If you’ve ever experienced an attack of heartburn after a big meal, then you know the pain can be intense. Whether it’s the burning sensation in your chest, the bitter taste in the back of your throat, or feeling so bloated you could burst, there’s nothing pleasant about it!

In desperation, you’ve probably reached for an antacid (or two) to put out the fire. You’re not alone—millions of others do the same every year to try to make the terrible burn go away.

In fact, symptoms are so common that folks spend billions of dollars annually on heartburn drugs in an attempt to relieve their post-meal suffering. However, that short-term relief brings the potential for dangerous side effects in the long run.

mature man heartburn

The lowdown on heartburn

In the medical field, the symptoms of heartburn are known as gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux.

A common assumption is that GERD is caused when too much stomach acid flows backwards into your esophagus, resulting in pain and burning. So you reach for an antacid to decrease that stomach acid and soothe the burn.

Yet research proves that too little—not too much—stomach acid often leads to GERD. That makes sense, considering that aging means you both produce less stomach acid and are more likely to experience reflux symptoms…

heartburn

Backwards burn

While most people assume too much stomach acid is what causes the burn of reflux, it’s actually the other way around. Here’s how it works:

You need sufficient stomach acid to trigger the enzymes that digest protein. Without enough stomach acid, you don’t always activate those enzymes, so that salmon you had for lunch doesn’t get adequately broken down.

As your undigested food remains in your stomach, your stomach continues to create more acid in an attempt to do the job that enzymes should have performed. That extra acid can potentially splash back up into your esophagus, causing the pain, bloating, and other uncomfortable symptoms of reflux.

The entire process begins because you actually don’t have enough stomach acid from the start! Taking over-the-counter acid reducers only compounds the problem, plus puts you at risk for long-term issues from the inability to absorb nutrients, including osteoporosis and potentially deadly vitamin deficiencies.

Instead of reaching for antacids, there are natural ways to prevent and treat heartburn, including diet changes, addressing your stress, and getting good sleep.