When heartburn occurs frequently, it is most likely due to gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. The symptoms of GERD are typically handled with prescription medications, but there are also some herbs, such as slippery elm, that can be beneficial in treating it. Slippery elm is an herb that's been used for hundreds of years to treat sore throat, cough and digestive disorders. Consult your doctor about taking slippery elm to help alleviate the symptoms of GERD.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when the sphincter muscle at the bottom of the esophagus weakens, allowing stomach acid and bile to flow backwards into the esophagus. This irritates the lining of the esophagus and accounts for the burning feeling of heartburn. Over time, other symptoms develop, such as difficulty swallowing, dry cough and feeling as though there's a lump in your throat. Certain risk factors increase your chance of developing GERD, including hiatal hernia, obesity and pregnancy. Conventional treatment consists of antacids and prescription acid reducing medication, but herbal remedies, such as slippery elm, can also be beneficial.
How Slippery Elm Works
The inner bark of the slippery elm tree, Ulmus rubra, is harvested for use in herbal preparations. The bark contains mucilage, a starchy carbohydrate substance that swells up to form a slippery gel when mixed with water. The mucilage in slippery elm acts to coat the inflamed and irritated mucous membranes of the esophagus and lining of the stomach, neutralizing stomach acids. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that slippery elm also appears to increase mucus production within the digestive tract, which further coats, soothes and protects irritated tissues. However, no specific studies on the effectiveness of slippery elm for GERD have yet been performed.
Preparations and Dosage
When treating GERD, the spongy inner bark, or bast, of slippery elm is dried and powdered. It can be taken as a tea, capsule or tincture. The University of Maryland states the tea is made using 4 grams of bark, about 2 tablespoons in two cups of boiling water, and taken three times daily. You can take 5 milliliters of tincture three times daily and 400 to 500 milligrams in capsules three to four times per day. You must drink a full glass of water along with this herb.
There are no serious side effects associated with slippery elm. However, you should not take slippery elm if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Drink a full 8 ounces glass of water with slippery elm as the mucilage swells on contact with moisture and can become stuck in your throat. Slippery can interfere with the absorption of other medications, so do not take it at the same time as other medications and supplements. Only take slippery elm under supervision of your doctor, especially if you have diabetes or other chronic illness.
- "Prescription for Herbal Healing"; Phyllis A. Balch; 2002
- MedlinePlus: GERD
- Drugs.com: Slippery Elm; 2011
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Slippery Elm; Steven D. Ehrlich; February 2009