The Real Burn Of Heartburn Meds

“Indigestion is charged by God with enforcing morality on the stomach.”
~ Victor Hugo

I am seeing more and more patients with heartburn lately.

This increase is ironic since drugs that lower stomach acid are freely available. You can get them over the counter. And, of course, the drug companies keep coming out with new ones. Just one drug, Nexium, had 22,476,000 prescriptions written for it in 2012.

Most commonly, these are PPIs. PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors) reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, plenty. There is a reason you need stomach acid. It helps digest proteins. But it also protects you from a variety of pathogens. And it helps insure you get the minerals you need for health.

The potential damage of taking these drugs is many-fold. For example, people taking PPIs have an increased risk for heart attack of 16 to 21%. Part of this may be due to their secondary effect of lowering nitric oxide levels in the blood. Nitric oxide keeps blood vessels open.

Another factor is lack of mineral absorption. Magnesium and selenium are less absorbed with PPIs. Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems. It helps protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control and regulating blood sugar. It is is also crucial for stress reduction and healthy elimination.

Selenium also supports enzyme functions. It supports the immune system. And it is a potent antioxidant. Low levels are linked to cancer and heart disease.

On top of it all, because stomach acid kills certain pathogens, not having enough of it can cause problems. In particular, Clostridium difficile can get out of control. Symptoms range from diarrhea to colitis and life-threatening colon inflammation.

If you have heartburn, your quality of life goes down. That’s a given. It’s understandable that people reach for these quick fix drugs. But are there other alternatives?

Actually, yes. In Functional Medicine, heartburn is frequently treated using only natural therapies. Every case is different, so it’s difficult to go into great detail. But there are some general guidelines that are useful:

  1. Eat the foods that are best for your body’s metabolism. Metabolic Typing® is the best way to discover those foods.
  2. Pay close attention to specific foods that aggravate the condition. Spicy, fried and very rich foods are often triggers. But you may find others that worsen it.
  3. When you eat can also be a factor. For some people, morning is worse. For others, evening. If you spot this pattern, do your best to avoid eating at these times.
  4. Take digestive enzymes. After age 30, you don’t have as much of these. And the older you get the worse it becomes. If you’ve done Metabolic Typing®, you will have recommendations for specific enzymes that work best for you.
  5. Work with a doctor trained in Functional Medicine. He or she can get to the deeper underlying cause of the problem and fix it for good.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger

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