bastyr University in Seattle.

D. Paul Barney is a family practice and emergency-room physician in Layton, Utah. He also is an adjunct professor at Weber State University and author of Clinical Applications of Herbal Medicine (Woodland Publishing, 1996).

The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.

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