With a plethora of recent studies associating popular reflux medication, known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), with a number of worrying health problems, many patients say they are keen to find more natural alternatives.
The long-term usage of PPIs has been tied to an increased chance of heart attacks, dementia and kidney disease, according to researchers.
We’ve rounded up natural remedies that some people swear by for providing relief from their symptoms, including heartburn and indigestion, and looked at whether there is any scientific research to support the claims.
In the first in a series of blogs on natural alternatives for reflux, we look at liquorice and apple cider vinegar.
Liquorice has a long history of medicinal use and is often promoted as a natural remedy for helping with digestive complaints and gastrointestinal issues, such as stomach ulcers, heartburn, indigestion and gastritis.
It is available as dried roots, extracts, tablets, capsules, tea and powder.
Why is it used?
The theory is that liquorice “soothes inflammation” and has been described as an “effective remedy for inflammation of mucus membranes” and can even accelerate the healing of gastric ulcers. Some people chew tablets containing liquorice or add liquorice powder to water to drink before or between meals and at bedtime.
Is it safe?
For most people, liquorice found in foods is safe to eat but it contains a substance called glycyrrhizic acid, which has been linked to headaches, swelling, sodium retention, loss of potassium and high blood pressure. The NHS advises that you should avoid eating large amounts of black liquorice over a short space of time.
Health experts advise you to take a deglycyrrhizinated form of licorice (DGL) to relieve digestive discomfort.
Does it work?
There is not enough reliable data to determine whether liquorice is effective for any condition, although a study in the Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal showed that an extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra (liquorice plant) was found to be effective against functional dyspepsia – heartburn, nausea, indigestion and stomach pain.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is often linked with a whole host of potential health benefits, including digestive disorders and indigestion, and many people swear that drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with water can help relieve their heartburn.
Why is it used?
Theories say that consuming apple cider vinegar before a meal can counteract alkaline substances in the diet and that the acidic nature of the vinegar aids digestion by helping break down fats. Others say it enables the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid, which aids digestion, or that apple cider vinegar might help buffer the acidity level in the stomach because acetic acid found in apple cider vinegar is a weaker acid than hydrochloric acid produced by your stomach.
Is it safe?
Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic, which can damage tooth enamel and might lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. It has also been reported that apple cider vinegar consumed in high quantities may interact with certain medications, making adverse reactions more likely.
One study also reported that a 28-year-old woman who ingested large amounts of cider vinegar regularly for six years had a deficiency of potassium in her bloodstream, abnormally high concentration of renin in the blood and lower bone density.
Does it work?
There isn’t any medical research published to support the use apple cider vinegar for reflux and, according to the European Food Safety Authority, there is no evidence to show apple cider vinegar helps any medical disorder.
Without robust clinical trials, it is difficult to determine whether natural remedies really work and what works for one individual may not always work for another.
Of course, if you find a particular natural alternative that delivers positive results, it could be considered for usage. But, it is always best to discuss options available to you with your medical practitioner first.
You should also see your doctor for a full discussion about supplement and medication if you develop new or worsening symptoms.