Improving health is often very simple: quit smoking, eat wholesome food, avoid toxic substances, and get good sleep and regular exercise. We are given clues when we violate nature’s laws—they are called symptoms. Instead of simply hitting the snooze alarm on those walk-up calls, we should discover and care for the underlying cause.
Heartburn (or acid reflux, GERD, etc.) is a case in point. It is typical to treat the condition with acid-blocking drugs. Patients initially feel relief from the drugs, but the approach is shortsighted because stomach acid itself is not the real problem. Nature demands we have stomach acid, so the real issue is that the stomach acid has gotten somewhere it doesn’t belong—e.g. into the esophagus or through the protective barrier in the stomach.
Acid-blocking drugs do serve a valid purpose while a patient has a serious ulceration, relieving pain until tissues heal. It is a Band-Aid. But if we don’t find out why the acid got in the wrong place, the ulcer ation will ultimately reappear. Furthermore, the drugs have only been approved safe for limited use— two to four weeks. When people take them for longer, they may experience serious side effects such as hip fracture, dementia, depression, high blood pressure, liver disease, erectile dysfunction, and much more. The effects are no surprise because stomach acid protects the body from invaders and assures proper digestion of needed minerals and nutrients.
One fundamental cause of heartburn is hiatal hernia—a structural malfunction wherein the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm, trapping stomach juice in the esophagus which is not acid-resistant. You can prevent this condition by avoiding: smoking, obesity, improper weight lifting, frequent constipation, constrictive clothing, and chronic coughing. Non-surgical manipulation by a chiropractor or massage therapist can resolve the malfunction. (An acid-suppressing drug obviously cannot.)
A muscular valve (sphincter) normally keeps the stomach contents from going back uphill. If the valve is weakened, acid may get into the esophagus and cause irritation. Poor diet, inadequate digestion, food sensitivities, reduced nerve supply from misaligned spinal vertebrae, insufficient vitamin D, poor balance of friendly bacteria, and resulting yeast overgrowth are some potential reasons for sphincter failure.
A very common cause of heartburn is, in fact, low stomach acid. Without adequate acid, stomach contents don’t proceed to the next step of digestion. The stomach juice therefore continues to accumulate, increasing the odds that some weak acidic juice will get into the esophagus. Taking bitters before a meal and assuring that we have a good balance of beneficial bacteria to ward off the acid-suppressing bug H. pylori will boost stomach acid.
Other lifestyle approaches improve digestion and are FREE: reduce stress and eat when you are calm; slow down; chew thoroughly; eat smaller meals; avoid sugar; eat more raw food (the enzymes are still active); wait two hours after eating before exercising; and find alternatives to anti-inflammatory pain killers which damage the digestive lining.
Martie Whittekin is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist with almost 30 years experience. She has hosted the nationally-syndicated radio talk show, Healthy by Nature since 1997. Martie writes a free weekly newsletter, Health e-Notes and is the author of two books: Natural Alternatives to Nexium, Maalox, Tagamet, Prilosec and other Acid Blockers and a second book: Aloe vera—Modern Science Sheds Light on an Ancient Herbal Remedy. She has long been active in the leadership of the nutrition industry and the fight for freedom of choice in health care. She has testified at several congressional hearings in Washington and has won numerous awards. Martie is a popular speaker and radio and TV guest.