Chew On This: Some Advice On Heartburn
“Half the modern drugs could well be thrown out the window except that the birds might eat them.” -Martin Fischer, MD
If you notice that the holiday meals have left you with searing pain in your midsection, you may not care a great deal whether it is called heartburn, acid indigestion, gastritis or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). You just want relief. It is certainly no wonder that millions of Americans resort to over the counter medications or to drugs to alleviate these uncomfortable symptoms.
Heartburn develops when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)—the valve between the stomach and the esophagus—does not tighten properly when food is being digested in the stomach. This allows acid to pass into the esophagus resulting in sensation described as heartburn. Mainstream practitioners almost exclusively recommend acid blocking therapies such as Tums, Nexium or Zantac to treat these symptoms.
Unfortunately, although these medications may stop the pain, their use does not address the cause. Stop taking the medication, and the pain returns. These medications work by making the stomach juice more alkaline, so that when fluid passing the slack LES does not burn. Paradoxically, the core of the problem is often that our stomach does not produce enough acid. The LES has evolved to remain tight only when the acidity of the stomach is at the appropriate level. When acid production drops—for example due to poor dietary choices—the LES relaxes, allowing the stomach juices to enter and burn the esophagus. An important part of the solution then, is to restore the proper acidity of the stomach which will then cause the LES to clench tight.
I feel strongly about avoiding, or at least minimizing the use of acid-blocking medications. Stomach acid performs many functions in the body, including defense against pathogens, absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron and breakdown of macronutrients. These benefits are lost upon long term consumption of acid-blocking medications. Many conditions, such as osteoporosis, may progress faster than they otherwise would if folks become dependent upon these drugs.
Research has associated these drugs with serious pathology. One study in 2009 acknowledged the possibility that proton pump inhibitors (or PPIs such as Nexium and Prilosec) may be associated with gastric cancer. Another study demonstrated that PPI users were almost three times as likely to suffer hip fractures as those who did not take them long term. Some over the counter antacids contain aluminum which is suspected to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Many utilize calcium carbonate, a poorly absorbed form of calcium that further interferes with metabolic processes as it is not properly balanced with Vitamin D and magnesium.
There are highly effective alternatives to acid-blocking drugs and antacids. Eat small meals that your stomach can handle. Soups and steamed vegetables are preferable to breads and meats. Drink water, but not with meals. Chew your food well and take time eating. Pay attention to foods that exacerbate your heartburn and avoid them. Aloe has an ancient reputation for healing and repairing the intestines. Swedish bitters, lemon juice and Bragg’s apple cider vinegar provide excellent support. Supplements such as Betain hydrochloric acid, zinc carnosine, slippery elm and deglycyrrhizinated licorice go a long way to providing relief while at the same time healing irritated tissues.
Candida, ulcers, the presence of the stomach bacteria H. pylori, or misaligned vertebrae are all conditions associated with heartburn that may require further investigation. For heartburn that fails to respond to the above recommendations, consult your friendly alternative practitioner for further advice.
Dr. Daniel Smith practices at Bear Creek Naturopathic Clinic. His office is on 2612 Barnett Ave. He specializes in naturopathic oncology, but still maintains a strong family practice, treating all manner of conditions. He can be reached at 541-770-5563 or at email@example.com. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please ask specifically for Dr. Dan.