February 20th, 2016 12:00am
Are you plagued with heartburn? Has your doctor told you that you have to be on medication for the rest of your life? Stomach acid, indigestion, GERD, you name it, is so common and very uncomfortable. Although there may be multiple causes, here are 10 supplements that can really help a lot. Read on for more information about this discomforting symptom and what else you can do, besides supplements, to feel better and fully understand any risks to your health.
Almost like a cult following, doctors reach into their white coat pockets and write for proton pump inhibitors. Those are the medications like Prilosec, Nexium, Aciphex, and Prevacid prescribed for gastroesophageal reflux or GERD. Often gastroenterologists tell my patients they have to be on these medications for the rest of their lives. Since they really do relieve symptoms, most people don't object. Doctors are aggressive with prescribing these medications because of the long-held notion that acid injures to the esophagus and can lead to a condition called Barrett's esophagus, thought to be a precursor of cancer. A study in May 2011 debunked that theory of association. In fact, the association between GERD and cancer is intimately tied with many of the pharmaceutical manufacturers.
So, what's the problem? The problem is that we do need stomach acid and cutting it out leads to all sorts of problems, which studies in major medical journals are now documenting. Without acid, digestion becomes more difficult and food actually stays in the stomach longer, which could lead to further reflux. Additionally, poorly digested food holds on to minerals and vitamins. Acid is also needed for the absorption of vitamins and minerals. This leads to the documented increase in osteoporosis among long-term users of reflux medications. And most recently, studies linked these medications, so-called PPI's or Proton Pump Inhibitors) with dementia.
Another problem is that our small and large intestine needs acid to keep the proper balance of good and bad bacteria and/or yeast. Without the acid, an overgrowth of bad bacteria or yeast may develop. This can lead to gastrointestinal malabsorption or even worse life threatening infections. Studies have documented an increased incidence of Clostridia Difficile colitis among users of these medications.
The use of strong anti-acid medications is associated with an increase in respiratory infections, such as pneumonia. Unbeknownst to us, we inhale and swallow microbes all the time. The normal acid environment in our stomach kills most. However, when the acid is low, we end up regurgitating and aspirating bad bacteria that can eventually lead to infection.
Over the counter Zantac or Pepcid Complete are much better alternatives for the "one-off" treatment of occasional heartburn if you really need a medication. They are time-tested, being around for more than twenty years.
But, I know, it is so uncomfortable. So how can we treat GERD without leading to problems?
The above supplements can work extremely well. Additionally , you can implement the following measures.
• Decrease total fat intake
• Avoid large meals
• Decrease total caloric intake if weight loss is desired
• Avoid chocolate
• Avoid coffee depending on individual tolerance
• Avoid other known irritants - Alcohol, mint, carbonated beverages, citrus juices, and tomato products
• Maintain upright posture during and after eating.
• Stop smoking.
• Avoid clothing that is tight in the abdominal area.
• Avoid eating within 3 hours before bedtime.
• Lose weight if you are overweight.
• Sleep on your left side.
• Chew non-mint gum, which will increase saliva production and decrease acid in the esophagus.
• Elevate the head of your bed 4-6 inches by placing bricks under the headboard.
If you are diagnosed with an ulcer of the stomach or esophagus, then you should take the strong medications for about two months under doctor's supervision.
Some people recommend Betaine HCL, but I only suggest this for people over the age of 65 who have difficulty producing their own stomach acid.
Certainly, other protocols may help people. These modalities have worked consistently for others and me. In fact, one of my patients did not tell her gastroenterologist that she did not take the medication he recommended. When she returned a year later, her esophagus and stomach looked great and he told her to continue the medication forever!
So stand up for the health of your body. Don't take your doctor's advice as gospel. Do your research and don't be afraid to question and challenge so that you get the treatment that is right for you.
© Dr. Charles F. Glassman, CoachMD