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Natural Remedies for Heartburn

Supplements to Ease the Burning
We all get heartburn now and then. But for some 25 million Americans, heartburn is a regular occurrence that is more than a daily annoyance. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden report in the New England Journal of Medicine (3/18/99) that if left untreated, chronic heartburn increases the risk of esophageal cancer eightfold. This is an especially disturbing finding given the deadliness of that form of cancer. A number of potent prescription and over-the-counter heartburn medications are available, and they may be effective. Safe natural remedies and simple changes in diet and lifestyle can also provide welcome relief.

Helpful supplements
The supplements below can be very effective for relieving heartburn. Some (calcium carbonate, licorice, aloe vera juice, for example) are recommended for immediate relief of symptoms. To improve the entire digestive process, try either gamma-oryzanol, a natural extract from rice bran oil, or a combination of choline, pantothenic acid, and thiamin. It may take a month or so for these longer-acting supplements to take effect.

Calcium carbonate
A well-known heartburn reliever, calcium carbonate is the principal active ingredient in antacid tablets such as Tums. It can provide immediate relief and may be particularly effective for treating sporadic heartburn. However, avoid brands that include peppermint, which has been shown to relax the low esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle at the base of the esophagus that normally keeps food and digestive acids in the stomach. A weakened LES can lead to heartburn.

Suggested dose:
250-500 mg of calcium carbonate 3 times a day. Take with food for best absorption. Chewable tablets provide the quickest relief.

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) can also bring quick relief and may help heal damaged mucus lining in the stomach.

Suggested dose:
2 DGL licorice tablets (380 mg), 3 or 4 times a day between meals as needed. Make sure you get the deglycyrrhizinated form of licorice, which is safer than other types.

Aloe vera juice
Aloe vera juice is another fast-acting supplement that frequently helps soothe an agitated esophagus.

Suggested dose:
1/2 cup of aloe vera juice 3 times a day. Take between meals. Make sure it contains 98% aloe vera and no aloin or aloe-emodin.

Gamma-oryzanol
Also known as rice bran oil, gamma-oryzanol may be especially appropriate for those who have chronic reflux. This rice bran oil extract can help repair the entire digestive system and also improve the central nervous system's digestive control.

Suggested dose:
150 mg gamma-oryzanol 3 times a day. Take on an empty stomach.

Choline, pantothenic acid, thiamin
Choline, pantothenic acid, and thiamin are B-complex vitamins that can have long-term digestive benefits. If you suffer from chronic heartburn, try them in combination for a month or so to see if they help.

Suggested dose:
Choline: 500 mg 3 times a day. For chronic heartburn, use in combination with pantothenic acid and thiamin for one month to see if symptoms abate. Sold as plain choline or phosphatidylcholine; either form is fine.

Pantothenic acid: 1,000 mg twice a day.

Thiamin: 500 mg a day. Take first thing in the morning. Also called vitamin B1.

Effectiveness
All the recommended supplements are effective for relieving heartburn. The quick-acting ones can halt a heartburn attack. The longer-acting supplements may enhance the whole digestive process and benefit people with chronic heartburn. Mix and match to see which work best for you. All can be used along with prescription or over-the-counter heartburn medications as well.

Call the doctor if...

     You have episodes twice a week or more often.
     You have trouble swallowing or food lodges in your throat.
     You experience nausea or vomiting or pass black stools.
     You have crushing chest pain that spreads to the neck or left arm, as well as dizziness, shortness of breath, sweating, or rapid heartbeat. If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, get to the hospital immediately; you may be having a heart attack.

Date Published: 12/08/2000
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