Friday Author: Seth Kaplan
But are proton pumps the answer to acid reflux?
I was reminded of the controversy around the use of antacids, specifically proton pump medications, when I got a haircut earlier today. My barber told me that he has acid reflux, and that omeprazole—a.k.a. Prilosec—which he has taken for years, seems to help. Since Omeprazole is now sold over the counter (OTC)in drugstores, supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, etc., some of you reading this post may be taking Omeprazole, too, or may know someone who does. I have spoken to people who told me they have been taking a proton pump like Protonix as a prescription medication for 25-30 years! Yikes!
Whether or not that is the case, read on to learn more about this approach to managing—NOT curing—acid reflux specifically and digestive upsets generally. There are other approaches that may work better for you while reducing your dependency on Omeprazole.
[As always, I am not diagnosing, prescribing, or selling cures to anything. What I write about is information that I have learned over many years of personal research and conversations with others.]
What Is the Problem?
The name used these days to describe acid reflux is GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It is characterized by a burning sensation in the chest and/or stomach, which sometimes is accompanied by gas, bloating, breathlessness, nausea, or a sour taste in the mouth. If you’ve got it, you know what it feels like to you, so it’s a good idea to write down what you feel during a flare-up.
Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscular ring of tissue, closes tight after food passes from the esophagus to the stomach. Sometimes, though, that ring loosens and opens. That allows hydrochloric acid (HCA) to spurt back into the esophagus, where it can burn or scar the lining. This can lead to more serious conditions if not corrected.
What weakens the LES? Having a hiatal hernia can cause GERD. So can bolting the food you eat without chewing it thoroughly. Digestion begins not in the stomach but in the mouth with saliva, which contains ptyalin, an amylase that helps convert carbs to sugar. The mouth also rends the food and shapes it into a bolus. Remember mom telling you to chew your food slowly before swallowing? She was right.
The HCL in your stomach will digest the food there if it has been pre-digested in the mouth. The HCL will work on the food for only so long before passing it, digested or not, through the duodenum into the small intestine.
So, now you’ve got acid in your stomach without anything to digest and undigested food in your small intestine. That extra acid will affect the proper working of the LES. Over time, the ring will be open more and more as its muscle remains weak.
- citrus fruits
- fats and fatty food
- spicy food
Too Much Acid? Or Too Little?
Common sense would seem to dictate that, if acid is backing up into the esophagus, you make too much acid when you eat. Yet, the fact is that one can also make too little acid and have the same effect occur.
Now, you can see why antacids may cause a problem for GERD sufferers. If you do not make enough HCL to digest food, it will pass undigested or partially digested into the small intestine. But, if you don’t make enough acid to digest food, why reduce that already insufficient amount of HCL? (Low HCL levels can contribute to about 25 different medical conditions. Another topic, another time.)
In fact, if you take digestive aids that increase the amount of HCL, you will help manage or eliminate the problem. With the proper level of HCL restored, you will be digesting food completely, which will give the LES time to rebuild its muscularity and tightness.
What Can You Do to Relieve GERD?
Work with your doctor on this list, since avoiding interactions is a good thing:
|Supplement||Why take it||Possible dosing|
|Vitamin B complex AND extra Vitamin B12 (as sublingual methylcobalamin)||If your digestive is damaged, it won’t be able to absorb Vitamin B12||1,000 mcg once a day.|
|Papaya tablets||Papaya helps relieve symptoms||Follow directions on bottle|
|Pancreatin plus Bromelain||Enzymes needed for complete digestion||80 mg in divided doses with meals. Do not take more than 100 mg from all sources|
You will also want to try raising the head of your bed. Not adding pillows or sitting up in bed. Take some equal-size textbooks from that dark corner of the attic and use them to prop up the legs at the head of the bed. Or, get some wood blocks or a long 2X4. Three to four inches elevation should do it. This lets gravity help stop HCL from flowing “upstream.” It is also free and easy.
Do not drink any fluids with a meal. Why not? Because it will dilute whatever acid you have in your stomach, making already difficult digestion even harder. Also, do not lie down for three hours after eating. You will slow digestion and create a channel up which HCL can flow. In addition, try drinking a glass of cabbage or celery juice once a day.
By the way, I got a very nice haircut. The barber says he will visit a health food store to learn more. While there is a lot more to be said on this topic, my work today is done.