You don’t have to just “live with” heartburn, nausea, or gallbladder pain. Your body is using these symptoms to tell you something is wrong. But you need to figure out why.
Unfortunately, many people haven’t figured out the “why” behind their gut symptoms. So they continue to deal with the problems.
Acid reflux and heartburn affect up to 28% of people in North America and Europe. Nausea and gallbladder problems are also common. (1, 2)
Fortunately, you can beat recurring digestive symptoms. This starts by knowing the underlying risk factors — such as diet, toxins, stress, and chronic infections like parasites and Lyme disease.
Keep reading for the details on what causes heartburn, nausea, and gallbladder pain. You’ll also find natural ways to address these conditions and restore your gut health.
Acid Reflux and Heartburn
Acid reflux is when your stomach contents spill back up into your esophagus. Your stomach contents are very acidic, so that can cause a burning sensation in the middle of your chest. And sour or bitter fluid can come up into your throat. This is commonly called heartburn. (3)
That shouldn’t happen. A valve between your esophagus and stomach — called the lower esophageal sphincter — should prevent this. But sometimes it becomes weak or relaxes at the wrong time.
Your stomach can handle the strong acid because it’s protected by a thick layer of mucus. But your esophagus isn’t so lucky. Reflux can lead to inflammation in the lining of your esophagus.
When reflux becomes a recurring and severe problem, it’s called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition is linked to several other issues.
Problems linked with acid reflux
Acid reflux is more than experiencing heartburn after eating. It can also lead to other pesky symptoms and erode your quality of life.
Some of the problems associated with acid reflux and GERD include:
Asthma: Reflux may increase your risk of asthma symptoms and worsen their severity. At the same time, asthma and some drugs used to treat it could encourage reflux. (4)
Barrett’s esophagus: Chronic GERD causes changes in the tissue lining your esophagus. It becomes similar to the lining of your intestines. This is called Barrett’s esophagus. (5)
Chronic coughing: When stomach acid irritates your esophagus, it can trigger coughing. Ironically, the process of coughing encourages more acid reflux. (6)
Difficulty swallowing: Scar tissue can form in your esophagus when it’s repeatedly exposed to stomach acid. These scars make your esophagus narrower and can make swallowing painful. (7)
Laryngitis: GERD can damage the vocal cords in your larynx (voice box). That can lead to hoarseness, and you may temporarily lose your voice. (8)
Poor sleep: In a nationwide survey, 75% of Americans dealing with nighttime heartburn said it interfered with their sleep. (9)
Tooth erosion: Acid washing up into your mouth can eat away at your dental enamel. That can lead to sensitive teeth. You may experience nerve pain to hot or cold food. (10)
So, don’t ignore acid reflux. It could have long-term health consequences. Knowing the risk factors for GERD can help you restore your gut health.
Risk factors for GERD
There are several risk factors for acid reflux and GERD. Some of these factors are under your control, but others aren’t. Also, some risk factors aren’t necessarily the root cause of reflux but could increase your risk of the condition.
Some of the factors associated with an increased risk of reflux and GERD include:
Alcohol: These beverages may lead to heartburn by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter. Alcohol may also directly damage your esophagus. (11)
Anxiety and depression: Mental health challenges and emotional symptoms don’t seem to cause GERD directly. But they may increase the severity of reflux and heartburn. (12)
Coffee: Studies have shown mixed results. For some people, drinking coffee (with or without caffeine) triggers acid reflux. It can relax the lower esophageal sphincter. Other people drink coffee without a problem. (13, 14)
Constipation: Being backed up may increase your risk of reflux. On top of that, constipation is a major roadblock to detoxification. (15, 16)
Diet: Certain foods can trigger the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, letting acid escape your stomach. These include chocolate, high-fat foods, and mint. Other items can directly irritate the esophagus. These include acidic foods and beverages, as well as spicy foods. (17)
Drugs: Some medications for depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, allergies, and asthma can increase your risk of reflux. (18)
Hiatal hernia: This is when the upper part of your stomach pushes through the opening in your diaphragm. That’s a muscular partition separating your chest and abdomen. A hiatal hernia may weaken the lower esophageal sphincter or trigger reflux in other ways. (19)
Large meals: Eating too much food at one time could increase your risk of reflux. (20)
Late-night meals: If your stomach is full when you lie down, you’re at greater risk of reflux. To reduce your risk, finish eating three hours before bedtime. (21)
Microbiome shifts: The abundance of certain bacteria in your esophagus is altered when you have GERD. This may contribute to an increased risk of reflux. Many factors can disrupt the makeup of your microbiome, including parasites. (22, 23, 24, 25)
Obesity: Carrying extra weight, particularly in your belly, puts pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. So, it may relax when it shouldn’t, letting stomach acid invade your esophagus. (26)
Pregnancy: When progesterone increases during pregnancy, the risk of reflux increases. An elevated level of progesterone can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter. (27, 28)
Smoking: Tobacco can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, letting stomach acid spill back into your esophagus. Smoking also reduces your saliva’s level of bicarbonate, which functions to neutralize the acid in your esophagus. (29)
Sodas: Drinking carbonated beverages like soda can cause stomach bloating. That puts pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. The valve may relax, leading to acid reflux. (30, 31)
Strategies to combat reflux
A common remedy for acid reflux is taking over-the-counter antacids to help neutralize stomach acid. And some people take drugs that reduce stomach acid production. These are called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
But drugs don’t address the root cause of reflux. On top of that, PPIs could have serious side effects. They can increase your risk of developing small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), osteoporosis, nutrient deficiencies, and infections. (32, 33, 34)
Also, keep in mind that stomach acid is a good thing. It facilitates digestion. And it helps tackle pathogens — such as Clostridium bacteria — that find their way into your food. So, it’s risky to block your stomach acid production. (35, 36)
Below are 6 smarter ways to address acid reflux and to help restore your gut health.
1. Avoid dietary triggers
As mentioned above, there are several common dietary triggers of acid reflux, such as alcohol and high-fat foods.
Other food triggers may be more unique to you and aren’t included in typical food avoidance lists for GERD. For example, some people report flare-ups of reflux when they eat lettuce, asparagus, eggs, or rice. (37)
So, listen to your body to determine what foods most likely trigger reflux for you. Avoid what’s setting off your symptoms. (38)
But realize that you may not need to avoid dietary triggers forever. Once you address the root causes of acid reflux, you may find you can tolerate foods that once triggered heartburn.
2. Keep your gut contents moving
Avoid constipation to reduce your risk of reflux. Certain natural herbs promote good elimination.
Keep in mind, your colon is at the bottom of your drainage funnel. If it’s backed up, everything above it will be, too. You should be pooping two or three times a day during detox.
3. Modify your lifestyle
Whether it’s smoking, excess weight, or overeating, addressing such lifestyle factors could help reduce your risk of acid reflux.
If you feel you’ve tried everything to lose weight but still struggle, consider the role of toxicity in excess weight. That could include mold toxicity, as well as toxicity from heavy metals and infections.
4. Nurture your mental health
Find ways to manage stress. Consider deep-breathing exercises or new hobbies that bring you joy. The Ayurvedic tradition includes many stress-relieving practices, including meditation and massage.
5. Combat nighttime reflux
You already know that eating too late at night increases your risk of reflux. So, avoid that. You can also try elevating the head of your bed 6–8 inches (15–20 cm). (39)
In addition, try sleeping on your left side instead of your right side. Lying on your left side reduces the risk of nighttime reflux. It’s unclear why. But it might be because the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes when you sleep on your right side. That enables acid reflux. (40, 41)
6. Support melatonin at night
Melatonin is often associated with sleep. But this hormone also supports digestion. Melatonin promotes the normal functioning of the lower esophageal sphincter. That could help reduce your risk of reflux. (42, 43, 44)
One natural way to support your melatonin level is to eat protein foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan. Your body uses it to make melatonin. Good sources of tryptophan include eggs, poultry, nuts, and seeds. (45)
And in the hours before bedtime, you can wear special blue-light-blocking glasses. Blue light, such as from digital devices, suppresses your body’s production of melatonin at night. So in a roundabout way, staring at your smartphone at night could be increasing your risk of reflux. (46)
Using simple strategies like these may help reduce your risk of acid reflux and its long-term complications.
Nausea is the unsettling sensation that you may vomit. This queasy feeling isn’t necessarily serious. But it’s so uncomfortable that you may try anything to relieve it and restore your gut health.
To resolve nausea, it’s helpful to know the cause. It can be due to many factors. Here are some of the many possible triggers:
Acid reflux: Nausea sometimes accompanies acid reflux or GERD. You’ve read about the root causes of GERD above. Address them as needed. (47)
Anxiety: If you’ve ever felt “butterflies in your stomach,” you know that worry and anxiety can trigger nausea. (48, 49)
Food sensitivities: Nausea is a potential symptom of food sensitivities. But if you address the root cause of food sensitivities, such as parasites, you may regain your tolerance of foods. (50, 51, 52)
General anesthesia: Have you ever had a medical procedure that required anesthesia to make you unconscious? If so, you likely know you’re at risk of nausea afterward. (53, 54)
High blood sugar: If your blood sugar is too high, such as in uncontrolled diabetes, that could lead to nausea. (55, 56)
Lyme disease: Infection with Borrelia bacteria, the cause of Lyme disease, can lead to nystagmus. That means excessive eye movement. It can trigger nausea. (57)
Migraines: Nausea is a common symptom of migraines. These headaches may activate certain areas of your brain that trigger nausea. (58)
Mold toxicity: Some of the toxins produced by mold — such as Stachybotrys chartarum or “black mold” — can make you feel nauseous. You may have toxic mold in your home or workplace and not even know it. (59)
Motion: About 1 in 3 people are prone to motion sickness. It happens when your brain gets signals about motion — such as from your eyes and inner ears — that don’t match. For example, it could be triggered by a boat ride — or just watching it on television. (60, 61)
Parasites: Several parasites may trigger nausea. A few examples include Giardia, tapeworms, and Babesia, which is a common Lyme coinfection. (62, 63, 64, 65)
Pregnancy: Nausea affects 70–80% of all pregnant women, especially during the first trimester. Many factors are likely involved, including hormonal changes. (66)
Smells: Strong odors can trigger queasiness, such as during pregnancy. Odors can also trigger nausea in people with multiple chemical sensitivity. This condition may include hypersensitivity to fragrances, chemicals, and air pollutants like exhaust fumes. (67, 68)
"Stomach bug": Though miserable at the time, nausea should subside once the infection runs its course. (69)
Strategies to combat nausea
No one is immune to feeling nauseated every once in a while. But if you are experiencing it regularly, there are ways you can address it and restore your gut health.
Consider these approaches:
1. Avoid your triggers
Many potential nausea triggers were mentioned above. Do your best to identify and manage whatever sets off your nausea.
For example, if you have multiple chemical sensitivity, avoid artificial scents. Use fragrance-free personal care products and non-toxic cleaning products like baking soda and vinegar.
Binders could help reduce your toxin load. Over the long term, that may improve your tolerance of toxins that trigger nausea. Even so, it’s still wise to minimize your exposure to toxic chemicals like man-made fragrance. (68)
2. Use aromatherapy
A soothing scent from essential oils may be just what you need to calm nausea. Lavender and peppermint essential oils may help when you’re feeling queasy. (69, 70)
In one study, adults were given an inhaler with peppermint oil after outpatient surgery. They needed 71% fewer doses of anti-nausea medication after surgery compared to people who didn’t receive aromatherapy. (70)
3. Eat something to calm your stomach
You’ve likely heard of abnormal heart rhythms. But have you heard of abnormal stomach rhythms or contractions? These are linked to nausea, such as in motion sickness and pregnancy. (71, 72)
Eating tends to calm abnormal stomach rhythms. This may be why eating bland, carbohydrate-rich foods like crackers and pretzels sometimes helps settle your stomach. (72, 73)
A few human studies suggest protein-rich foods may also help prevent nausea. Scientists think this might be because protein stimulates your stomach to release gastrin — more-so than carbs and fat. Gastrin is a hormone that promotes normal stomach rhythms. (72)
4. Detox chemicals and radioactive elements
Even if you don’t realize it, you’re exposed to radioactive elements and chemicals. They’re found in the water you drink and in the environment. Plus, medical tests like CT (computed tomography) scans expose you to radioactive elements. (73, 74)
Binders are a powerful detoxifier in your body and may bind to chemicals and radioactive elements. They may also provide additional support to help your body. (75)
5. Tackle infections
Don’t let parasites take over your digestive system and trigger nausea. Do a parasite cleanse that includes natural antiparasitic herbs. (76, 77)
If your nausea is linked to Lyme disease, use herbs that help combat it. (78, 79)
6. Manage stress
Anxiety can amplify digestive issues of all kinds, including nausea. So, find what works for you to reduce the friction in your life and restore your gut health.
Meditative breathing — whether used alongside aromatherapy or by itself — could help reduce nausea. Yoga may also help decrease stress and nausea. (80, 81)
7. Consider acupuncture
Acupuncture treatments may help reduce nausea. In this therapy, an acupuncturist inserts very thin needles at precise points on your body. These send signals to your brain that could help relieve nausea.
As testimony to its effectiveness, acupuncture is sometimes used to control nausea after surgery (due to anesthesia). (82)
Combining several of these anti-nausea strategies could help minimize queasiness and restore your gut health.
Your gallbladder is a pouch-like organ. It’s located on the upper right side of your abdomen, close to your liver. It collects the bile your liver produces. During digestion, your gallbladder contracts to release bile into your small intestine.
Here’s a closer look at what bile does and how pain can result from gallbladder issues.
What does bile do?
Bile is predominantly water. But it also contains a mix of bile salts, bilirubin (a brown-yellow pigment), cholesterol, electrolytes, and several other components. (83)
Here are some of the key roles of bile: (84)
Supports fat digestion: Bile separates fat into tiny globules in your small intestine, similar to dishwashing soap breaking up grease on dirty dishes. This gives your digestive enzymes better access to digest fat and promotes its absorption in your gut.
Facilitates vitamin absorption: Bile helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins. These include vitamins A, D, E, and K. (85)
Carries out toxins: Your liver uses bile as a way to dispose of toxic substances that it processes. In your gut, around 5% of bile is bound in your stools and eliminated. (86)
May help prevent SIBO: When bacteria migrate in large numbers from your large intestine to your small intestine, it’s called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Bile helps prevent this overgrowth and the gut issues that accompany it. (87)
Acts as a signaling molecule: Newer research shows that components of bile can be signaling molecules. This may play a role in fighting pathogens, regulating blood sugar, supporting healthy brain function, and more. (88, 89, 90, 91, 92)
If your gallbladder isn’t working well, all these functions could suffer. The most common gallbladder problem is gallstones. These can cause pain and nausea.
Gallstones and risk factors
Gallstone problems affect as many as 10–15% of adults in the United States and Europe. The stones can form when the composition of your bile is out of balance. They can also arise if your gallbladder is slow to empty after meals or doesn’t empty enough. (93, 94, 95, 96)
As the stones get bigger, you’re at increased risk of them blocking your bile ducts. When that happens, pressure builds up inside your gallbladder. This can cause intense pain in the upper right part of your abdomen and is sometimes called a “gallbladder attack.” (95)
Some of the factors that increase your risk of developing gallstones are: (97, 98, 99, 100)
- Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)
- Estrogen therapy and some cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Being of the female sex
- Getting older
- Low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets
- Low-fiber diet
Parasitic infection, such as certain liver flukes and malaria parasites
- Pregnancy (due to hormone changes)
- Rapid weight loss
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Vitamin B12 and/or folate deficiency
Due to the intense pain of gallbladder attacks, many people get their gallbladder removed. The theory is that you won’t have pain if you take out the organ. But this isn’t always the case.
Abdominal pain can persist in up to 41% of people who have their gallbladder surgically removed. On top of that, one study found that about 1 in 5 people had complications with their gallbladder surgery. That could result in bile duct and liver injury. (101)
The good news is that there are other ways to support your gallbladder and restore your gut health.
Strategies to combat gallbladder issues
When Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he wasn’t talking about gallbladders. But it’s a good philosophy for gallbladder health.
There are several ways to reduce your odds of gallstones and overcome gallbladder issues. Consider the following strategies to support your gallbladder and restore your gut health.
1. Maintain a healthy body weight
Being overweight is a significant risk factor for gallstones. When you’re carrying excess weight, your liver secretes more cholesterol into the bile. That disrupts the composition of bile and increases your risk of gallstones. (102)
The connection between creeping weight gain and gallstones is even greater as you age. So, do what you can to keep your weight in check as the years go by. (103)
If you’re overweight, losing weight can reduce your risk of gallstones. But skip rapid weight loss programs. Losing more than 3 pounds (1.5 kg) a week is linked with an increased risk of gallstones in 10–25% of people. (102, 104)
2. Keep your blood sugar in check
High blood sugar and diabetes increase your risk of gallstones. But even if you don’t have diabetes, you may be on the path to it. One sign of this is insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance means your cells aren’t very responsive to insulin. That’s the hormone that helps your cells absorb glucose (sugar) from your blood. If your cells are resistant to insulin, your blood sugar can climb too high. (105)
Some of the risk factors for insulin resistance are excess weight, lack of physical activity, and sleep apnea (breathing problems during sleep). Addressing these factors supports healthy blood sugar, in addition to reducing your risk of gallstones. (105, 106)
3. Follow a healthy diet
An unhealthy diet is associated with an increased risk of gallstones. Food choices linked with gallbladder problems include sweets and fast food. (107)
On the flip side, whole vegetables and fruits are linked with a lower risk of gallstones. One advantage of these whole, plant-based foods is that they’re good sources of fiber. A higher intake of fiber is also linked with a lower risk of gallstones. (108)
It’s wise to eat healthy fats and proteins, too. These nutrients help stimulate your gallbladder to release bile, so it doesn’t become stagnant. The longer the bile stays in your gallbladder, the more concentrated it becomes. And that increases your risk of gallstones. (109)
4. Consider coffee enemas
Coffee enemas are a tool for liver detoxification. The liquid is absorbed via veins in your rectum and travels to your liver.
In your liver, the coffee enema solution could trigger your bile ducts to dilate or widen. This encourages the release of bile from your gallbladder. That’s important for reducing your risk of gallstones. (110)
Keep in mind, bile helps carry toxins out via your stools. But most bile is reabsorbed in your gut and carried back to your liver to be recycled. You don’t want to keep recirculating toxin-laden bile. (86)
The solution that may help this catch-22 is to take binders. They can bind bile in your gut to help you eliminate it in your stools rather than recirculating it. You can take binders before and after coffee enemas.
5. Keep your bowels moving
The slow movement of your gut contents is linked with gallstones. And your gallbladder may empty slowly if you’re constipated. (111, 112)
On top of that, when you’re constipated, your gallbladder may not contract as forcefully. So, less bile is released into your gut. As a result, bile may stagnate in your gallbladder, increasing the risk of gallstones. (113)
As mentioned earlier, certain herbs help promote regular elimination. That may ultimately help prevent gallstone formation.
6. Get regular physical activity
Regular physical activity helps you maintain a healthy body weight and healthy blood sugar levels. You already know that both of those factors can lower your chances of developing gallstones.
Also, preliminary human research suggests physical activity may increase your flow of bile and support gallbladder emptying. That helps reduce your risk of gallstones as well. (114)
Even low-intensity physical activity counts for supporting gallbladder health. So, do what you’re able and that you enjoy. That will help you do it more consistently. (115)
7. Do a parasite cleanse
These nasty little critters keep coming up as a root cause of digestive tract problems. Parasites could stand in the way of your efforts to restore your gut health, including your gallbladder health.
Animal and human studies have linked parasites — including liver flukes — to gallstones. Liver flukes may lead to an increase in harmful bacteria in your gut microbiota. And these may encourage gallstone formation, such as by impacting the makeup of your bile. (94, 99, 100)
To support your liver and gallbladder health, complete a parasite cleanse.
So, don’t surrender to gallstone pain. There are many things you can do that could have a big payoff for your gallbladder health.
Restoring Gut Health
Digestive tract challenges — including heartburn, nausea, and gallbladder pain — are common. And many people struggle with them for years.
To conquer these nagging digestive issues, know the possible triggers and risk factors. That includes problems like parasites, Lyme disease, mold toxicity, environmental toxins, and more.
Binders, natural herbs for constipation, parasite cleanses, and coffee enemas are just a few of the natural solutions that could support your digestive health.
What small changes will you start making today to restore your gut health?