Recently, it has come to light that prolonged use of acid reflux medications, known as proton pump inhibitors or PPIs, have been linked to numerous health problems. Although known to work well in reducing the production of stomach acid, which can back up into the esophagus and cause an uncomfortable burning sensation, growing research has shown that these medications are not without side effects. Because the medications block stomach acid production, they interfere with the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients, including magnesium, calcium and vitamin B12. This can lead to deficiencies that negatively affect bone and overall health.
The 10-year study showed that long term use of PPIs can elevate the risk of bone density loss, bone fractures, pneumonia, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and C. difficile and H. pylori infections. Hugely concerning, PPIs may significantly elevate the risk of developing chronic kidney disease. It is estimated that 15 million Americans use these often overprescribed common medications long term, while they were originally developed for short term use only. Researchers also found that for many these powerful drugs may be used inappropriately when other medications, such as H2 receptor antagonists, and natural remedies could be administered, with less risk of side effects for those with severe chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
While both prescription and OTC heartburn medications are designed to suppress stomach acid production, clinicians have found that those who suffer from uncomfortable digestive symptoms may actually have low stomach acidity. It is well established that the occurrence of heartburn and GERD increases with age, while stomach acidity declines, challenging the theory that too much stomach acid is the root of the problem. In his 24 years of nutritionally oriented practice, Dr. Jonathan Wright of the Tahoma Clinic in Washington State found that people over age 40 who experienced heartburn, indigestion and gas, had inadequate stomach acid production 90% of the time.
Reducing or eliminating stomach acid relieves the symptoms of stomach acid refluxing into the esophagus, but does not address underlying causes. The prevailing scientific theory is that GERD is a symptom of a malfunction of the sphincter valve that separates the stomach and esophagus. Clearly, as any amount of stomach acid in the esophagus is going to irritate the mucosal lining and cause uncomfortable heartburn or regurgitation, one does not have to have excess stomach acid to have heartburn. We need stomach acid to inhibit bacterial overgrowth and to stimulate the release of the pancreatic enzymes that support the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates.
Some argue that GERD is the result of insufficient stomach acid production, which negatively affects the secretion of pancreatic enzymes. In turn, bacterial overgrowth and carbohydrate malabsorption results in increased abdominal pressure, stomach distension and bloating, a perfect formula for producing intestinal gas and increasing risk of developing GERD, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).
As H. pylori bacteria can only survive in a low-acidic, imbalanced pH environment, it is believed the bacteria itself suppresses stomach acid production in order to thrive. Add in medications that also suppress acid production and you have the beginnings of a vicious cycle–low stomach acid = heartburn + acid suppressors + Pylori infection = further reduction of stomach acid = chronic heartburn and GERD. As H. pylori is associated with an increased risk of low-grade inflammation, gastritis, ulcers and stomach cancer, some may want to actually support, not reduce, stomach acid production to inhibit the growth of this deleterious bacteria.
Healthy digestion and absorption of nutrients is dependent upon gastric acid secretions. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to a number of chronic disorders. Simple lifestyle changes and natural treatments may offer a better and safer way to address the root cause of occasional acid reflux, indigestion and GERD:
- To restore natural gastric balance and digestive function and aid in eliminating H. pylori bacteria, eat whole, unprocessed foods and regularly consume a variety of fermented foods.
- Consider supplementing with a multi-strain probiotic (without FOS) on a regular basis to help restore beneficial microflora.
- Replace stomach acid, enzymes and nutrients that aid digestion and nutrient absorption.
- Betaine hydrochloride (HCI) has been safely used for over a century to restore normal gastric activity and support healthy gut function. Pepsin, typically taken in conjunction with HCI, safely assists digestion. (HCI should not be taken with anti-inflammatory medications or NSAIDS).
- Gentian bitters have been traditionally used to treat gastric disturbances. Research shows these bitters act on taste bud receptors to stimulate secretion of saliva and hydrochloric stomach acid.
- Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) has been shown to help protect the stomach lining, treat ulcerations, stimulate mucous secretion and stimulate new cell growth.
- To improve stomach acid content, drink a large glass of water containing one tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar.
- Ginger root, traditionally used for gastric disturbances, helps to suppress H. pylori bacteria.
- Eliminate artificial sweeteners and fructose that feed harmful intestinal bacteria.
- Avoid triggers such as spicy and fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
- Eat at least several hours before bedtime and avoid lying down immediately after eating.
Professional Supplement Center carries these and other high quality products that support proper digestive function and nutrient absorption:
Digestive Enzymes Ultra w / HCI by Pure Encapsulations – This broad spectrum formula provides vegetarian digestive enzymes combined with betaine HCI for optimal digestive support across a wide pH range. Non-GMO formulation.
DGL by Ortho Molecular – This formula combines deglycyrrhizinated licorice root, marshmallow root, slippery elm bark and aloe vera to provide gastrointestinal support for the integrity of the stomach, and soothing, slippery support for healthy mucosal lining of the intestinal and esophageal tracts. Gluten free formulation.
Betaine HCI with Pepsin and Gentian Root Extract by Vital Nutrients – This formula provides beneficial support for the digestive system, promotes healthy digestion and absorption of nutrients, and maintains a proper stomach and intestinal pH.
Ginger Root 550 by Now Foods Save 30% – This product provides soothing support for digestive function and helps maintain healthy gut flora. Gluten, soy and diary free, Non-GMO formulation.
Popular Acid Reflux Drugs Are Linked to Kidney Disease Risk. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/11/462423759/popular-acid-reflux-drugs-are-linked-to-kidney-disease-risk
Heartburn medications are common and effective, but they pose risks. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health-advisor/heartburn-medications-are-common-and-effective-but-they-pose-risks/article30060425/
Popular heartburn medication linked to chronic kidney disease. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/01/11/popular-heartburn-medication-linked-to-chronic-kidney-disease/
What Everybody Ought to Know (But Doesn’t) About Heartburn & GERD. http://chriskresser.com/what-everybody-ought-to-know-but-doesnt-about-heartburn-gerd/
Are Heartburn Medications Safe for Long-Term Use? http://www.everydayhealth.com/digestive-health/experts-are-heartburn-medications-safe.aspx
Gastric Balance: Heartburn Not Always Caused by Excess Acid. http://nutritionreview.org/2013/04/gastric-balance-heartburn-caused-excess-acid/