By now you probably understand that the underlying reason for most of today’s 21st century health conditions is an imbalance somewhere in the body.
I believe at least 90% of these imbalances start with wrong food choices that result in GUT problems which impacts other body systems. This is why I focus on fixing the GUT first.
Unfortunately conventional medicine sees human health problems as a list of symptoms that are either suppressed with drugs or removed surgically. This is particularly true when it comes to gastroenterologist’s “treatment options” for GERD and gastritis.
One of the most over prescribed prescription medications has to be the proton pump inhibitor (PPI). Such medications are used to treat GERD/Acid reflux. These include over the counter medications like Mylanta, Gaviscon , Maalox or Rolaids or prescription only medications such as Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid. In 2012 the estimate of prescriptions written for PPI’s was 157 million. Once you are given a PPI doctors tend to keep patients on these medications for years even though the manufactures have stated that they are designed to be used for only eight to ten weeks.
How PPI’s work
PPI’s are drugs which reduce gastric acid production in the stomach. These are commonly prescribed for GERD and for gastric ulcers. According to Medicine-net.com this is how they work: proton pump inhibitors reduce the production of acid by blocking the enzyme in the wall of the stomach that produces acid. The reduction of acid prevents ulcers and allows any ulcers that exist in the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum to heal.
Too much stomach acid or too little?
Interestingly most people who are taking PPI’s actually have too little stomach acid – not too much! Despite this many people who see their doctors complaining of heartburn, gas, bloating, and other symptoms associated with GERD are given proton pump inhibitors. The actual cause of low stomach acid is not addressed when this happens and very often things can get worse.
Unless you have had a endoscopy done and confirmed you do have high stomach acid it’s more likely you have too little stomach acid or it’s going where it’s not supposed to go. Such is actually the case with acid reflux (GERD).
Acid reflux (GERD) is actually due to the stomach acid leaking from your stomach up through the lower esophageal sphincter allowing acid from your stomach to flow (reflux) backward into your esophagus. So it’s not that you have too much stomach acid, but the fact that the stomach acid is going where it’s not supposed to go.
How to tell if you have too little stomach acid
For this test you will need some baking soda. The purpose of this test is to give you a rough indication as to whether your stomach is producing adequate amounts of hydrochloric acid. The most scientific test for assessment of hydrochloric acid levels is the Heidelberg test, although it is not foolproof.
If you are currently taking PPI’s you will need to be off them for a few days before doing this test.
To perform this test: mix one quarter teaspoon of baking soda in eight ounces of cold water, first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything except water. Drink the baking soda solution. Time how long it takes to belch. Time up to five minutes. If you have not belched within five minutes stop timing anyway.
If your stomach is producing adequate amounts of hydrochloric acid you should probably belch within two to three minutes. Early and repeated belching may be due to excessive stomach acid. Belching results from the acid and baking soda reacting to form carbon dioxide gas.
Side effects are just the tip of the ice-burg
What most people do not realize is that there is a reason we have stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) in the stomach and this is to digest protein.
Stomach acid along with pepsin is what breaks down the proteins we consume in our diet. When you lack stomach acid you cannot break down the protein you consume. Undigested protein particles are then allowed to flow into the small intestine where they don’t get broken down because there’s no stomach acid to break down protein in the small intestine. This creates another problem called dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis is a medical term that means your GUT flora is imbalanced and has too many pathogenic bacteria vs. friendly bacteria. As these undigested protein partials ferment they create a very nice host for pathogens like h. pylori, c. difficle, and candida and SIBO. This also leads to increased gut permeability known as leaky GUT due to gaps that appear in the normally tight junctions in between the cells that line the intestines. This “leaking” then leads to increased inflammation and the formation of IgG, IgA antibodies and other cell mediators. Food sensitivites are a problem when this happens.
~ I offer special “functional testing” that can detect many of the underlying sources that contribute to gut dysbiosis.
Hydrochloric acid is also very important for protecting us against infection. For example Harvard Health Guide tells us that; “when we are lying flat while asleep, small amounts of stomach contents tend to travel up the esophagus and get into the trachea. This is called aspiration. Bacteria are more likely to proliferate in the less acidic environment created by PPIs, so in people who take these medications, this little bit of aspiration may be more likely to carry bacteria into the lungs, where they can cause pneumonia.”
The Harvard Health Guide also reports that there is good reason to suspect that lower stomach acid makes people more susceptible to C. difficil. (a bacterium capable of causing life-threatening cases of diarrhea (10 bowel movements a day) and conditions like colitis, an inflammation of the lining of the colon.)
When stomach acid is suppressed it impacts the body’s ability to absorb calcium, which could impact bone loss. Vitamin B12 is also likely to be low in people taking PPI’s because the body can’t absorb the vitamin without stomach acid to uncouple the vitamin from protein in food. B-12 deficiency is linked to many serious health problems discussed here: http://nourishholisticnutrition.com/do-you-have-these-symptoms-you-could-have-low-b12/
A study done in 2012 showed that a significant proportion of healthy, asymptomatic subjects who take a PPI for several weeks develop dyspeptic symptoms 1-2 weeks after discontinuing PPI therapy. “These recent studies suggest that these drugs may actually induce symptoms themselves, essentially causing patients with no previous need for such therapy to require intermittent or long term treatment. Many investigators attribute this effect to a phenomenon described as rebound acid hypersecretion.” 
Safer non-PPI options
Once you’ve done the self test and determined if you have low stomach acid you can try increasing stomach acid in the following ways:
- DGL licorice helps reduce gas and bloating and may be a good starting option.
- Slippery elm bark taken as a tea also helps sooth mucus membranes.
- Ginger root tea also helps aid in digestion.
- Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar in a small amount of water can be sipped with meals to help increase stomach acid.
- You can try increasing hydrochloric acid in the stomach by eating more living foods which naturally contain their own digestive enzymes.
- Adding naturally fermented foods such as homemade sauerkraut, kimchee or other vegetable ferments also helps many people with heartburn, GERD and Hiatal hernias. (Don’t use this is you have a histamine intolerance)
- Supplementing with digestive enzymes at each meal also to helps by improving the breakdown of food in the intestines.
- Reducing foods high in acid such as tomatoes and citrus also helps
- Some people find eliminating dairy products, coffee, tea and high fat or spicy foods also helps prevent their symptoms
- Other options are to use betaine hydrochloric acid supplements and pepsin tablets. You’ll need to determine how many to take as this varies from person to person. If you have had a endoscopic scope done and have actually verified you have high stomach acid DO NOT USE HCL! Try these other methods first and then see if you can handle the HCL.
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There are many more healing options to try depending on your exact diagnosis. These are just a few.
Are you concerned about long term use of PPI’s looking for a solution to address the cause of the problem?
Contact me to set up an appointment to assess your options.