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As a pharmacist I am very encouraged with the growing sentiment of our culture, that yes, we are in an over-medicated society, and medications are often unnecessarily prescribed and don't come without consequences.
"The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."
I like to believe that we are heading towards the different levels of thinking to avoid what I believe is the next great issue of our time - being poisoned by pharmaceutical drugs. So let's begin rethinking some of the pro-pharma practices which are taking us in this direction.
In a previous article I spoke of the 100 year haul of industrialized medicine, and how we need to approach health care from a different perspective. Part of this new approach must be related to shunning the narrow minded symptom management approach of prescription therapy, avoid treating side-effects of medications with more medications, while searching to address the root cause.
I firmly believe that the majority of medications prescribed today could be avoided via diet, lifestyle, mind-body, and natural medicine. This would avoid the side-effects, drug-to-drug interactions, drug induced nutrient depletions, and the financial drain that comes with uncontrolled prescribing of medication therapy.
Where there are thousands of drugs on the market, in the coming posts I am going to focus on what I believe are some of the worst offenders based on how common they are utilized and the problems they can lead to. Of course there are valid indications where drug use is appropriate and needed, although what I will be delving into are the instances of over-used medications in which there are often better options.
Medications can be sneaky, they might not cause a major side-effect now, and instead they whittle away, weaken your body, opening the door to a cascade of health issues.
The first class of drugs I want to speak about is in the family of antacids, Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI's.) You will recognize the family of proton pump inhibitors by medications such as Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium, Protonix, Dexilant and others. These can be found in both over the counter and prescription medications.
Acid reflux and heartburn are very common complaints that lead to countless doctors' visits, missed days of work, and billions of dollars spent in diagnosis and treatment, much of which could be avoided.
In allopathic medicine the standard answer to treating acid reflux has been to neutralize, reduce, or block the natural hydrochloric acid (HCL) production in the body, and PPI's are often the first line of treatment.
Proton pump inhibitors inhibit the production and release of hydrochloric acid, thus drastically wiping a needed acidic environment, which plays a critical role in digestive health. This might serve a short term purpose in healing or reducing the irritation of an ulcer, although an acid free environment is not how your digestive tract is designed to operate.
A symptom such as acid reflux is often a sign of a greater problem brewing, and thus by quieting the symptom you could be ignoring a much greater issue, or even creating a new one.
What many people do not realize is that a large portion of people who suffer from heartburn and acid reflux do so due to too little hydrochloric acid (HCL) production and secretion, not too much. This is contrary to the commercials for the "purple pill", and what I believe has become one of the biggest deceptions in marketing by mainstream medicine.
Hydrochloric acid production and secretion can be suppressed due to lifestyle, diet, and stress. This is why the recommendation of taking apple cider vinegar often helps to relive acid reflux since we are adding an acid to the system. Not having enough hydrochloric acid can lead to insufficient digestion of foods, leading to the symptom of heartburn.
We need hydrochloric acid, it serves a great many purposes. Hydrochloric acid acts as a primary defense against food borne pathogens and helps promote a healthy microbial balance. (Good bacteria (probiotics) –vs. - yeasts, bad bacteria, and even parasites).
If we are low on hydrochloric acid production or secretion, we set the stage for infections to take over. This leads to the killing off or overwhelming the good bacteria in the digestive tract since good bacteria has trouble surviving the altered pH of an over-alkalinized environment. This opens the door for bad bacteria, yeasts, and molds to proliferate; thus you can see how long term antacid treatment could be adding insult to injury.
In fact, a recent study was released showing that proton pump inhibitors may increase the chance of Clostridum Difficile Diarrhea (Often referred to as C. Diff or CDAD) by 65%, and that's when only taken for a few months.
In decreasing the hydrochloric acid, the use of proton pump inhibitors can lead to an inability to digest critical nutrients. Hydrochloric acid helps the body digest, absorb and assimilate proteins and calcium. Proton pump inhibitors can also directly deplete nutrients including magnesium and vitamin B 12, which has lead researchers to suggest that long term use of PPI's can influence or predispose someone to osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
What are the alternatives?
If you take an acid reducing or neutralizing medication under the direction of your physician, do not stop taking the drug without talking to your physician. Where I do believe there is a very real problem within the over-prescribing of such medications, in many instances they could have a valid indication, and discontinuing them can lead to a host of other problems.
There are a number of natural options for reflux and heartburn, as well as complementary therapies which we could look at for getting rid of bad organisms such as bacteria, viruses, yeast and parasites which don't belong. For this conversation I would like to stick with the foundational elements of (1) diet, (2) supporting the digestive process, (3) recolonizing good bacteria, (4) sooth and promote the integrity of the digestive lining, which can all help support common digestive symptoms of gas, indigestion, acid reflux, heartburn, diarrhea and constipation.
There are many dietary issues which can lead to the symptoms of heart burn, although I find that food intolerances and genetically modified foods (GMO's) are two of the worst offenders for a wide array of digestive disorders. As far as intolerances go, you can have an intolerance or allergy to any food, although dairy and gluten are at the top of my list.
Glyphosate is the herbicide which is used on GMO seeds and it kills organisms such as weeds by disrupting what is known as the shikamate pathway which is present in plants and bacteria. The good bacteria that is in your gut also contains the shikamate pathway, and this is where GMO seeds can be detrimental to your digestive health. I have personally seen, when people incorporate a GMO free, all organic, plant heavy diet, issues of acid reflux can often disappear in just a few weeks.
Reason would suggest supplementing with hydrochloric acid (HCL), which is often a great option, although due to issues such as known or unknown digestive ulcers or even people taking medications such as anti-inflammatories and steroids, I like to consider a more conservative approach first.
In stimulating and supporting the digestive process we are looking at supplements such as digestive enzymes, including amylase, which helps digest sugars, protease to digest proteins, and lipase to help digests fats.
Recolonizing good bacteria through probiotics is imperative, even in a healthy digestive tract where symptoms are not prevalent. I recommend high quality probiotics which have been tested to ensure that they will stick to the intestinal linings and actually colonize in the digestive tract.
To repair, sooth, and support the integrity there are a number of great natural ingredients including DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice), aloe, slippery elm, marshmallow root, and glutamine, to name a few. These ingredients can be found in combination or individual supplements, and as always, choose only high quality supplements from companies with transparency and integrity at their core.