Combating acid reflux with cough drops

Joe and Teresa Graedon answer readers’ questions. This week: relieving indigestion with lozenges; the benefits of berries; grape juice is great, the sugar not so much.

Q: My 30-year-old son was diagnosed with GERD. He really struggled with PPIs (proton-pump inhibitors), but when he stopped taking the drug his doctor prescribed, he had rebound reflux.

He has inadvertently found that Fisherman’s Friend cough drops work very well to relieve indigestion. The main ingredient is menthol. He sucks on several FFs a day. Will that cause him problems?

A: Fisherman’s Friend (Original Extra Strong) cough lozenges contain hot pepper (capsicum), eucalyptus oil and licorice in addition to menthol. These strong flavors stimulate saliva production.

Back in 1984, we read in The New England Journal of Medicine that “residual acid [in the esophagus] is neutralized by swallowed saliva” (Feb. 2, 1984). That might explain why your son is finding this product helpful for his reflux.

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The one caution we have is that he should monitor his blood pressure. We don’t know how much licorice he is getting in these cough drops. Too much of this herb can cause fluid retention and raise blood pressure. However, the licorice might be contributing to heartburn relief. A licorice-containing chewing gum called GutsyGum apparently eases symptoms of acid reflux (Journal of Dietary Supplements, June 2015).

For other ideas on controlling heartburn without PPI medications, you may want to consult our Guide to Digestive Disorders. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. G-3, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: peoplespharmacy.com.

Q: I read your article on the brain benefits of smoothies. You emphasized blueberries, but you cited a study that suggests strawberries are just as effective. I wonder about blackberries as well, since the active “ingredient” is often the pigment. Should I stick with blueberries, or can I eat any of the above for better brain function? What about raspberries?

A: The anthocyanins that give berries their bright red and purple colors are powerful antioxidants. In laboratory tests, blueberries, cranberries, blackberries and strawberries scored highly. There is reason to…

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