Acid reflux disease, also known as heartburn, takes place when gastric acid from the stomach is regurgitated into the esophagus, which is the tubular organ behind the breastplate that connects the mouth to the stomach. Though the stomach is properly insulated for the sake of accommodating large amounts of acid, the esophagus is not. When the esophagus comes in contact with acid, the sufferer experiences a burning sensation in the chest—hence the incorrect perception that their heart is burning. What is actually happening, though, is that the lower esophageal sphincter, the lining of muscle responsible for maintaining a barrier between the esophagus and the stomach’s acid, opens prematurely or fails to close.
Without this barrier preventing the gastric acid from entering the esophagus, the sufferer experiences pain and their esophagus can potentially be damaged.
Western medicine treats mild symptoms of acid reflux disease with antacids like Alka-Seltzer and Pepto-Bismol, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and other over-the-counter remedies. Prevention of the disease is attempted through medications such as H2 receptor antagonists (Zantac), and longer, safer relief is claimed through another medication known as proton pump inhibitors. Surgery can be prescribed when the lower esophageal sphincter is damaged from excessive exposure to acid.
Given its close association with the stomach, Ayurveda relates the problem of acid reflux to an excessive build-up of Pitta energy. Pitta energy sits in the stomach and is responsible for fueling the digestive fire that metabolizes energy.When food has passed from stomach to the small intestines, the fire and heat level of the body rise. Additionally, if we consume extra fiery substances like spicy foods, heavy meats, and sour foods like yogurt and pickles, the level of heat in the body rises to excessive levels and symptoms occur which typically appear a few hours later.
Ayurveda simulates the action of antacid-type medications through diet modification. To alleviate symptoms, it is important to eat foods that reduce heat in the body (like milk and ghee) and avoid the foods that increase it like yogurt and pickles. Additionally, taking herbs can have a cleansing effect on the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. This treatment is conducted with the use of the herbs mentioned below.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future. The following changes can be implemented to reduce the Pitta energy associated with acid reflux disease:
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices.We then have the opportunity to make deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room in the stomach later, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and should be fresh and not left over from more than a few hours before. The following foods can help curb the acidity associated with acid reflux disease.
White basmati rice
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha. Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha. Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods can increase the build-up of acid in the stomach and should be avoided when suffering from acid reflux disease:
Chocolate, esp. Dark
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.
Hot water, especially during meals, first thing in the morning, and a few cups during the day.
Herbal tea of cumin, mint, coriander, and fennel
Warm Milk (with a teaspoon of Ghee)
Avoid cold and frozen drinks
Avoid sugary or fizzy drinks that blend with the digestive juice and make it weak.
Avoid alcohol, coffee, and black tea.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water. The following herbs will help resolve the heat in the body associated with acid reflux disease:
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and build up from there once the body becomes more flexible:
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue, and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body, and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress.
Receive our weekly email digest with the latest content from Yogi Cameron & Yogini Jaima