It’s called, “Heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux or GERD” and, like millions of other people, if you have gone to a doctor about this, most likely they have prescribed medication to reduce stomach acid. Medications like Nexium and Prilosec are some of the most popular proton pump inhibitors.
Proton pump inhibitors reduce stomach acid.
But there’s one problem.
The acid in your stomach is there for a reason. Stomach acid digests the foods you eat, and turns them into essential nutrients your body can absorb.
If you reduce the acid in your stomach you reduce its ability to break down and digest food, and extract nutrients.
This in turn, causes serious nutritional deficiencies including vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
And when your body fails to digest and absorb the foods you eat effectively, your chances of developing any number of chronic degenerative diseases is almost inevitable.
Even relatively minor vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause fatigue, irritation, anxiety, depression, migraines, dizziness, mania, pychosis and memory loss.
In addition, deficiencies can also cause muscle weakness, tooth decay, bone fractures, hearing loss, osteoporosis, heart beat irregularities, high or low blood pressure problems, hair loss, mouth sores, neuropathy (unexplained weakness or numbness in the arms and legs), and more.
Is it worth it?
Long term, B vitamin deficiency can potentially cause severe and irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system.
And because the acid pH in the stomach as been increased, you lose the ability to fight off certain dangerous bacterial infections such as h.pylori, which is responsible for stomach ulcers, Clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhea, salmonella poisoning, a common type of food poisoning, and contagious pneumonia.
Suppressing stomach acid does not treat the disease, it only treats the symptoms, and at a very high cost too, as you can see.
And, once you start taking acid reducing medication, it becomes very hard to stop. It is physically addictive.
This type of medication causes a severe “rebound” effect. You start taking acid reducing medication to help a reflux condition, and although your doctor may say it is temporary, when you stop after a few weeks, it causes your stomach acid to go into overdrive. As a result the reflux comes back with a vengence.
So what do you do? Go back to taking the reflux medication.
Now you’re stuck…
Did you know 35-45% of the population experiences heartburn? That’s close to half the population! Heartburn or GERD is most profitably treated diagnosis in America. Prescription medications are given out by doctors like candy. Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid are some of the top selling prescription drugs in the world.
It is not normal to have heartburn in spite of the huge numbers who do have it.
What exactly is gastritis or acid reflux?
It is acid that rises from the stomach and irritates the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach.
Gastritis is inflammation, irritation, or erosion of the lining of the stomach. Any of these can be chronic or acute. Acid reflux usually feels like a burning pain in the middle of the chest or stomach. It’s most bothersome at night, when lying down. Sometimes it can even feel like burning or pressure in the chest.
Over time, this acid wash can damage the lower esophageal sphincter, and lead to a condition called Barrett’s Esophagitis, which is usually considered a precancerous condition. Anybody with chronic reflux or heartburn should be checked out by a GI doctor, to rule out any other serious health conditions.
The interesting truth is, for many, acid reflux is not a result of too much stomach acid, but too little acid, or ineffective enzymes to digest particular foods.
When we don’t have enough of an enzyme to digest a particular food, the body responds by sending out more acid in an attempt to digest it. Taking antacid medication further compounds the problem. If the foods that cause this are foods that are eaten frequently, which is often the case, soon the acid becomes an ongoing chronic irritant to the stomach, and can cause real damage.
There are two ways you can help acid reflux.
One is by taking a good digestive enzyme with meals. As we age we lose some of our digestive enzymes, and also our ability to digest certain foods. The best enzymes to supplement digestion are “Full Spectrum” and include pancreatin. Enzymes should be:
-protelytic (for proteins)
-lypolytic (for fats)
-amylytic (for carbohydrates)
You also want to make sure your digestive enzyme supplement contains betaine hydrochloride (or HCl). It’s plant-based hydrochloric acid which helps your body absorb calcium, among other important nutrients.
In many cases, food allergies or sensitivities can be one of the main causes of acid reflux. So eliminating food allergies is the next step.
Food allergies result when the body’s immune system launches an attack against the offending food item. Some of the most common allergenic foods are: milk, wheat, soy, eggs, peanuts, nuts, shellfish, and citrus.
Severe symptoms of food allergies tend to occur with in a few minutes of eating the allergenic substance. Symptoms can include tingling in the mouth or throat, swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, eczema, hives and asthma attacks. But don’t rule out food allergies even if you don’t have reactions that severe.
Food intolerances or sensitivities (including gluten intolerance) are also often allergic reactions as well, but do not have the dramatic and sudden onset. They often share similar GI symptoms to food allergies but they do not involve the same immune system response.
The biggest offenders are often commercially prepared dairy products, wheat/gluten, corn and soy.
The best way to find out if your digestive problems are the result of food allergies is to go on an elimination diet. Remove all wheat, gluten and dairy from the diet for a minimum of ten to fourteen days or more, and see if the reflux symptoms subside. Be vigilant and read labels carefully. Lots of gluten and dairy sneak into processed foods under other less obvious names.
For more information on gluten-containing food ingredients, check here: http://www.the-gluten-free-chef.com/foods-containing-gluten.html.
After you have eliminated the offenders, add the gluten and dairy back in, one at a time. Wait 2-3 days between each food trial, and write down all reactions in a food journal. Oftentimes though, it may take a month or more of avoiding the offenders before the acid reflux and gastritis is resolved, so be patient.
Other contributing factors that can cause heartburn/gastritis and GERD are:
* Certain foods cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, thus leading to heartburn. These include peppermint, coffee, alcohol and chocolate.
* Hiatal hernia: This is a physical condition where part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm.
* Low Acid Production: Ironically, low stomach acid levels can result in heartburn. This is much more common than increased acid.
* Medications: Many medications cause heartburn as a side effect, including, ironically, several acid blockers. These include:
o Prevacid, Prilosec, Zantac, etc.
o Asthma inhalers (beclamethasone, flovent, etc).
o Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
o Antianxiety medications, such as diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan).
o Osteoporosis drugs such as alendronate (Fosamax).
* Pregnancy & Obesity: These are related in that both put pressure on the stomach, decreasing its volume and forcing food and acid upwards.
* Stress: Stress can be the sole cause of heartburn, but often it is exacerbating other causes.
* Smoking: Smoking also causes the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, leading to heartburn.
You may have to make some lifestyle changes and keep a close eye on your diet.
Eating large amounts of processed foods and sugars is a certain way to worsen acid reflux, as it will upset the bacterial balance in your stomach and intestine, as well as being hard to digest.
A note about proton pump inhibitors: PPI’s are very popular because they work. However, these drugs create both tolerance and dependence on them, so stopping them suddenly can have serious repercussions.
NEVER stop taking proton pump inhibitors cold turkey. Wean yourself off them gradually or else there can be a severe rebound of symptoms, and the problem may end up being worse than before the medication.
Ideally, get a lower dose, and then gradually decrease your dose. Once you get down to the lowest dose of the proton pump inhibitor, you can start substituting with an over-the-counter medications, Then gradually wean off the H2 blocker over the next several weeks.
Till Next Time,
Stay Healthy and Lean!
Catherine (Cat) Ebeling RN BSN, is a back-to-basics diet and nutrition specialist. In addition to her advanced degree in nursing from a major medical school, she has spent the last 30 years intensely studying diet, health and nutrition. She also has a book titled “The Fat Burning Kitchen, Your 24 Hour Diet Transformation” that has sold over 60,000 copies worldwide, and has helped thousands of people transform their lives, lose weight and improve their health.
Her mission is to help others prevent disease and live their best life ever.
Nutrition made Easy. Simple.Smart.Nutrition.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, Why You Should Get Off Prescription Acid-Reducing Drugs ASAP! Mercola.com, September 09, 2009.
Center for Food Allergies, Innate Health Group. www.CenterforFoodAllergies.com, 2006.
Tracy Davenport, Health Central, Acid Reflux Connection.com, July, 2007.
Dr.Allen Spreen, The hidden dangers of stomach-acid reducers, July 2007.