In This Article
1. Breathe Away Your Heartburn
Almost half the U.S. population experiences poor digestion or occasional heartburn. Before you chase the latest pill or powder for your battle with sensitive digestion, consider a breathing technique backed by numerous studies to reverse your acid woes. The breathing techniques are called inspiratory muscle training, in which the major muscle of inspiration—the diaphragm—is strengthened.
According to Ayurveda, a common digestive problem called udvarta is when the food in the stomach refluxes up instead of moving down into the small intestine. The upward movement of the stomach causes upward pressure on the diaphragm, which compromises the diaphragm’s ability to contract fully.
Study after study in medical journals cites research that the reflux caused by compromised diaphragmatic function can be resolved with the breathing exercise of maximal inspiration training. In Ayurveda, this breathing technique is called pratiloma.
To learn how to perform pratiloma, read my article and watch the training video here: A Breathing Practice for Occasional Heartburn
2. Stomach Pulling: At-Home Visceral Massage for Indigestion
There is no shortage of studies linking visceral abdominal massage to the treatment of occasional heartburn. When the stomach pushes up onto the diaphragm, they can press and adhere together, compromising the function of both the stomach and diaphragm. Myofascial massage, also known as visceral massage, can release the adhesions between the stomach and diaphragm allowing normal digestion function to be restored.
Digestion Massage Techniques
In Ayurveda, there are two self-massage techniques that can help restore normal digestion. The first is a combination of deep breathing with a self-abdominal massage while lying on the back. Watch the video tutorial here.
The second massage technique, which I call ‘stomach pulling’, can be done in a sitting position. This makes it a very convenient exercise you can do anywhere to reset your digestion. Watch my stomach-pulling video to master this technique.
In addition to these self-massage techniques, it is sometimes beneficial to give yourself a visceral abdominal massage with a muscle vibration device. A vibrating tool can be used to massage below and under the rib cage on both the left and right sides. Upper abdominal tension, tenderness, or discomfort when you apply pressure typically means that is an area that needs to be released. My favorite device for this is a vibrating roller called the Vyper. Learn more about this vibration tool here.
3. Determine if You Have Too Much or Too Little Acid
It is true that most cases of occasional heartburn are caused by acid that lingers in the stomach longer than it should. The longer the acid stays in the stomach, the more likely it is that the acid will begin to irritate the stomach lining. This can cause belching, burping, poor digestion, and occasional heartburn. If this irritation continues, the stomach often adapts to the acid irritation by reducing its production of stomach acid. In such a case, there is less natural acid available in the stomach to digest your food. Over time the under-digested food can also begin to irritate the stomach lining, causing the symptoms of occasional heartburn. The best way to find out if the cause of your upset digestion is due to too much or too little acid is with a simple home test.
- Before a meal, take ½ tsp baking soda in 8 oz water. If you feel relief, you may be producing too much acid.
- Before a meal, take 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar with 8 oz water. If you feel relief, you may be producing too little acid.
Neither of these is the cure for sensitive digestion, but they are a useful indicator of what the underlying imbalance may be.
4. Boost Bile Flow
One of the major buffers of the body’s stomach acid is bile which is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. A new medical term called bile sludge describes liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts that are filled with thick, viscous, and congested bile. If you cannot produce bile in sufficient quantities to buffer the stomach acid and emulsify dietary fats, the stomach will delay emptying itself. The longer the food and acid linger in the stomach, the greater the risk of udvarta (upward-moving digestion) and occasional heartburn.
This is a topic I have written about extensively, as it is one of the major imbalances for people with either too little or too much stomach acid. Foods and herbs that decongest bile sludge are called cholagogues. Some of my favorites are apples, beets, celery, greens, ginger, fenugreek cinnamon, turmeric, artichoke, and shilajit.
Learn More About LifeSpa’s Beet Cleanse formula for Bile Sludge Support.
5. Change the Environment, Change the Microbiome
As upper digestive strength weakens due to imbalances such as altered stomach acid, bile sludge, and compromised diaphragmatic function, undigested proteins and fats can pass into the small and large intestines. These under–digested foods can act as irritants to the intestinal lining which changes the gut’s delicate balance. This can result in the proliferation of undesirable microbes taking up residence in your digestive tract. The recent rise of probiotic use has been used as a band-aid for this gut environment imbalance.
In Ayurveda, the true remedy is to restore a healthy environment and support the proliferation of a healthy microbiome. The first step in this process is to introduce a combination of soluble fibers that will coat and soothe the lining and therefore support a healthy microbial environment. At LifeSpa, I use a combination of slippery elm, licorice, and marshmallow root called the Slippery Elm Prebiotic. These herbs are cooked down into a thick viscous tea that is taken throughout the day for a month to coat the entire intestinal tract with a prebiotic, soluble fiber—similar in effect to the stomach-coating visual seen in Pepto Bismol commercials. This also provides soothing support for the occasional heartburn due to either too much or too little acid.
The second step in this process is to use colonizing probiotics that adhere to the intestinal lining and support the proliferation of a new healthier microbiome. At LifeSpa we use a formula called Gut Revival. This formula combines colonizing probiotics with other probiotics that are antagonistic to the opportunistic, undesirable bacteria that are trying to take root in your digestive tract.
See also Resetting a Healthy Microbiome.
6. How You Eat Matters – Don’t Slouch!
The three lifestyle factors that are classically linked to poor digestion are ‘hurry, worry and curry’. With regard to ”how to eat,” the culprits here are the hurry and worry particularly while you are eating your food. The old Vedic saying “if you eat standing up, death looks over your shoulder” offers a stern warning of why we should be relaxed, calm, and seated to eat.
Science tells us that eating in a relaxed state stimulates the rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system, which is required to properly digest food. Eating while stressed triggers the fight-or-flight nervous system that literally tells your body not to digest food at this time.
Eating in front of the TV is another factor that can curb your digestive strength. TV is not only a distraction from eating in a mindful way, but it also inhibits rest and digests the nervous system from properly boosting your digestive strength.
Perhaps the worst part about eating on the couch in front of the TV is the couch. Couches in almost every case allow us to slouch while eating. Chronic poor posture while on a couch has been found to cause chronic pain and an increased risk of indigestion. While slouching, the chest is jammed into the front of the abdomen. This means there is pressure on the diaphragm, stomach, and liver, which must all be functional to properly digest. It is best to sit up straight when eating and digesting your food.
7. Walking After Meals is Essential
Perhaps the very worst thing we can do after a meal is sitting on a couch and watch TV. Studies have linked this to a host of digestive and circulatory problems. Ayurveda has recommended something called shatapavali. Shata means “100” and pavali means “steps” which suggests taking a minimum of 100 steps after each meal. Studies have found that walking after a meal can help the body burn fat, lower blood sugar, and support heart health while helping the stomach empty faster. When food and digestive acids stay in the stomach for too long, this creates the perfect storm and occasional heartburn and indigestion.
8. When You Eat Matters
After the sun goes down, the biological clocks that support digestion turn off as the body prepares for sleep. Eating late has been linked to unwanted weight gain while putting extra strain on the digestive system. In one study with over 12,000 subjects, more than 56% of them ate more than 30% of their daily calories after 6 PM. This late-eating group had a 23% increased chance of getting high blood pressure and a 19% increased risk of developing diabetes.
In another study, researchers found eating dinner less than 3 hours before a bed was associated with an increased risk of heartburn. The participant group that had dinner more than 3 hours before bed saw a decreased risk of experiencing heartburn.
The golden rule is to try to eat dinner before sunset and give yourself more than 3 hours after eating before going to bed.
9. Pre-hydrate the Stomach Before You Eat
One of my favorite strategies to combat occasional heartburn is to drink a large glass of water 30 minutes before meals. Studies have found this technique to support healthy weight loss, but clinically it is a valuable tool for sensitive digestion as well. While drinking a big glass of water with a meal can dilute your digestive enzymes, drinking the same amount of water just ½ hour before eating allows the water time to hydrate the bicarbonate layer of the stomach, which buffers the stomach acid. If dehydrated, the stomach acid can irritate the stomach lining. Since the bicarbonate layer is more than 90% water, rehydrating the stomach is a natural, easy way to help it buffer more digestive acid.
10. What You Eat Matters
Eating non-processed, whole, and organic food whenever possible is important to consider, as these foods are easier to digest. Foods that have been sprayed with pesticides and insecticides will continue to kill naturally occurring healthy microbes in your mouth and digestive tract. Studies have found that these food-laden pesticides can kill mouth microbes that produce the digestive enzymes we need in order to digest harder-to-digest food (like wheat and other grains).
The top foods to avoid for occasional heartburn are these pitta aggravating foods: spices, chocolate, tomatoes, lemons, limes peppers, alcohol, coffee rich, heavy, greasy, or fried food.
See also The Dangers of a Gluten-Free Diet
Cool Digest to the Rescue
For occasional heartburn, the best herbal formula that I have found with the ability to cool and soothe the stomach lining while gently boosting digestive strength is LifeSpa’s Cool Digest. What makes Cool Digest work so well is a mixture of Ayurvedic herbs called Avipattikar Churna.
According to a study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, the avipattikar supported the healthy lubrication and buffering of the stomach lining while maintaining the normal production of stomach acid and the successful management of occasional heartburn.
Three Ways to Try Cool Digest
- Take 1-2 capsules with water before a meal for maintenance and prevention.
- For sensitive digestion, take ½ to 1 capsule of Cool Digest mixed into a large glass of water 30 minutes before meals.
- 1 capsule of Cool Digest mixed in a cup of water as needed to soothe occasional heartburn.