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What is HEARTBURN?
According to antacid commercials, heartburn is excess stomach acid that is traveling up your esophagus and causing an uncomfortable, sometimes painful burning sensation. So you eat whatever foods you want, then you self medicate with their products to relieve the discomfort. Voila!
But what exactly is in antacids?
As you can see, what seems like a simple solution can come with some nasty side effects.
Continuous use of antacids, either over the counter or prescribed, can lead to long-term problems such as a decrease in mineral, folic acid and B12 absorption; more prone to food borne infections such as food poisoning and a continued reliance because they make you feel better instantly.
What if I told you the problem may not be too much stomach acid, but not enough?
What does stomach acid do and why would you want more?
Let me tell you!
As soon as you put food in your mouth the carbohydrates start breaking down. A little further down the line and it is the proteins turn to start breaking down. This is where stomach acid comes in.
- The acid in your stomach breaks the protein down into the essential amino acids and nutrients your body needs. If not broken down, all that good stuff you just put in is going to end up going straight through you without any of the nutrients being absorbed and distributed to the cells that need them.
- It also gets the pancreas and small intestines fired up to make digestive enzymes and bile that also help in breaking down the foods you eat.
- Last but not least, it helps to prevent disease by killing bad bacteria and yeast that can be present in our foods.
Without enough stomach acid to break down your food, it is essentially decomposing in your stomach and rotting.
Common symptoms of low stomach acid
- bloating, belching and flatulence after meals
- undigested food in stool
- weak, peeling, cracked fingernails
- hair loss in women
- chronic candida
So what causes low stomach acid?
- STRESS – when you eat in a stressed or rushed state, your body automatically stops the digestion process. This is going back to caveman times of fight or flight. When cavemen sensed danger the body detours functions to deal with the cause of the stress first. In order to digest properly, we need to be at a calm, rested state. We may have evolved from then, but not that much.
- Lack of B Vitamins and Zinc – B Vitamins and Zinc are required for the production of stomach acid.
- Dehydration – stomach acid is liquid so water is a key component.
- Medications – antacids, proton pump inhibitors, histamine2 blockers can either neutralize the necessary acid or stop production
- Liver congestion, candida overgrowth, and a sluggish gallbladder can cause a “sewage backup”. Sounds pretty gross, but let me explain. At the end of the esophagus is a trap door (Lower Esophageal Sphincter or LES).* When the door is working correctly, it opens to let the food we have just eaten pass through into the intestines. In some cases, it opens whenever the hell it wants and with no food coming down, the acid climbs up. So it is not too much acid, it is acid in the wrong place.
Things that can affect the trap door from working properly are nicotine, caffeine, orange juice, tomatoes/tomato based products, high-fat meals, spicy foods and alcohol.
I can speak from experience on the tomato based products. Every time I eat pizza, I get heartburn. After the third time, I made the connection and targeted the pizza sauce. The next time we had pizza, I ordered the barbecue chicken pizza and no heartburn!
The Simple Takeaways
- Make sure you get enough water every day, throughout the day, to keep stomach acid churning.
- Eat when you are calm and without distraction. Turn off the T.V., chew slowly and deliberately and practice mindful eating. I am not a religious person, but a prayer before you begin eating is a form of mindful eating. Whatever works to make you more observant of how you are eating will do.
- Check your Vitamin B and Zinc levels and adjust as needed. Note: Too much of anything can be just as detrimental as too little. The goal is balance.
- Keep a heartburn journal. Every time you feel heartburn coming, record what you have eaten in the last 6-12 hours. It may be as simple as swapping out a food like my pizza sauce was for me.
The Not So Simple Takeaways
As far as anything prescribed by your doctor, it is never a good idea to just stop taking a medication. What you can do is ask to have your HC1 (Hydrochloric Acid) levels checked with a Heidelberg capsule or a SmartPill test.* Depending on the results your doctor may choose another course of action, or you can consult with a nutritionist to learn better lifestyle habits that you can maintain.
Over the counter antacids are totally up to you. If you are in serious discomfort and are not ready to make the call to the doctor or nutritionist just be aware of the possible long-term effects.
Point of Interest
In 2007, Nexium, Protonix/Pantozol and Aciphex were in the top 25 drugs, translating into 10% of all drug sales. This does not include over the counter antacids. *