Dr. Gray's Straight Talk

Honest and blunt healthcare discussion and advice.

A New Way of Thinking about Acid Reflux

Posted by Dr. Gray on Tuesday, January 12, 2010

heartburn-meme[1]Heartburn? Reflux? “Acid indigestion?” GERD? … at the first sign of symptoms, most of us immediately dive for the antacids. The common wisdom leads us to neutralize the acid that is causing the pain. In fact, if you search the net, almost all articles about heartburn, indigestion, or reflux conditions end up recommending antacids as the primary treatment method. I’ll admit, the use of antacids often temporarily relieves the symptoms associated with these conditions. Stronger heartburn medications, such as Prilosec, Zantac, Tagamet, or Prevacid, work by inhibiting the actual production of acid by the acid-producing cells in your stomach.

However, as with most medications, you are still only treating the SYMPTOM! Heartburn is merely a sign of stomach or esophageal irritation. Shouldn’t our first question be, “Why are normal acid processes causing irritation?” Let’s face it, there are acids in the stomach. In fact, it’s supposed to be an acidic environment. So here is the shocker… the “new way” of thinking about heartburn and indigestion…

What if your heartburn or acid indigestion is because your stomach is not acidic enough?!

Wha…??? Now how does that make any sense?! Well, if you remember from high school chemistry, acidity or alkalinity is based on the “pH” scale. On a scale of zero to 14, lower numbers mean more acidic and higher numbers mean more alkaline with the median 7 being neutral. Pepsin, one of the most important enzymes in the stomach, is most active at a pH level between 2 and 3, and is nearly inactive above a pH of 5. Pepsin is essential in breaking down proteins and collagen. In our American diet, the pH level of the stomach is often raised to levels above the optimum 2-3. Parietal cells in the stomach produce hydrochloric acid at a pH of about 0.8 that is normally mixed with stomach contents to arrive at the optimal pH range. However, due to the intake of alkaline and processed foods, and because we eat so much, our pH is often much higher. Antacids can easily raise that level to 6 or higher! Now… they may relieve the pain because there’s low acidity, but it also means the acid and enzymes designed to break down your food can’t work.

What happens to undigested food? Well, some of it is passed on prematurely into the intestines which causes irritation because it’s not broken down enough to allow for absorption of the nutrients your body needs. Some of it remains in the stomach longer than designed so it can be broken down more completely. As your stomach senses undigested food it continues to produce more and more acid and enzymes in an attempt to facilitate digestion. However, as mentioned above, because the acidity is not low enough, the process is slow and begins to build up more and more irritating fluids. As the undigested food begins to rot, the bacteria that would have been handled in the intestinal tract begins to give off gas… hence, you start burping. Noxious gas and stomach acids then get kicked up into the esophagus which is not designed to withstand these acids (this is why it burns when your puke).

Eventually, if you don’t vomit, the crud in your stomach makes its way into the intestines where the out-of-control bacteria now creates flatulence, bloating, and an irritable bowel. Throughout this process your body is giving you signs and symptoms that something is wrong. What are these signs and symptoms? Heartburn, indigestion, bloating, stomachache, flatulence, diarrhea/constipation, etc. And what’s the most common solution for these symptoms? Antacids which, although it may temporarily relieve the pain, perpetuates the problem by raising the level of pH even more!

The best solution I have found for this condition (myself and tons of my patients swear by it) is a product known as Zypan. This is an all-natural, whole food supplement from Standard Process that is only available through physicians. It contains pancreatin, pepsin, betaine hydrochloride, and ammonium chloride. In addition to providing essential digestive enzymes, this product also acidifies the digestive tract so that they can function optimally.

There are other factors that can be involved, such as ulcers or mycobacterial infection, so work with your natural physician to determine the proper course of action. But… stop concentrating on symptoms and start getting to the cause!

Dr. Gray

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