Gastritis, Nonulcer dyspepsia, GERD, Irritable Bowel, Colitis, etc.
To treat indigestion, reflux, gas, bloating, belching, burning, constipation, diarrhea or GERD, you MUST get to the root of the problem, rather than taking antacids and acid blockers, if you want to be healthy. Telltale signs of poor digestion include weak, easily broken, peeling fingernails as well as hair loss in women; bad breath, multiple food allergies, iron deficiency, nausea, cramps, chronic intestinal parasites, chronic candida infections, undigested food in the stool and a sense of ‘fullness’ after eating that lasts several hours.
The possible ‘causes’ of indigestion are many and are out of the scope of this article to cover in depth, but I’ll list them, and then tell you the #1 cause that is so easy to fix. One major cause is the way we tend to eat: rushed meals, poor chewing, large meals, with many different types of foods, processed foods with difficult to digest artificial ingredients, often accompanied by large amounts of liquid that dilute the already compromised digestive juices. Large, undigestible meals stretch the stomach and its valve beyond capacity, resulting in a valve that does not close properly, allowing the stomach acid to enter the esophagus, causing the burning sensation. Caffeine, chocolate, peppermint, nicotine and alcohol relax the esophageal sphincter muscle and can often permit reflux of stomach acids as well. Other possible causes include: bacteria that thrive in city water supplies, Candida Albicans (yeast overgrowth from taking antibiotics), H pylori (the nasty bug that causes most ulcers), improper food combining (eating fruit with a meal), eating wrong for your blood type, prolonged illness, pregnancy and, the most common cause of all- not enough stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Yes, you read that right. NOT ENOUGH stomach acid. You see, the symptoms of too little stomach acid and too much stomach acid are the same. Heartburn!
Allow me to explain by looking at a simplified version of what digestion is, why it is so important to get it right, and the downright scary consequences of not doing so.
Digestion is the process of breaking our food down into the smallest absorbable molecule, and then combining again in such a way as to re-create every cell, every organ, every tissue of the human body. This conversion is accomplished by some 20 chemicals-acid and enzymes-as the food moves through the digestive tract.
Digestion begins in the mouth. That’s why they say chew your food thoroughly. Saliva has enzymes that begin breaking down starches. Then the stomach secretes hydrochloric acid (Hcl) and pepsin to begin breaking down the complex proteins and minerals. Then in the small intestines, bile is secreted to emulsify fats and then the pancreas secretes enzymes to finish breaking down the already emulsified fats and the carbohydrates and proteins. Then these smallest molecules of nutrients can then be absorbed by the small intestines. The colon then absorbs much of the water, and you know the rest of the story. That is if nothing goes wrong at any of these stages. But in one third to one half of the population, something does go wrong, the main thing being not having enough stomach acid (Hcl).
Without sufficient acid, proteins and minerals do not break down, because pepsin will not be secreted without the acid. If they don’t break down, then you can’t absorb them. Each stage of digestion must do it’s job, before the next stage can do its job. In other words, if the stomach doesn’t begin the process of unraveling the complex protein chains, then the enzymes in the small intestine cannot cleave the amino acids apart. Your intestines cannot absorb these larger molecules and therefore you become deficient in protein. Equally as bad, though, is the resulting indigestion and heartburn.
When there isn’t enough stomach acid to break the food down, it just sits in the stomach and begins to ferment. This produces another kind of acid called “acids of fermentation” which are many times more damaging to the stomach. This causes the bloating and it is this acid that then forces its way up the esophagus resulting in heartburn. So what do we do? We take antacids. The absolute worse thing you can do! This neutralizes the acid and causes an acid rebound condition, since as the stomach becomes too alkaline more acid is secreted. Then we take more antacids and the vicious cycle goes on and on.
Besides breaking down our food and preventing heartburn, Hcl does many other valuable things.
According to several medical doctors who researched Hcl in the 1930’s, Hcl “is natures weapon to destroy body toxins, to neutralize poisons, to keep in perfect balance the pH of the tissues, to desensitize allergic reactions no matter what their origin, whether from within or without, and to open congested lymphatic spaces, blocked by secretions and excretions of disease reactions.” (Walter Guy Bryant, MD, Hydrocloric Acid and Mineral Therapy). The acid environment of the stomach also prevents the growth of bacteria and yeast.
This highly acidic pH has a dual function: to kill bugs that enter the mouth and to continue digestion of food.
What causes low stomach acid? Several studies have shown that gastric acid output decreases with age, and is found in over half of those over age 60. Every decade of life the body produces about 12% less digestive juice. Stress and tension, a poor diet of cooked food devoid of enzymes and high in sugar, chronic use of certain medications like aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs and lack of B vitamins also contribute to the inability to produce enough Hcl.
Now comes the scary part. So what happens when we don’t digest our food well, end up with heartburn, and take antacids or acid blockers?
Quoting from Stop Digestive Discomfort! John Morgenthaler says, “The biggest problem with acid-blocking medications is that they disturb the normal feedback mechanism controlling stomach health, which is acid production. Normally, stomach acid secretion helps balance the growth of stomach cells, especially the acid producing cells. But when we artificially block the production of stomach acid using drugs, the body responds by producing too much gastrin-a stomach hormone normally blocked by our stomach acid production. This results in a condition known as Hypergastrinemia.
This excess gastrin production causes a proliferation of acid-producing cells (causing a rebound ability of our stomach to produce acid). It may also result in cancerous-like stomach growths. The end result is an overproduction of acid after stopping these drugs-beyond what is normal and needed. This sets up a vicious cycle because the drugs very effectively turn off stomach acid until we stop using them. However, they also stimulate the growth of acid-producing stomach cells giving us even more acid production once we stop. Even worse, these drugs may actually promote cancer of the stomach because of the changes they cause.”
In her book, No More Heartburn, Dr. Sherry Rogers relates that a “common cause of indigestion and ulcers is the bacteria that thrive in city water supplies. Years ago, researchers began treating gastritis, heartburn and indigestion resulting from this bacteria with H2-blockers like Zantac and Pepcid. They not only found that the drugs did not cure the problem, but as soon as the people stopped taking the drug, their symptoms returned. And the LONGER the folks were on acid inhibitors, the WORSE the stomach bug grew, even so far as to trigger cancer of the stomach and the duodenum.
Even WORSE, researchers found that within a 12 month period over half (61%) of the folks on H2-blockers had destroyed their stomach linings. (Zucca). Atrophic gastritis, this destruction of the stomach lining, can also lead to malnutrition and its associated effects, senility, and cancer.”
Here is a list of some of the disorders that have been associated with poor stomach acid output. Addison’s disease, allergies, pernicious anemia, asthma, celiac, skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, auto-immune disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Myasthenia Gravis, Lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, depression, gallstones, Grave’s disease, stomach cancer, hepatitis, osteoporosis, acne rosacea, colitis, thyrotoxicosis, hyper- and hypothyroidism, and vitiligo.
If all that’s not enough to scare you, there’s more.
Remember when I said that if you don’t have enough stomach acid, then you don’t break down your protein and minerals. Every cell in your body is made of protein. How are your cells going to reproduce more healthy cells, and how are they going to function correctly? They’re not. Also, mineral deficiencies lead to osteoporosis, bone loss in the mouth causing pyorrhea, easily broken bones and hip fractures, joint pain, hip and knee replacements, painful muscle spasms in the back, heart palpitations and arrhythmias, etc. Minerals are crucial to good health.
And finally, there are the nasty side effects of taking drugs like Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Zantac, Tagamet, Mylanta, and any other antacid or acid blocker.
In No More Heartburn, Dr. Rogers is quoted, “Prilosec’s side effects include diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, gas, constipation, acid reflux, and carcinoid tumors in the gut.” (EXCUSE ME, but aren’t these symptoms part of the problem we’re trying to treat???) “But it doesn’t stop there. Prilosec can cause fatal liver rot (necrosis), fatal pancreatitis, headache, back pain, hair loss, and it can stop the production of blood cells. Like Tagamet, Prilosec can severely distort or compromise the detoxification of other drugs and toxins.”
Add to this our daily exposures to toxic substances at home like pesticides in the yard or to kill bugs in the house, all of which must be detoxified, and we get sicker quicker, if we’re not able to detoxify them.
Side effects of Tagamet, and other H2-blockers, include cardiac arrhythmia, hypertension, breast enlargement in men, headaches, dizziness, low white-blood cell count, and diarrhea.
The lower esophageal muscle can be weakened by factors other than food. The following recommendations may be helpful in reducing symptoms:
- Stop using tobacco in all forms. Nicotine weakens the lower esophageal muscle.
- Avoid chewing gum and hard candy. They increase the amount of swallowed air which, in turn, leads to belching and reflux.
- Do not lie down immediately after eating. Avoid late evening snacks.
- Avoid tight clothing and bending over after eating.
- Eat small, frequent portions of food
- Lose weight if overweight.
- Elevate the head of the bed six to eight inches to prevent reflux when sleeping.
- The following foods aggravate acid reflux, and should be avoided:
- fatty or fried foods
- peppermint and spearmint
- whole milk
- creamed foods or soups
- most fast foods
- The following foods irritate an inflamed lower esophagus and may need to be limited or avoided:
- citrus fruits and juices (grapefruit, orange, pineapple, tomato)
- coffee (even decaf)
- caffeinated beverages including tea and soft drinks
- Spicy or acidic foods may not be tolerated by some individuals.
Check to make sure that the medications you are taking are not triggering the problem such as tranquilizers, calcium channel blockers, synthetic estrogen and progesterone, the asthma drug theophilline, and tricyclic antidepressants. Eat more raw foods to increase enzymes.
Of course, until the stomach lining has had time to heal, I recommend a wonderful product that helps the body build new stomach lining called DGL. This is a licorice root extract that has had the glycyrrhizin removed so it won’t elevate blood pressure. I also recommend a digestive enzyme with every meal that contains Hcl, unless you are intolerant to any acid right now. A good way to check is to take apple cider vinegar with a meal, and if you burn, then you don’t want any more acid, if you feel better then you do need more acid.
A more permanent solution is to stimulate your natural secretions rather than become dependent on external supplementation. Hcl can be stimulated by drinking raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar just prior to your meal; 1-3 TBLS in an 8 oz glass is very invigorating. Bitter herbs also stimulate the flow of pancreatic juices and bile.
Food combining is a technique that is successfully used by some people to stop indigestion, gas and bloating, as well as to lose weight. With this plan you merely cut back from eating many dissimilar foods at one sitting. The result is clear: You don’t overtax the capability of your digestive enzymes.
I also highly recommend eating right for your blood type. I have seen more cases of heartburn stop just by doing this one thing! You came too late to tell me it doesn’t work.
It’s time to educate, not medicate.
Dr. Rogers says, “ The bottom line is that the gut houses over half of the body’s immune system and detoxification system. These two systems govern our health. Their integrity determines every symptom and disease you get, right up to cancer. The fact is that all gut drugs make the gut malfunction. And if the gut isn’t healthy, you have very little chance of healing any other condition you may have. This is a major reason why many people are sick and don’t get better. If you are among those who suffer from symptoms in the gut, you have two choices: (1) You can suppress symptoms with drugs while the underlying causes progress to cancer or other illnesses. (2) Or you can learn how to find the causes and cures in your search for a drug-free, symptom-free life.”