If you’ve ever felt that burning, raw, painful sensation in your chest that extends up into your throat, you know how unpleasant acid reflux can be.
Conventional medicine tends to treat acid reflux as an issue of too much stomach acid, using acid blockers or reducers to turn off or block stomach acid production. However, this approach may only be treating the symptom, not the cause, creating long-term consequences.
Acid reflux has many possible causes, but rarely is the issue too much stomach acid. In 90% of cases, acid reflux is due to too little stomach acid.
How is this possible?
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle that separates the stomach and the esophagus, prevents food and acid from flowing up in the wrong direction… or, at least it should. In order to open and close when it should, the LES relies on stomach acid regularly coming into contact with it.
But, when there’s low acid production in the stomach, the sphincter weakens, causing it to open more than it should. Stress, infections, and other underlying conditions can reduce stomach acid, which in turn can cause reflux. When we block acid with medication, though we temporarily reduce symptoms, we exacerbate the problem (we decrease already-low stomach acid).
In addition to strengthening the LES, stomach acid is essential for healthy digestion. It breaks down protein, kills harmful pathogens we may ingest, and helps essential vitamins like B12, calcium, and zinc make good use in our body. In other words, stomach acid is our friend, not our enemy.
Apple cider vinegar to the rescue!
One of the best (and might I add, tastiest) remedies for low stomach acid is likely already sitting in your kitchen cabinet: apple cider vinegar (ACV). The thought of drinking something acidic for your acid reflux may scare you at first but hear me out.
ACV has many medicinal properties. It’s naturally acidic, of course, which helps promote a healthy balance of stomach acid. Additionally, ACV contains natural probiotics, which feed the healthy bacteria in the GI tract that are essential for digestive health.
There are few risks and many rewards to adding ACV to your diet, but to ensure the best results, consider some tips for implementing it into your routine safely:
Firstly, when introducing anything new into your diet, it’s best to go “low and slow.” Add ¼ tsp of ACV to tea, water, or another beverage and see how you tolerate it. After a few days, you can increase the amount.
Buy the best quality ACV. Most stores carry ACV but opt for a brand that is organic, raw, with “the mother” (a soft brown substance created during the fermentation process).
As far as what you can do with ACV, the possibilities are endless! ACV works great as a salad dressing or mixed into a drink. You can make a delicious, reflux-healing tonic by combining ACV with water, ginger, cinnamon, and a little lemon juice. Measurements are to taste so start out with small amounts of each ingredient.
Fun fact: ACV is a key ingredient for making bone broth, but not for the taste! ACV helps to extract minerals and other nutrients from the bones. Adding just a ¼ cup of ACV to the broth while it’s cooking will do the trick!
One thing to keep in mind: ACV is acidic; while it can help soothe reflux, drinking it straight up may irritate the throat, esophagus, stomach, or teeth. Make sure to dilute ACV with water to your tolerance (start off with ¼ teaspoon to 1 cup of water). Drinking ACV with a straw is also an easy fix if you’re worried about the acidity damaging your teeth enamel.
There’s no bad time to have ACV, but many practitioners advise drinking it before meals to stimulate stomach acid which is needed for digestion. ACV can also be taken as needed to ease heartburn when it arises (this is bio-individual, so proceed with caution).
Finally, be patient. Recovering from chronic reflux can be a long process. The LES needs time to heal and tighten, the esophagus needs time to repair itself from past damage, and stomach acid increases with time. So keep ACV on hand and stick with it! Generally, ACV is safe and will likely not inhibit other treatments. Give it a try, let us know how it goes, and enjoy!