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Heartburn Drugs: More harm than good

Posted Sep 14 2008 5:34pm

In my book, Wellness Piece by Piece, I talk a lot about how taking drugs to turn off the body's ability to make stomach acid is a really bad idea. In fact, I believe it is usually unwise to stop the body from doing anything it was designed to do naturally.

You go to a doctor and you tell him/her that you sometimes get heartburn. They say no problem, we will just give you a medication that stops your body from making stomach acid. You take it and you don't get heartburn anymore. Isn't that great? No, it isn't.

Researchers from Great Brittan did a case-control study and reported in JAMA that people who take acid reducing medications (Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid, Zantac, Tagament, etc.) are two to three times more likely to get infections of the diarrhea causing C. difficile. (Analysis of the article in JAMAhere.)

Researchers have begun to worry there may be consequences of increased infections once we eliminate stomach acid. After all, we all swallow germs. Stomach acid is one of the body's most basic defenses against infection, killing many bacteria, viruses and spores.

Stopping stomach acid production is the real story here though. Why does your body insist on making stomach acid in the first place? Stomach acid serves two main purposes. First, it helps to sterilize the food you eat by killing most of the bacteria, fungi, and viruses present. Second, it starts the process of breaking down the food so that your body can utilize absorb the nutrients and send them out to the cells and organs. If you stop stomach acid production from happening, it can lead to increased GI tract infections, overgrowth of bad bugs, leaky gut syndrome, malabsorption, etc.

In fact, heartburn is NOT a sign of over production of stomach acid. Rather, it is a sign of under production of stomach acid. This is counter-intuitive, but stay with me.

If you produce too little acid for a variety of reasons (aging is one reason) then your food does not get sterilized or fully digested. The unsterilized food in your stomach is now in a perfect environment (warm, dark, and moist) for fermentation. The bacteria ferment the food which causes gas to be produced. (This often is the cause of bloating for many people.) The gas builds up pressure on the valve leading back to the esophagus. When some of the food or liquids "reflux" back into the esophagus you will then FEEL the heartburn even if it is only mildly acidic. The esophagus is not designed to withstand acid at all.

So the answer to heartburn very often is NOT to stop the production of acid in the stomach, but to INCREASE the acid in the stomach. If the food is sterilized, the underlying reason for heartburn is dealt with.

Several years ago, with a certain amount of fear and trepidation because of the counter-intuitiveness of this simple solution, I started to take Betaine HCl with pepsin with my meals and the heartburn stopped. Most people I have suggested Betaine to have been happy to report that increasing the amount of acid in their stomach did actually cause their heartburn to go away. (Not all heartburn is caused from lack of HCl, but most of it is and HCl products are a very inexpensive remedy to rule out. Search Froogle.)

Related Pat Sullivan Blog Post: This will make you mad! / What really causes Acid Reflux?

Technorati Tags:Health and Wellness,Heartburn,Bloating,Indigestion

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