When Hiking Causes Heartburn: Six Tips For Naturally Treating Indigestion


Hey there guys and gals in Ready Nutrition Reader-land! How was your weekend? I hope that it agreed with you, and if it didn’t from a gastronomic or culinary perspective? We’re going to explain why it may not have. We’re also going to detail why it is that acid indigestion seems to strike out in the outdoors and to give some suggestions for holistic first aid. A friend of mine, Miss Wilma, told me that she did a lot of hiking last weekend up in Glacier National Park and that she had acid indigestion the entire time. She asked me about it, and I told her I would write this article for her. Miss Wilma, this one’s for you, Ma’am! Let’s get it started, shall we?

One of the primary causes of indigestion when you are out hiking and backpacking is dehydration.  The human body maintains homeostasis, a twenty-dollar term generally meaning “balance,” by continuous circulation and either absorption (as with eating and drinking) or excretion (urination, respiration, or perspiration) of fluids.  Your body contains electrolytes, or electrically charged particles, such as sodium and potassium, that enable fluid retention and uptake by your cells.

Diaphoresis (sweating/perspiration) interferes with the balance of homeostasis.  Your electrolytes enable proper “fluid levels” to be maintained in the “motor,” so to speak.  Excreting too much water through sweating can cause a loss of valuable salts (salt helps hold water in the body), and bicarbonates (chemicals that help buffer the body’s natural digestive acids).  Fluid and electrolyte loss can cause cramps, fatigue, dizziness, and heart problems, and in addition can cause the indigestion that you may feel.

Your buffering system contains bicarbonates that maintain normal levels of acidity within the stomach.  When too much fluid is excreted (through sweating, urination, or breathing), the acid concentration can build up.  Respiratory acidosis is a condition where excessive and rapid breathing excretes too much carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide is a buffer for acids and with its loss; the acids within the body and bloodstream build up, sometimes to harmful levels.

Another cause is the tendency for people to take a lot of dried meat, dried fruits, and nuts with them on the trail, along with power bars, granola bars, and energy bars of all kinds.  With this propensity comes the increased need of the body for fluid to digest these “power bars,” and such, leading to increased acids in the stomach.  Many times the extra activity is taken (such as a long walk or hike) immediately after a meal and not enough time is given to be able to digest the food properly, leading to indigestion and heartburn.

The medical term for indigestion is dyspepsia.  Indigestion is defined as an incomplete or imperfect digestion, usually accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms: pain, nausea and vomiting, heartburn, acid regurgitation, accumulation of gas, and belching. The malady may be either a disorder or a secondary indicator (a symptom, if you will) of a greater problem.  For this reason prolonged indigestion (more than a few days) should warrant the immediate appointment and care of a physician.  Such is important in order to utilize lab work and tests to rule out something more serious.

One of the things that may lead to indigestion is the exact opposite of what was outlined before of not drinking enough.  By taking in an excessive amount of fluids with a meal, especially water, the digestive enzymes may be diluted and cause the breakdown of a meal to be more difficult.  The proper chewing of food and also exercise/physical activity are two things that can help in digesting food.  When the meal has not been digested properly, it leads to problems within the intestines.  Here it ferments and produces large quantities of hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide.  Foods such as beans and whole grains lend themselves to this type of problem with gases, as they are not as easily digested as other foods.

Dealing with Indigestion Naturally

The Hydrochloric acid (HCl) levels in the body tend to decline as a person ages.  An easy home test that can be performed may reveal if this is a contributing problem to your indigestion.  Take 1 Tbsp of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.  If the indigestion goes away or diminishes, then a lack of HCl can be the problem.  If the indigestion is worsened, then your stomach probably contains too much HCl. If HCl is needed, then 1 Tbsp pure apple cider vinegar can be mixed in a glass of water at mealtime.

1. Most over-the-counter antacids contain aluminum compounds, calcium carbonate, magnesium compounds, or sodium bicarbonate.  Aluminum can cause constipation.  The calcium carbonate may lead to a rebound effect: after the antacid has worked and is diminished from your system, the acid can build up to levels even higher than before the antacid was taken.  Magnesium in the antacid tablets/solutions can lead to diarrhea and loose stools.  Intake of too much sodium bicarbonate via antacids can produce gas and bloating.

2. There are some naturopathic aids worth mentioning that may help you to alleviate these symptoms.  Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) can give Vitamin K and trace minerals that are lacking in digestion.  The only precaution is that it may reduce the effects of anticoagulants if you have been prescribed them.  Alfalfa is available in the form of capsules, tablets, seeds, and sprouted seeds in your local health food store.  Follow the instructions on the label as per the supplier/manufacturer.

3. The juice of Aloe (Aloe vera) is highly effective in helping to alleviate heartburn and gastrointestinal symptoms associated with indigestion.  It is available as such in your finer health food stores.  ¼ cup of juice taken on an empty stomach in the morning and in the evening may improve things in your battle with indigestion.  Dr. James F. Balch, MD, in his book,   “Prescription for Nutritional Healing” ISBN: 0-89529-727-2 also recommends cutting down on any lentils, peanuts, and soybeans as snacks or with meals, as these have an enzyme inhibitor that may lead to imbalanced digestive enzyme levels.

4. The consumption of pears can help with heartburn and associated presence of excess stomach acid.  The fruit is especially soothing to the digestive tract and is both non-invasive and non-reactive with other substances.  Chill or refrigerate them to maximize their potential prior to eating them.  The canned pears you can find in your grocery store are packed in sugary syrup that can also soothe the digestive tract.  In addition the outside skin has been removed; therefore, the pears will be more readily digested.

5. Peppermint (Mentha piperita), especially the leaves, is used for symptomatic treatment of digestion problems.  Peppermint has both analgesic and spasmolytic effects.  Stress must be placed here to consume the tea, and not the essential oil. Peppermint essential oil is not to be taken by sufferers of acid reflux due to the potential production of further gastric complaints.

The Peppermint tea is milder and more soothing.  Take it with one (1) cup of boiled water over (1) tsp mint leaves (or 1 tea bag, commercially prepared).  Let steep for 10 minutes and then strain, drinking warm.  The 10-minute time frame is important in steeping, as this is the time that maximum levels of menthol and methon are reached/infused.  The contraindication for peppermint leaves/tea is any case with gallstones.  If you have gallstones, do not drink peppermint tea.

6. Finally, Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is excellent for nausea and vomiting, dyspepsia, and as an anti-inflammatory.  Ginger stimulates the production of saliva, bile, and gastric secretions, all of which are essential for proper digestion.  The herb is contraindicated for people with gallstones or at risk for hemorrhage.  Regarding dyspepsia, the herb can be taken in capsule or powdered form, 2 – 4 grams/day.  When used fresh it can be made into a tea; boiling water is poured over 0.5 – 1 g drug and strained after 5 minutes.  One (1) tsp is equivalent to 3 grams drug.

Indigestion/Dyspepsia can be a serious condition that may need to be addressed by your physician.  Prior to taking any actions or using any of the information in this article, consult with your happy family doctor for permission and to enable the good doctor to find any possible contraindications or interactions with any current medications you are taking under prescription.

So, outdoors enthusiasts, as can be seen, if you are suffering from a tremendous amount of indigestion or heartburn, there are simple naturopathic remedies that you can take with you on your excursion.  Primary considerations must involve identifying the cause; however, it will be relatively simple to pack out a few cans of diced pears in syrup and some peppermint tea bags.  Hope this info helps your hike, and that you enjoy your excursion free from any heartaches…or heartburn!  Have a great day!


Jeremiah Johnson is the Nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the United States Army Special Forces (Airborne). Mr. Johnson was a Special Forces Medic, EMT and ACLS-certified, with comprehensive training in wilderness survival, rescue, and patient-extraction. He is a Certified Master Herbalist and a graduate of the Global College of Natural Medicine of Santa Ana, CA. A graduate of the U.S. Army’s survival course of SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), Mr. Johnson also successfully completed the Montana Master Food Preserver Course for home-canning, smoking, and dehydrating foods.

Mr. Johnson dries and tinctures a wide variety of medicinal herbs taken by wild crafting and cultivation, in addition to preserving and canning his own food. An expert in land navigation, survival, mountaineering, and parachuting as trained by the United States Army, Mr. Johnson is an ardent advocate for preparedness, self-sufficiency, and long-term disaster sustainability for families. He and his wife survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Cross-trained as a Special Forces Engineer, he is an expert in supply, logistics, transport, and long-term storage of perishable materials, having incorporated many of these techniques plus some unique innovations in his own homestead.

Mr. Johnson brings practical, tested experience firmly rooted in formal education to his writings and to our team. He and his wife live in a cabin in the mountains of Western Montana with their three cats.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published May 18th, 2015
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