There’s a defining moment in many people’s lives where spicy foods really start to upset the stomach.
Yeah me too.
Note to self: “Heidi, this means you are getting old”. Or does it?
It turns out that no, I’m not just getting older, I need to add in some digestive enzymes (the right ones of course).
Sleeping like a baby after eating spicy foods seems too good to be true. But, it works for me.
Let me tell you how I added digestive enzymes for acid reflux, how they may work, and how they may help you too.
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Stumbling upon digestive enzymes for acid reflux
Digestive enzymes for acid reflux weren’t on my radar.
After all, why would they be? There are no large clinical studies out there affirming these effects.
Yet, when I started taking a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme, I learned I could eat spicy foods, even at bedtime.
Can I get a big hell yeah!!
For people like me, who love and crave spicy foods, this seems like the biggest win I have had for expanding my foods in a long time.
And when something works with me and other people, you better believe I want to share it with you.
But, I need to fill you in on what acid reflux is so that we can understand it, and then understand the potential for digestive enzymes to help this condition.
Related post: The Best Digestive Enzymes for Bloating and IBS.
What is acid reflux?
Just so we are all on the same page, acid reflux happens to essentially everyone at different points. It is usually triggered by general over-indulgence of fried foods, spicy foods, food intolerances, and alcohol, to name a few.
Acid reflux also referred to as heartburn, is simply a feeling of acid in the esophagus that is caused by acid moving from the stomach into the esophagus. Sometimes people also feel abdominal pain.
Typically acid reflux occurs once a week or less.
If it happens twice a week or more, it is considered a disorder called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) according to Healthline.
It could also be just a red flag that your diet stinks; yeah I said it.
GERD is a chronic condition that causes long-term damage to the esophagus over time if not managed. In terms of frequency, GERD happens at least twice a week over longer periods.
Personally, I don’t have GERD, but I do get acid reflux if I eat gluten, some dairy products, alcohol, and spicy foods. I’m among the ranks of most people in this regard.
It’s important to keep in mind the severity of your condition.
For example, If you have moderate to severe GERD, you really need to seek the help of your doctor or healthcare practitioner. Preferably, see one that can have a conversation about food too and has experience in understanding gut health.
There’s more to GERD than proton pump inhibitors after all.
Standard treatment of acid reflux is suboptimal
Conventional medications for acid reflux are called proton pump inhibitors or antacids. These may help some people with symptoms, but they often don’t really address the underlying causes of the condition.
And they are meant to only be for short-term use because they wreak havoc on health long term.
Low stomach acid, ironically, is actually now recognized as a cause of reflux.
Experts in functional medicine understand that imbalances in the microbiome, as well as a lack of key nutrients and enzymes, are at the core of why people suffer from acid reflux.
The whole digestive system suffers when there is too little acid. This is why some people feel better-using apple cider vinegar or betaine HCL. The acid helps their reflux symptoms.
At the root of reflux is often poor diets and ultra-processed foods.
The first line of treatment for acid reflux is addressing your diet, for this reason.
But, like many people, you also may not be making enough digestive enzymes. How does this play into acid reflux?
Let’s take a look.
Related post: The Best Probiotics for Acid Reflux.
How digestive enzymes may work for reducing acid reflux
Digestive enzymes’ roles are to break down your foods so that you can absorb them. They are made all throughout the upper digestive tract, starting in your mouth.
Chronic digestive disorders cause inflammation in the gut lining, where the majority of your digestive enzymes are made.
When there is inflammation in your gut, the ability to make enzymes diminishes. Then, your food doesn’t absorb right, further creating more inflammation.
Additionally, with poor food absorption, people will have more indigestion and inflammation, creating a viscious cycle of making less enzymes.
As you can see, this is a downward spiral of yuck, so to speak.
Also, Western diets, ultra-processed foods, are essentially devoid of the natural enzymes that nature intended them to have.
These foods also disrupt the gut probiotics (healthy bacteria), which in turn, drive more inflammation, and thus less enzyme production. They slow the emptying of the stomach too.
Not to mention, the pancreas and liver are inflamed by processed foods, and this is the other source of enzymes for your body.
So, this is how you could be low in enzymes, and why adding enzymes could be a bit of a boon for you.
Food absorbs better, making spicy foods more tolerable too
In a nutshell, digestive enzymes simply help you digest foods better, making the whole eating experience more pleasant.
The bonus is that you will likely get more nutrition to absorb from your foods, and have less gas and bloating too. After all, when you have enough enzymes, your digestive tract can do the job it is intended to do.
As your digestive tract begins doing what it should: digest foods, you also may find those spicy foods are not really the issue at all for reflux. It’s indigestion!
Helps break down food and improves stomach emptying
When you use a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme, foods get broken down more readily, so they can ease up symptoms of gas, bloating, and may reduce acid reflux. They likely even help foods move along so they don’t linger in the stomach long enough to create acid reflux.
The stomach has a valve called a lower esophageal sphincter. This valve makes it so foods can empty out into the small intestine for digestion.
If you have too little stomach acid or not enough enzymes, this sphincter won’t allow foods to empty properly, according to Livestrong. Thus, lack of enzymes may in fact be the root of your acid reflux.
Research supports this too [R].
By the way, digestive enzymes can be really helpful for irritable bowel syndrome for some people too.
Types of digestive enzymes
The first thing to know about digestive enzyme supplements is that they vary wildly.
Some have one type of enzyme, such as Lactaid, which contains lactase to help digest milk.
Others are broad-spectrum enzymes that help digest a wide array of foods and break down difficult-to-digest compounds.
A broad-spectrum enzyme supplement is going to be inherently better for most aspects of digestive function than single-enzyme supplements.
In other words, skip the Beano and Lactaid, and get a supplement that can help you break down all the fibers, starches, fats, and proteins, as well as lactose in your diet.
Broad-spectrum enzymes help make more digestible compounds such as amino acids, short-chain fatty acids, and simple carbohydrates that can cross the gut barrier wall.
Things to know about spicy foods and reflux
You should know you may not be able to use digestive enzymes as a get-out-of-jail-free card for eating spicy stuff.
Also, it’s best to first clean up your diet and eat mostly whole foods, if you have reflux.
And if you have a gastric ulcer, I highly encourage you to avoid spicy foods too, eat at least until you are healed.
A digestive enzyme, otherwise, is just a band-aid.
Health benefits of spicy foods
So, in guiding you towards ways to eat spicy foods, I’m not just doing it willy-nilly. There are some legitimate health benefits of hot peppers for many people.
- Reduce inflammation
- Relieve pain
- Help with stomach health (yes, you heard that right)
- Strengthen swallow function
- Reduce fibromyalgia
- Improve mood
- Have heart benefits
- Reduce risk of cancer
Digestive enzymes that I use
I’ve tried several forms of digestive enzymes over the years, and the one that helps me the most is Seeking Health Pro Digestion Intensive. *Affiliate link.
My rationale for using this one is that it is broad-spectrum and gets great reviews. When I use it, I can eat spicy foods again.
Other brands may work for you, but I’m going to stick with this one because it’s working out great for me.
How to take them
It’s critical that you take digestive enzymes when you are eating the food that you want to digest better.
This means that if I’m eating spicy foods, I’m going to make sure to take a couple of bites of food and follow up with taking the enzymes, then proceed with eating the rest of my meal.
Your digestive health depends on having adequate digestive enzymes in your body.
While I wouldn’t rely solely on digestive enzymes to help your acid reflux, they can be beneficial for many aspects of digestion.
In other words, they won’t hurt, may help, and pose little to no risk.
So next time you feel like you miss out on your favorite spicy salsa, why not give them a try?
Just make sure to keep other healthy habits at play, such as avoiding fried foods, alcohol, and other reflux triggers.
This could be gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, and other common food sensitivities.
As with anything, make sure to check with your doctor or healthcare provider before making any changes to your healthcare routine.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Make sure to seek the care of your medical doctor or healthcare provider if you are struggling with acid reflux.