4 Natural Remedies for Reflux Due to Eosinophilic Esophagitis

When conventional medicine isn’t enough, the addition of a complementary treatment or two may be the key to relief from heartburn caused by EoE.

Medically Reviewed
DGL licorice root extract products
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) may help ease reflux caused by EoE.Yogendra Kumar Bhanu/Shutterstock

Acid reflux, the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus, is a common symptom of eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). This isn’t surprising, given this chronic immunologic disease causes the esophagus to become inflamed and swollen in response to an allergen, making it hard for food and liquids to move smoothly to the stomach.

Conventional treatments for EoE can help relieve and prevent reflux, but when they aren’t 100 percent effective, a handful of home remedies sometimes suggested to help ease GERD may be worth trying. As with most complementary and alternative treatments, these have little scientific support behind them, but are safe for most people — with a doctor’s guidance, of course.

How EoE Causes Reflux

EoE is inflammation of the esophageal lining. It occurs in response to an allergen, usually a food (wheat and dairy are common offenders), though it can also be triggered by pollen or another airborne allergen.

In response, the immune system releases eosinophils — white blood cells that support the immune system and help defend the body against allergens. Eosinophils aren’t normally present in the esophagus. As the cells build up, they cause the lining to swell and narrow, blocking the smooth passage of food.

Certain products in eosinophils also can cause the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax. This area of muscle opens and closes to allow swallowed food to go into the stomach and prevent digestive acids from coming up. If the sphincter isn’t functioning properly, those acids can wash up into the esophagus, causing acid reflux. Eosinophils in the esophagus also may affect motility — how well the muscles of the tube contract to move food and fluids after they’ve been swallowed.

EoE typically is treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), oral steroids (taken internally), or a biologic drug, any of which may relieve reflux as well as other symptoms of the condition.

“Dietary and lifestyle modifications can help, too — specifically, avoiding coffee, chocolate, peppermint, alcohol, large meals, and fatty foods,” says Jeremy Matloff, MD, a gastroenterologist at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. But some people may also benefit from less conventional approaches.

Natural Remedies for Reflux

There’s not a lot of science behind most complementary and alternative treatments, but several potential options for reflux have been studied enough to suggest they’re safe and may work for some people with EoE.

Acupuncture

As a prominent practice in ancient traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture has become a mainstay of complementary treatments in Western medicine. It involves inserting ultra-thin needles into the body to correct imbalances in the flow of energy, or qi (pronounced “chee”). Practitioners believe disruptions in this flow are responsible for disease.

How it may help relieve reflux What little research there is looking at acupuncture for reflux has been promising. Studies show acupuncture, alone or combined with specific herbal remedies, was as effective as certain over-the-counter heartburn medications. “While there’s no great data, many people have reported success with acupuncture,” adds Dr. Matloff.

How to use it Start by finding a qualified practitioner. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, most states require a license, certification, or registration and a diploma from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. You might also want to look for an acupuncturist who’s been trained by the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. In some states, doctors of medicine or osteopathy can be trained and certified to practice acupuncture.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

How you breathe can have a significant impact on your health and well-being in a number of ways. For example, patterns of inhaling and exhaling have been found to relieve stress and anxiety. One of these, diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, may also help with reflux.

How it may help relieve reflux Belly breathing focuses on using the diaphragm — the muscle that separates the organs in the chest from the organs in the abdominal cavity — to move air in and out of the lungs. This strengthens the diaphragm and helps it to more efficiently do one of its other important jobs: apply pressure to the LES.

Stomach acids can back up into the esophagus through the LES also. There’s evidence that diaphragmatic breathing and a strong diaphragm can help prevent this from happening, which can help stave off reflux and heartburn.

How to do it There’s more than one way to belly breathe. This method, from Cleveland Clinic, is done lying down:

  1. Lie on your back with a pillow under your head and another under your knees for support.
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing the air to fill your belly. The hand on your belly should rise as your belly expands, while the one on your chest stays in place.
  4. Purse your lips and exhale slowly out of your mouth, tightening your abs as you breathe out. As in step 3, the hand on your chest shouldn’t move but your “belly hand” should go down.
  5. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes, three or four times per day, increasing the duration as it becomes easier.

Licorice

You may know licorice as a love-it-or-hate-it black chewy candy, but this isn’t the form that may help relieve reflux. For that you’ll need deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) — licorice root that’s processed to remove glycyrrhizin, the substance that makes licorice sweet. DGL is safer to take and less likely to interact with medications than pure licorice. You can find it in health food stores, pharmacies, and online, as tablets to be swallowed or chewed.

How it may help relieve reflux Research suggests licorice increases the production of mucus in the esophagus, which may help protect the lining from digestive acids. DGL also may decrease the production of stomach acid. In fact, one study found an herbal formula consisting of DGL, slippery elm, and peppermint oil worked better at suppressing gastric irritation and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) than drugs formulated to suppress acid production.

How to use it Various doses of DGL have been tested. One study, for example, concluded that two 380-milligram tablets taken before meals was helpful for treating GERD.

That said, before you try licorice for reflux caused by EoE, talk to your doctor. They can tell you if DGL will be safe and potentially effective for you and, if so, recommend how much and how often to take it.

Turmeric

This popular pantry staple lends flavor and a bright yellow hue to food. Turmeric is also a star of Ayurveda, a holistic medicine practice with roots in ancient India. More recently, thousands of research studies have found the aptly nicknamed “golden spice” to be a health-boosting powerhouse, thanks to a compound in turmeric called curcumin.

How it may help relieve reflux Among the benefits of curcumin are anti-inflammatory properties that may prevent damage to the mucosal lining of the esophagus, which protects the inner walls of the tube from stomach acids.

How to use it The body doesn’t easily absorb curcumin, so it’s tough to get a lot of it by eating turmeric (which isn’t to say don’t give it a shot — turmeric adds bright color and subtle flavor to everything from scrambled eggs to curries, smoothies, and stews).

Your best bet, then, is to take supplements. There are no medically sanctioned guidelines for using turmeric to help relieve reflux, though, so before you do, check with your doctor, as it may interact with certain other medications or supplements, and ask for guidance on how much to take. According to Cleveland Clinic, 500 or 1,000 milligrams is a good place to start.

Then choose wisely: Look for a brand that has been tested by NSF International,?ConsumerLab.com or?US Pharmacopeia for safety (a smart move for any supplements you consider taking) and read the ingredients label. Look for the addition of piperine, the main component of black pepper, which research shows greatly enhances the absorption of curcumin and has anti-inflammatory benefits itself.