If you suffer from acid reflux, which in its chronic and severe form is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, you may wonder if nutritional supplements can reduce the need for prescription medication. While the benefits of some popular supplements may not be supported by research, the effectiveness of others is well-documented. Being well-informed about supplements and acid reflux could help you make the right decisions and save money.
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the body and synthetically for use as a sleep aid. Although there have been only a few studies in humans, some evidence suggests that melatonin might be linked to improved acid reflux symptoms. Taking melatonin was associated with marked improvement in a study of 36 GERD patients published in the January 2010 issue of "BMC Gastroenterology," though researchers concluded that more study was needed. Melatonin appeared to inhibit secretion of acid and digestive pepsin in the stomach and protect the gastric lining from erosion caused by alcohol-induced injury; these findings were in rats, however.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has proved to help with functional dyspepsia, a complex of upper abdominal symptoms that includes bloating, belching and pain, and that frequently overlaps with acid reflux. However, licorice contains glycyrrhiza, which in large quantities can cause adrenal failure, resulting in fatigue, dizziness, headache and even heart failure. Glycyrrhiza has been removed from deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL, which is sold commercially in the form of chewable tablets, extracts and tinctures, and teas. Iberogast, or STW 5, and GutGard, two products whose primary ingredient is DGL licorice, have been shown to relieve symptoms of both dyspepsia and acid reflux. These preparations often have multiple ingredients, however, and it is difficult to draw conclusions about effective doses of individual components.
Although there is a lack of research supporting a link between multivitamins and improvement of GERD, long-term use of proton pump inhibitors -- the acid-blocking medications used to treat GERD -- in rare instances can lead to deficiencies in vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium, iron and magnesium metabolism. Multivitamins could help guard against this. In general, taking a daily antioxidant multivitamin may help fight inflammation by eliminating toxins known as free radicals. Caution should be taken with iron as a constituent of multivitamin preparations, since iron may irritate the stomach.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with a lower risk of Barrett esophagus, a precancerous condition caused by GERD. They help fight inflammation in the esophagus and are commonly consumed in the form of fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids may interact with blood-thinning medications. To avoid a toxic vitamin A buildup, choose products that have had most of it removed.
Although scientific research on alternative therapies and nutritional supplements is burgeoning, the lack of standardization and quality control in commercially produced supplements continues to limit the kinds of conclusions that can be drawn based on the evidence. Some supplements, including vitamins, can be toxic in large doses or interact with medications. Others, such as alpha-lipoic acid, can cause heartburn or make it worse. It's best to consult with your physician before embarking on a regimen of supplements for your acid reflux. Supplements alone may be inappropriate when the acid reflux occurs more than occasionally.