Friday, October 15, 2010

Fighting Heartburn and GERD Naturally – and Safely! :: Terry Talks Nutrition

Almost everyone has experienced heartburn. Usually, the first thing a person does to stop the pain is reach for a couple of antacids. It’s almost a trained response; we’ve all seen the commercials on TV telling us why stomach acid is the culprit behind acid reflux, and the best thing to do is eliminate it as quickly as possible.

Actually, that’s about the worst thing you could do.

We need stomach acid. Without it, we risk broken bones, food poisoning, infections, and even pneumonia, in addition to not being able to digest food properly. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer with the pain and worse, esophageal damage, of heartburn. There are extremely effective natural ingredients that can stop the burn and soothe the digestive system without interfering with stomach acid. In this week’s Terry Talks Nutrition, we’re going to talk about botanical solutions to the growing heartburn problem.

What causes the fire?

While it isn’t immediately life-threatening, the pain from heartburn can be so severe that sometimes people mistake it for a heart attack. The “burn” is caused by stomach acids overflowing from the stomach into the esophagus. This is usually because of a one-way valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This valve allows food to enter the stomach from the esophagus, but keeps the stomach contents from coming back up into the esophagus. When the LES opens at the wrong time, or doesn’t close properly, the acidic digestive juices in the stomach splash onto the unprotected lining of the esophagus, causing the characteristic “burn” of heartburn.

Of course, heartburn is one thing, but gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is another, more serious condition. When stomach acid repeatedly washes up into the delicate structures of the esophagus it causes real damage over time, destroying the mucosal lining – possibly leading to ulcers. Even worse, chronic irritation of the lower end of the esophagus may lead to a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which in turn can lead to cancer. In fact, it has been estimated that people with Barrett’s esophagus have 40 times the risk of esophageal cancer as those without this problem. Therefore, it is important to eliminate chronic heartburn for more reasons than merely reducing occasional discomfort.

People with GERD may have other symptoms as well, including chronic coughing, wheezing and regurgitation of food. And unfortunately, the billion dollars a year that Americans spend for antacid products to treat their heartburn and GERD not only won’t help – they are making the problem worse!

Stomach acid is not the enemy.

While many manufacturers promote and sell products that reduce stomach acid as a way to treat heartburn, these products are not the solution. Although they may – temporarily – stop the pain of heartburn, interfering with the body’s production of stomach acid does not help the underlying processes that lead to heartburn in the first place. And reducing stomach acid causes a whole new set of problems instead.

Normally, when the contents of the stomach are properly acidified, the pyloric valve at the lower end of the stomach opens, allowing stomach contents to move into the duodenum, the first section of the intestines, where digestion continues and absorption of nutrients begins.

However, if stomach acid levels are low, it takes a lot longer for the stomach’s contents to ferment, and that causes gas that presses against the esophageal valve. Over time, the valve weakens and the acidified contents of the stomach spill back into the esophagus, causing the pain of heartburn, and over time, the potential complications of GERD.

Reducing stomach acid is not the answer.

The reason why antacids and drugs that reduce acid production appear to work is because, as they neutralize stomach acids, the pyloric valve opens too quickly and allows the not fully-processed stomach contents into the duodenum. Because the stomach empties faster, there is less chance of the contents escaping back up into the esophagus. Plus, anything that does back up is less acidic, and less irritating to the esophagus.

So why is this bad? There are some important reasons:
Proteins that were supposed to be broken down in the stomach are now in the intestines, and could actually act as an allergen. This may contribute greatly to leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel.

Protein not being broken down properly means that calcium and iron aren’t being absorbed properly either. In fact, use of acid inhibiting drugs has been associated with a 25% increased risk of bone fracture.

Harmful bacteria that could have been destroyed by stomach acids now have a “free pass” into the intestines, where they could do much more harm. Particularly dangerous bacteria called Clostridium difficile have been found to cause infections much more often in people who use acid blocking drugs.

Neutralizing stomach acids with antacids (Rolaids, Tums, Maalox, Mylanta, etc) causes a rebound effect in which the body in turn OVER produces acid to compensate for the lack of acid in the stomach where it is needed.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that if you go into a hospital and are prescribed Prilosec (omeprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole) or Prevacid (lansoprazole)—all drugs that greatly reduce acid production--you have a 30% increased risk for contracting pneumonia during your stay. [Shoshana J. Herzig, Michael D. Howell, Long H. Ngo, Edward R.

Marcantonio. Acid-Suppressive Medication Use and the Risk for Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia. JAMA. 2009 May. 301(20):2120-2128.]

Fortunately, there are ingredients that help relieve and prevent heartburn naturally, without interfering with normal, healthy stomach acidity!

Natural ingredients work with your body—not against it!

Additional things to remember about heartburn and GERD

Of course, if you have problems with recurring heartburn or suspect that you have GERD, there are other lifestyle choices you must consider. If you smoke, stop. The benefits will far exceed stopping your heartburn, and you’ll be healthier and feel better overall. Avoid those deep-fried foods that can upset the stomach and cause inflammation throughout the body. And, consider eating smaller, more frequent whole food meals to avoid filling up all at once.

Pregnant women often complain of heartburn as the increasing size of the baby places unusual pressure on the stomach and its contents. After the child is born, this issue usually completely resolves. Pregnant women may not need any further intervention for their heartburn than eating smaller meals and elevating the head of the bed with some wood blocks to help prevent reflux. If heartburn persists, please check with your health care practitioner to decide if using this natural intervention is right for you.

Obesity, especially apple-shaped patterns of obesity, contributes greatly to heartburn and GERD, as the additional fat places undue pressure on the stomach. Losing even 5 or 10 pounds can improve heartburn and GERD risk.

You don’t have to suffer

Heartburn and GERD are not only painful; they can be dangerous as the esophagus becomes damaged by excessive acid exposure. However, turning off the acid can do more harm than good. By avoiding acid-stopping OTC and prescription drugs, being smart about your diet and habits, and using high-quality natural ingredients, you’ll give your body a chance to heal itself naturally. It’s a solution that simply makes good sense—for the long run.

For more information on how to cope with acid naturally call our office!

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