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Did you know that pharmaceuticals used to treat heartburn actually increase gastrointestinal problems? Fortunately, there are natural ways to fight off acid reflux.
Do you suffer from heartburn? If so, you are among the millions of Americans with chest discomfort that occurs after a meal. Contrary to what you may believe from watching television, this is not normal. Common, but not normal. The good news is, there is cause and there is a cure.
Poor nutrition is the number one factor when it comes to heartburn. Unfortunately, this starts in childhood and even infancy. We are noticing an ever-increasing number of babies with reflux who are put on pharmaceuticals. The issue in most cases is an infant who doesn't tolerate formula or reacts to contaminants in mom's breast milk. I have seen baby reflux resolve when mom adheres to a strict Paleo diet. It's just common sense.
As a cardiologist, I have diagnosed 1000's of patients with heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in medical speak. It is a very common cause of chest pain. If the pain is not cardiac, it is typically GERD or musculoskeletal. Both of those diagnoses are much more prevalent than true cardiac pain. But the good news is, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can be easily prevented with good nutrition and natural supplements. More on natural treatments in a little while.
Sadly, the vast majority of people do not seek the cause of GERD and believe pharmaceuticals are the only option. You see, the medical doctor gets you out of the office quickly by writing a prescription for the latest drug for heartburn. Usually the script is related to the company that recently bought the doctor lunch or dinner. Trust me, I saw this on a daily basis. This is a multi-billion dollar business. According to WebMD.com, the heartburn drug Nexium was the third most commonly prescribed pharmaceutical in 2013, with over 18 million scripts per month!
But let the pill-taker beware, as new data is coming out about the class of heartburn drugs called Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI's). Scarily, they double your risk of dying from a heart attack, according to a recent study reported in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed online journal (1).
This class of drugs is sold over the counter and by doctors as omeprazole (generic version of Prilosec), Prevacid, Protonix and the aforementioned Nexium. The PPI drugs have earned billions in profits by preventing symptoms of heartburn. Do they work? Sure. By preventing the secretion of stomach acid, symptoms go away. Problem solved, right?
Humans have stomach acid for a reason. It helps to digest our food and kill off bad bacteria. In fact, gastric acid starts off the entire digestive cascade. The acidic stomach dumps into the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. There it meets alkaline digestive agents from the liver and pancreas. It is a perfect system we have in place.
Advertisers promote their drugs by making us believe that we have too much stomach acid. They never actually say it, but they sure imply an abundance of gastric juice is the problem. The reality is that the only medical diagnosis of excessive stomach acid is a rare cancer known as Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome. I have never seen a case in over 18 years as a physician. GERD is from too little stomach acid, not too much.
In addition to heart problems, long term use of PPI's is associated with risk of bone fractures (2), intestinal bacterial infections (3), and low magnesium levels (3). Clostridium bacterial infections are common with PPI use and often require heavy doses of antibiotics to eradicate the bug.
More horrifying news is that the drugs used to treat GERD and supposedly prevent esophageal cancer actually appear to INCREASE overall cancer risk (4)! Do you want to read that again? PPI's increase the risk of esophageal cancer by 340%. Medical doctors are clueless to this fact and the FDA in their infinite wisdom allow PPI's to be sold over the counter.
In my opinion, every disease can partially be explained by poor gastrointestinal function.
The answer is not drugs, but to heal your gut. The cause is the cure. Jonathan Wright MD wrote a book a few years ago called Why Stomach Acid is Good for You. It is one of the first books I read while transitioning into a holistic doctor. It is common sense that stomach acid is necessary, yet doctors are brainwashed like the rest of the American public to think reflux is actually a disease.
GERD is more common in people who are obese. Intra-abdominal fat likely increases pressure on the stomach and is causative of a hiatal hernia. Certain foods such as coffee, sugar, grain, and dairy may be causative. Lastly, as we get older, digestive enzyme production decreases (11).
Fortunately, reflux is easily treatable. Here are 5 simple steps:
1) Eat Paleo. Food allergens such as dairy and wheat are linked to GERD (5). Recently, the Mediterranean Diet was demonstrated to reduce heartburn symptoms (6). Paleo is similar to Mediterranean, less the dairy and grains. Additionally, fermented vegetables seem to help with GI health. Aloe vera has also been used for centuries for cases of reflux.
2) Take one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar prior to meals and anytime heartburn arises. This "home remedy" has been successful for years with my patients. Now there is some data to support its use (7).
3) Do not drink fluids around meal time. It dilutes digestive enzymes. It makes sense and there is science to prove it (8).
4) Digestive enzymes at the beginning of every meal. Lactase is a digestive enzymes added to many consumer dairy products for those with lactose intolerance. There is also mounting evidence that other digestive enzymes are also beneficial (10). Several lab testing companies perform an assessment of exocrine pancreatic function. When these supplements are added, patients feel great are able to wean off drugs.
5) Take betaine HCL at the beginning of meals. Clinical experience with hundreds of patients who were successfully weaned of drugs for GERD backs up this statement. Dozens of companies sell betaine products. Why? Because they work. Recently, a combination product containing betaine HCL and melatonin demonstrated significant improvement in GI symptoms. My patients love this stuff (9). Digestive enzymes in the intestine
Don't just stop your pharmaceuticals. The heavy-hitter PPI class should be weaned slowly as rebound gastric acid secretion is common. We recommend treating with a holistic doctor to put you on the right protocol to tune-up your gut. You will be back to health in no time. Total body health starts in the gastrointestinal tract.
5) Pediatr Int. 2015 Aug 8.
6) Dis Esophagus. 2015 Jul 14.
7) J Diet Suppl. 2015 Jun;12(2):138-45.
8) Pak J Pharm Sci. 2015 Sep;28(5):1583-6.
9) Altern Ther Health Med. 2008 Jul-Aug;14(4):54-8.
10) Altern Med Rev. 2008 Dec;13(4):307-14.