Ayurveda

Ask Dr. Sheila: Managing Acid Reflux and GERD with Ayurveda

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For the Ask Dr. Sheila column, Dr. Sheila Patel, Chopra’s Chief Medical Officer, answers questions from our community. If you have a general question for Sheila around health and wellness, please send an email to askdrsheila@chopra.com, and your question may be the one she answers next.

In this article, Dr. Sheila answers a question about how to manage acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) with Ayurveda.


Acid reflux, or gastritis, is a very common condition that I see weekly in my practice. This occurs when there is overproduction of acid in the stomach, damage to the protective lining in the stomach and esophagus, and/or reflux of acid from the stomach into the esophagus.

Several medications can contribute to reflux, and may or may not be able to be eliminated or reduced, therefore the typical treatment in Western medicine is to make dietary changes and treat a person with acid blockers to reduce the production of acid.

The dietary changes include reducing caffeine, alcohol, and acidic and spicy foods. Although this can help, it doesn’t always treat the underlying root cause therefore people end up on acid-blocking medication long term which can have potential side effects, including an increased risk of certain types of infections, reduced absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, and other digestive issues.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, acid reflux is usually considered an imbalance of the Pitta dosha in the stomach. Pitta dosha represents heat, or the fire element, therefore anything that increases fire element in the body or mind has the potential to cause reflux.

This can include eating too many sour (acidic) or pungent (spicy) foods, but can also include things like lack of sleep, overworking, stress, or emotional upset. In addition, repressed or unresolved emotions such as anger, resentment, and guilt can play a role. In order to effectively treat acid reflux a person needs to address the root cause, or causes, so the treatment is multifactorial.

Six Ways to Reduce Symptoms of Acidity

These are things that can help reduce heat in the body, thus reduce symptoms of acidity:

Reduce sour and pungent foods

Focus on the six tastes to help balance Pitta. This includes elimination of coffee, soda, and alcohol.

Reduce overactivity

This can include over-exercising, over-thinking, and over-working. Create more down-time in your schedule and days of rest in your exercise program.

Increase cooling herbs and foods

Pitta-pacifying herbs and foods include mint, cilantro, dill, aloe vera juice, coconut water or coconut milk, cucumber and fresh fruit.

Get adequate sleep

Melatonin has been shown to tighten the junction between the stomach and esophagus, so we can reduce reflux at night if we get enough sleep.

Release emotions

Let go of emotions that you may be holding onto that can create heat in the mind and body, such as anger, resentment, guilt, or shame. Cognitive behavioral therapy, journaling, yoga, or other somatic work are good options to release stored emotions from the body.

Meditate

Calming the nervous system through mind-body practices such as meditation helps to regulate all of the internal functions of the body, including control of acid production and functioning of the esophagus and stomach.

A combination of these practices is the key to addressing the underlying issues related to acid reflux and gastritis. Without addressing the underlying issue, even using natural remedies may not solve the problem.

I recommend reading Deepak Chopra’s book, Perfect Health, or David Simon’s book The Wisdom of Healing for a holistic understanding of what is going on. There is information in these books and on our website to help you find the root cause of the symptoms. And although most of the time these practices and dietary changes will ease the symptoms, always check with your health care provider if the symptoms are severe or don’t resolve with lifestyle changes in order to rule out serious disease.

I encourage you to integrate these practices into your daily life for the next 30 to 60 days to give the mind and body time to adjust and balance Pitta. Notice how you feel, make adjustments to support your unique needs, and give yourself loving care and grace while you create space for healing.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.


Cool off and find calm this summer with Pitta-balancing practices to nourish mind, body, and spirit in Summer Renewal, a four-part Ayurveda series with Dr. Sheila Patel, available now in the Chopra App under For You.