If you have heartburn and mention it to your doctor, what will you get? Likely you will be put on an antacid, or acid suppressive therapy (AST).
Let me ask you a rhetorical question to think about.
Are we that disconnected to natural methods that this is what we choose to do as the first course of action? Turn off the digestion?
It literally breaks my heart.
A successful outcome in holistic medicine is based on maintaining superb gut-health. AST will generate the opposite. It damages the gut-health dramatically.
Before you toss me in with the doom-and-gloomers, please know something about me – I am an optimist and I have solutions.
Who is your health educator?
There are natural methods to prevent GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). If you rely on modern medicine to teach you these methods, you will be sorely disappointed. Nutritional and phytonutrient guidance is not modern medicine’s forte.
You are better off learning from licensed holistic practitioners to get back to the roots of natural self-care we lost.
I have a great tools for you to prevent getting on, or to slowly wean off* these medications at the bottom of this article.
*Always inform your prescribing physician if you make changes to your medicines.
Antacids: the epidemic of our time
I found out recently there is a practice in American hospitals that will put a patient on an AST drug during a surgical stay. This is supposed to be determined by a diagnosed need, but many physicians doesn’t make the time to figure that out – so here you go – a little purple pill for you, and you and you.
Here’s the worst part, the patient is sent home with a prescription to stay on it. No questions asked.
Let me tell you how serious this is, and why it is in your best interest to take charge of your digestion and your health care.
What are these drugs?
Antacids (think Tums and Gaviscon) change the pH of the stomach by introducing a non-acidic substance to the stomach. You might see anxious people popping them like candy.
PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors), which are one of the most commonly prescribed drug classes of all drugs, inhibit acid secretion from the the stomach. I about cried when they went over-the-counter in 2012. These are serious vitality killers.
There is no reason to stop the mechanism of digestion because you are beginning to have trouble with it. There are a dozen remedies that work, right in your kitchen. Do you see the common-sense in this thinking?
Side effects of long term use
Here’s a doozy: The FDA safety recommendation for over the counter PPIs states, “No more than three 14-day treatment courses should be used in one year.”
Let me make a disclaimer here. I am not saying that these medications have no place in our care. If your gut-health has deteriorated too far, then yes, this is the best thing to do to prevent damage from hyperacidity.
But for most people, here are four common side effects listed below that never had to happen.
1. Digestive discomfort
Most common reported side effects are abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, flatulence and headache.
This can cause osteoporosis and hip fractures, along with a general sense of malaise that comes with the inability to detoxify and build new tissue in the absence of nutrients.
3. Disruption of stomach bacteria
This increases susceptibility to the development of acquired pneumonia and Clostridium difficile colitis (also known as “C diff”) which can be a life threatening situation.
4. Stomach polyps
In the presence of H. pylori bacteria, polyps that develop from low acidity are more likely to morph into gastric cancer. Although this is a proven correlation, it is not a common practice to test for H.pylori when you are put on a PPI.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Reflux disease vs. Heartburn
Heartburn is not a disease, it is a symptom.
It is a symptom of what can become a disease if nothing is done about it, hence the urgency of the doctors in prescribing these medications.
There is a timeline of symptom severity; a gradient associated with GERD. It starts with bloating & belching, then heartburn and regurgitation.
It eventually grows into a chronic gastric valve disruption at the the other end of this timeline. This is still treatable, but best to be personally coached through it since it is on the other end of the timeline.
If we are truly interested in preventative medicine, we nip this in the bud! If you have bloating, belching, stomach pain, occasional heartburn, please read on.
OK Julia, I get it! Now what do I do?
Work with the mechanism you were born with.
Don’t just change WHAT you eat, although avoiding grease and foods full of preservatives is a good idea. Change the WAY you approach eating and gut-health. Nurture the process.
Your gastric juice has an important job, don’t shut it off without good cause.
Most people have symptoms of excess stomach acid because food has sat too long in the stomach. The goal is to promote a normal process time where no extra acid made to overcompensate.
Chew, Chew, Chew!
The way to resolve this issue is to promote your gastric juices at the correct time, which is at the onset of food being chewed in the mouth.
Keep it warm!
Keep your “cauldron” cooking. Avoid ice in your drinks and too much cold, raw food. I didn’t eat raw foods for a year when I first came into care (that’s another story for another time). This is a principle in Chinese medicine that is a foundation of practice.
Take Your Bitters!
If you have a rich meal in eastern Europe, you are given an “aperitif” to help promote your gastric juice secretion. Try it out! I’ve seen it work over and over again. The bitter flavor directs energy into the stomach. I’ll give you my favorite brands in the resources section below.
Learn to relax your diaphragm.
There is a muscle at your heartburn spot, your diaphragm, which I call the ALLOWING AXIS. Do not underestimate it’s power. (I will definitely share more about this one…)
Here are a few of the structures that pass through it and permit good function.
- your vagus nerve signaling fight or flight (stress response)
- your esophagus where food passes
- your abdominal aorta supplying blood flow below
- your vena cava returning used blood back to the heart
PRETTY IMPORTANT MUSCLE?
If it is tense because of mental frustration, it will clamp down. This causes symptoms of GERD. Learn to breathe and allow.
Coming off your antacid/acid suppressive therapy (AST)
Weaning off these drugs is trickier. You will likely have a rebound effect and experience more reflux at first. This may make you think – Oh, I really needed these! But that may not be true.
The rule of thumb is go slowly. Take a little less in slow increments. Lessen by thirds every week or two for as long it takes.
Replace the medication with positive behavior. Do not expect your digestion to work after being shut down right away.
In addition to the steps above, take a good digestive enzyme and a probiotic with every meal, eat bland warm foods and learn breathing exercises.
Get some acupuncture and help your body relearn how to work again.
Gaia Herbs Brand “Sweetish Bitters” (in liquid tincture)
Vitanica Brand “Bitters Extra” (in capsule)
Durand C, et al. Proton Pump Inhibitor use in Hospitalized Patients: Is Overutilization Becoming a Problem? Clin Med Insights Gastroenterol. 2012; 5: 65–76. 2012 Oct 15. doi: 10.4137/CGast.S9588 PMCID: PMC3987764
Metz DC. Long-term Use of Proton-Pump Inhibitor Therapy. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2008 May; 4(5): 322–325. PMCID: PMC3093718
Yang YX, Lewis JD, Epstein S, Metz DC. Long-term proton pump inhibitor therapy and risk of hip fracture. JAIMA. 2006;296:2947–2953.
Pandolfino J, Discontinuation of Proton Pump Inhibitor Therapy and the Role of Esophageal Testing. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2013 Nov; 9(11): 747–764. PMCID: PMC3995199