A New Approach for Managing GERD and Heartburn

This month I wanted to write about a unique and little known supplement for heartburn and GERD. Digestive enzymes, probiotics, and DGL licorice are all helpful for managing GERD, but there is another supplement ingredient I’ve discovered and have been doing some research on which I believe could be a great help for GERD and heartburn sufferers.

The ingredient I’m talking about is called alginate, also known as algenic acid. It’s an extract from brown algae that absorbs many times its weight in liquid, making a natural gel substance. When that algae gel is combined with natural buffers like sodium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate and used after a meal, it is actually able to make a gel-like raft that blocks acid reflux into the esophagus.

When the alginate reaches the acids in the stomach, it makes a pliable gel. At the same time, the calcium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda) produce bubbles in the algae gel which make it rise to the top of the stomach, so it is literally floating on top of the contents of your stomach.

By making this floating stomach acid raft, it prevents those stomach acids from coming back up the esophagus, which is what happens in acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn.

It sounds a little strange, and but if you think about it, it makes sense. One of the main reasons so many people suffer from acid reflux is that naturally as we age, the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus known as the esophageal sphincter can weaken, so it doesn’t close all the way. When this happens, it allows acid to begin to travel back up the esophagus from the stomach, causing pain and damage over time.

When this gel raft is formed, it can last several hours in the body (which means that it is effective for that amount of time) before passing through the intestines and being digested like any other fiber.

Research has been done on alginate and its gel barrier method for preventing acid reflux, and when compared with PPIs, other acid blocking drugs, and antacids, it’s been found superior in both safety and effectiveness (here’s a link the abstract of one of those studies on Pub Med). There are no side effects, drug interactions, or toxicity that has been found from using this method since you are not actually taking a drug or anything that is necessarily changing what the body naturally does, but are just preventing acid from going where it shouldn’t be going anyway. It’s very much like fencing a dog in your yard- you aren’t stopping Fido from doing whatever he likes to do in your yard, you’re just preventing him from running in the street.

This alginate combination has been the subject of over fourteen different studies as well as a meta-analysis that examined each of the studies done on these nutrients at Duke University. The results showed that the alginate based supplement was more effective than placebo or antacids. In the studies, the people who took the alginate supplement were 4.42 times more likely to have a complete resolution of their symptoms than the placebo group.

I don’t know why alginate based supplements aren’t more well known, since the research is sound, but I’m happy to be able to share the information I’ve come across, since I think it could help a lot of people.

The supplement we’ve found that has this impressive alginate combination that we carry at the store is called Nutrisec by a company called Nature’s Plus. It’s a chewable tablet that is meant to be taken after a meal or 30 minutes before bedtime to prevent reflux when lying down to sleep at night, which is a very common issue for people with GERD. If you use it before bed, wait a half hour before laying down so the raft has time to get into place so it can work properly.

I’d very much recommend trying it, especially since it has been shown to cause no harm, and that it seems like something that might really help if you’re dealing with acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn. It’s definitely worth a try!

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Papaya Enzymes for Preventing Upset Stomach this Summer

I’ve written about digestive enzymes before for people with chronic or persistent digestive issues (bloating, indigestion, etc.) on regular use can make a huge difference in symptoms. This month, however, I wanted to write about the more basic papaya enzymes, which are great for people of all ages for occasional stomach upset or overindulgence. Enzymes are nice, since they are only beneficial- there are no negative side effects. When taken with or after a meal, they help to break down foods so they are more easily digested.  

Papaya enzymes are great for times when you may eat heavier or greasy foods, or for times when you feel overly full after eating- something that happens a lot at summer BBQs or on vacations.  They’re a great thing to keep in the house or a travel bag.  Having an upset stomach is a surefire way to ruin a fun time this summer, so keeping some chewable papaya enzymes on hand is a great idea.

I’ve also found them to be extremely helpful for when my daughter complains of an upset stomach.  Many times I don’t necessarily believe that her stomach actually hurts (since it’s frequently a bedtime complaint), but giving her one chewable papaya enzyme makes her happy.  It’s something I feel completely comfortable giving her, since it is just natural enzymes from papaya, which will help to digest any food in her stomach.  Even if her “upset stomach” is just imaginary, a papaya enzyme won’t hurt at all.  In fact, enzymes on an empty stomach can even help with reducing inflammation in the body.

Papaya enzymes can also help with heartburn.  My family usually eats pizza once a week (we’re dairy free, so I make homemade pizza with Daiya mozzarella cheese shreds), and my husband had been complaining of heartburn on pizza nights.  He started taking chewable papaya enzymes- two right before he’d eat pizza and two after if needed, and he has said it has completely taken away his pizza-heartburn.

We use the chewable papaya enzymes from American Health.  The standard dose for adults is three chewables (they’re small) with a meal or as needed.  They’re good tasting and can really help.

Again, papaya enzymes are the most basic of enzymes, so while they’re a good place to start, they might not be the best choice for everyone.  I’ll link a few articles below on digestive issues and supplements that can help:

Digestive Enzymes for Bloating, Gas, and Indigestion

Natural Relief for GERD

Natural Remedies for Indigestion and Heartburn


Peppermint Oil Softgels for IBS

Q: I have been dealing with IBS symptoms which seem to have gotten worse lately. I have a terrible time with intestinal cramping and gas, which have made life really difficult. So you have any recommendations of something that could help?  I’m kind of desperate.

A: Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common digestive disorder that encompasses a variety of symptoms which includes recurring abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and changes in normal bowel movement (constipation and/or diarrhea).

The first supplement I’d recommend are peppermint oil softgels. Peppermint oil is a natural antispasmodic, which means that it reduces cramping, particularly in the bowels. Peppermint oil can also help with relieving excess gas. For IBS and digestive issues, it’s important to take enteric coated softgels, softgel capsules which have a protective coating so they are able to make it to the intestines without opening in the stomach, since peppermint oil in the stomach can cause heartburn. 

One study done by the American College of Gastroenterology found that 75% of people with IBS symptoms who took peppermint oil softgels twice daily had a significant reduction in symptoms and many found the peppermint gels completely stopped their IBS problems.

We’d especially recommend the enteric coated Peppermint Gels by NOW Foods. They’re a local Illinois company, and have added a bit of ginger and fennel to the peppermint oil, which further help to soothe the digestive tract. It’s an inexpensive and effective supplement, so it’s definitely one to try if you’ve been dealing with IBS.

Other supplements that can be helpful would be probiotics, particularly Solgar’s Probi probiotics, since they contain a specific a strain that has been researched with fantastic results for helping with IBS (see our article here for more information), as well as aloe vera juice and digestive enzymes.


Digestive Enzymes for Bloating, Gas, and Indigestion

Q: I’ve been experiencing a lot of gas and bloating after eating lately. I’ve been eating out at work more, which I know doesn’t help, but I just feel like so often when I eat now, the food is just sitting like a rock in my stomach. Is there anything natural you’d suggest that could help?  Maybe this is just part of getting older.

A: Absolutely there are things that can help, and the simple thing I’d recommend most would be digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes work by helping to break down the foods we eat- carbohydrates, fats, fiber, and proteins- into smaller particles that our body can use. Our bodies produce digestive enzymes naturally, though that amount decreases as we age, which is a large part of why as the years pass, many people begin to have digestive issues, when they never did before.

In nature, all animals except for humans and pets, eat their foods raw, whole, and organic, foods that contain abundant enzymes which help the digestive process. When we eat whole, fresh, raw foods, the enzymes the food naturally contains go a long way in helping our bodies to break it down for digestion.

With our modern lifestyle, however, the majority of foods we eat are cooked, stored, and processed, which destroys a large part of those beneficial enzymes. This puts the pressure on our bodies to make more enzymes and work much harder to completely digest the food we’ve eaten. Our bodies were simply not made to have to do that. They can, but over the years, digestion can become impaired, leading to digestive issues like bloating, stomach pains, and even food sensitivities or intolerances. Our pancreas and salivary glands do make enzymes, but they are meant to top off the enzymes naturally present in foods, not to be adequate on their own.

The solutions are these: number one, eat a raw food diet (something that is tricky to do and difficult to sustain in the long run), or number two, supplement with digestive enzymes.

I love digestive enzymes because they are completely safe. They do not stop your body from making its own enzymes or impair anything that the body does naturally, they only are adding additional enzymes to help the body break down foods easier.

Proper digestion is crucial for overall health, plus, it just makes life better, and enzymes are an easy way to help. Enzymes can be beneficial for everyone, whether you are having digestive issues all the time or only occasionally. For a person with chronic bloating and digestive troubles, I’d recommend an enzyme supplement with each meal. Enzymes need to be taken with your food to be work, so getting in the habit of taking enzymes when you eat can make a big difference.

I have good digestion, thankfully, but even someone without chronic digestive troubles can benefit from an enzyme supplement occasionally. I always keep a bottle in the house just in case. They’re fantastic for those times when you may have eaten too much, or when something just doesn’t agree with you.

Digestive enzymes can also be helpful for people with food sensitivities or food intolerances. Food sensitivities (which medical professionals are not saying is the correct term, rather than a food intolerance) are different than an allergy. If you have an allergy to a food, or a disease like Celiac, digestive enzymes will not help you, because it’s important to completely avoid those problem foods. In the case of a food sensitivity, however, the trouble is often that the body is unable to produce the enzymes to digest a certain food, whether it’s dairy, wheat, or what have you, which will then cause digestive distress when that food is eaten. Improper digestion of specific foods can cause, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and more. Supplementing with a full spectrum enzyme complex can help with digesting those foods, reducing or eliminating the symptoms of improper or incomplete digestion.

We have many fantastic enzyme supplements available at the store, though the one I’d recommend the most is Solgar’s Comfort Zone Digestive Complex. They’re vegetarian capsules (which I love since I hate swallowing tablets) that combine eleven different natural enzymes to which work together to break down hard to digest foods. In addition to a full spectrum of enzymes, Solgar’s Comfort Zone enzyme also contains a mixture of herbs like ginger, fennel, chamomile, and others which help to calm and soothe the stomach. For chronic digestive issues, I’d recommend taking one with each meal, though they can also be taken as needed for occasional indigestion.

Digestive enzymes are something everyone could benefit from at one time or another. I’d really recommend giving them a try if you’re suffering from digestive issues!


Holiday Wellness Survival Guide

The holidays are a wonderful time of joy, togetherness, and goodwill… but they can also be a time of stress, anxiety, digestive maladies, and weight gain.  I put this Holiday Wellness Survival Guide together to hopefully cope with the latter so we can experience more of the former.

Stress and Anxiety

December usually heralds in party after party while we joggle work and family.  While these get togethers can be wonderful, they can also cause a great deal of stress and anxiety.  L-Theanine is an amino acid derived from green tea that works very well to curb anxiety, without tiredness.  Studies have shown that theanine stimulates alpha brain waves, which are associated with relaxation and mental clarity.  Theanine can be taken daily or just on days when you know you’ll be going into a situation that can be stressful.  Another supplement that many people find helpful for stress and anxiety is the herb valerian, which is known by many as “nature’s Valium”.  Valerian is best known for its benefit as a sleep aid, but in lower doses it is very effective at reducing anxiety, though unlike Xanax or valium it is completely non-addictive.


The holidays are a time when we eat many foods that we ordinarily don’t, and that fact can bring on many digestive complaints like bloating, stomach upset, and gas.  Digestive enzymes are very effective in treating digestive complaints at the cause instead of simply trying to mask a symptom of poor digestion.  Our bodies naturally contain digestive enzymes, though the number of digestive enzymes naturally present in our bodies decrease as we age, increasing digestive problems.  Digestive enzymes work by helping to naturally break down food in the stomach, so that food is digested more easily.  How many times have you overeaten and then felt like there was a brick in your stomach?  Digestive enzymes help with that problem.  By helping food to digest properly, they can help keep problems like bloating, stomach upset, and gas away since food is more easily digested.

Avoiding Weight Gain

Weight loss, or wanting to avoid packing on holiday pounds is on many people’s minds this season.  It’s easy to overeat and consume many more calories than we ordinarily would at holiday parties.  A good suggestion is to avoid “grazing” at holiday buffets.  When you take the time to fill up a plate and sit down to eat it can help you realize how much you’re eating instead of mindlessly eating calorie after calorie standing over the appetizer table.  One supplement that can be especially beneficial to prevent holiday overeating is glucomannan.

Glucomannan is a type of fiber (available in easy to swallow capsules) that expands many times its size in a person’s stomach, helping them to feel more full.  By taking glucomannan before a holiday party it can help you to feel more in control of your eating, since you won’t feel as hungry.  Glucomannan is nice because it’s stimulant free, so it can be taken at night and won’t keep you up when it’s time for sleep. 

Staying Healthy

As the weather gets colder, sickness becomes more and more prevalent- a lack of fresh air and being indoors is a big contributing factor.  There has even been recent research that has suggests that much of the increase in illness during winter is as a result of vitamin D
deficiency (our body manufactures vitamin D from skin exposure to sunlight).  One recent study involving African-American postmenopausal women found a 60% reduced risk of colds and influenza for those taking 800 IU/d vitamin D3 and 90% reduced risk for those taking 2000 IU/d.

Elderberry syrup is another supplement which is great for the immune system- especially
combating against viruses, specifically the flu.  In one study, a clinical trial on patients
displaying full-blown flu symptoms took place in Israel in the middle of a flu epidemic. Half were given the black elderberry extract and half a placebo. Within 48 hours 75% of patients who had been given elderberry had clearly improved and within 72 hours 90% were symptom-free. Only 16% of patients on placebos had shown any improvement after two days, and the rest took at least six days to recover. 

Another supplement that is especially effective on viruses is a mushroom complex called AHCC.  AHCC is a common supplement to be taken by cancer patients, for its anti-tumor benefits, but is beneficial in combating the flu as well.  AHCC is commonly prescribed in Asia for immune health.  Both human and animal studies have shown AHCC’s ability to enhance the activity of natural killer cells (NK cells).  Those NK cells are the first defense for the body’s immune system and are able to launch a rapid attack against foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses while the other parts of the immune system are still mobilizing.  A quick immune response to bacteria and viruses can often make the difference between getting sick or staying well.
The last supplement I’d recommend that’s a favorite of ours for immune health is Irwin Naturals Immuno Shield, which is a very well put together combination of several different herbs, probiotics, and more to help boost the immune system.  It can be taken in low doses as a preventative measure, or in higher concentrations if you do get sick.  We’ve found it really does help to get you better faster.

Healthy Q & A: Natural Remedies for Indigestion and Heartburn

Q: I have problems with indigestion and heartburn a few times a week.  I usually just take an antacid (although sometimes it doesn’t really fix it).  Recently I read that antacids were not really great to take.  Is there anything you would suggest as an alternative?

A:  Heartburn and indigestion can be an uncomfortable thing to deal with.  Antacids would not really be something I’d recommend, however, since there are a number of other things which would probably work better and be healthier as well.

The first thing I’d say is that for most people who take antacids, they are not taking one or two, but closer to a handful to quell their symptoms.  The trouble with this is that excess calcium is not a good thing (antacids are usually made from calcium carbonate).  The body can only absorb about 500mg of calcium at one time, so taking more than that at a time can raise blood calcium levels, and when taken at excessive dosages on a regular basis can lead to kidney stones, arterial calcification, and more.

Next, it’s interesting to note that in many cases, indigestion and even heartburn is caused by a lack of stomach acid, rather than an excess like it may seem.  Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is produced in the stomach and is needed for the proper digestion of food.  With age, the amount of HCL present in the body decreases.  There is an easy test to see if your indigestion and heartburn caused by not enough HCL; next time you have digestive troubles, try taking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice mixed with some water.  If it makes the indigestion go away, you need more stomach acid.  If it makes your symptoms worse, then take care to avoid supplements which contain HCL.  If it does help, taking apple cider vinegar with meals would be a good idea to enhance digestion- I would particularly recommend Bragg’s apple cider vinegar- it’s the best apple cider vinegar I’ve ever used. 

Digestive enzymes would also be a good idea.  Digestive enzymes help the body to break down food more easily.  Both our bodies and the foods we eat contain enzymes, though our body’s own natural enzymes decrease with age, and cooking food, as well as storage methods of our groceries, reduce those enzymes further.  Supplementing with digestive enzymes at meals will just help the body to digest foods easier, helping to prevent both indigestion and heartburn. 

People who have frequent indigestion or heartburn will often take digestive enzymes with each meal.  Other people, myself included, will take them only as needed, e.g., when you eat a meal at a restaurant and you know you’ve overdone it.  In a case like that, digestive enzymes can just give your body the boost it needs to digest the rock in your stomach.  We also have digestive enzymes available that contain additional HCL for people with low stomach acid.

Aloe vera juice is another supplement which can help with heartburn as well as a variety of other digestive problems.  Aloe is very calming and healing to the digestive tract, and for many people, taking ¼ cup morning and night can relieve a host of digestive issues.

The last supplement I’d recommend is actually called, “Stop Acid Reflux” by Caleb Treeze.  It’s a mix of apple cider vinegar, ginger, and garlic (which I know sounds kind of awful, but it’s actually a refreshing taste) that is said to stop acid reflux in 60 seconds.  I’ve used it and was amazed how well it worked. 

Finally, if your heartburn persists or grows worse, be sure to speak with your doctor to rule out any more serious problems.