December 19

Mythbusters: Stomach Acid Not Causing Heartburn and Acid Reflux

News Flash: Heartburn medication will never fix the root cause of your acid reflux.

In fact, the heartburn medication prescribed by your doctor was originally invented to only be a short-term solution for patients suffering from stomach ulcers.

Doctors wanted to temporarily reduce stomach acid so that ulcers had time to heal.  Thus, Proton Pump Inhibitors were invented (drugs such as Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Zantac, and Tagamet).

In a moment, I will tell you one of the biggest myths about your heartburn, but first you need to understand that just taking your medication without addressing the root cause of the acid reflux may be detrimental to your overall health and well-being.

It’s Not Their Fault

Don’t blame your physician for what I am about to tell you.

What I am about to describe is the traditional model of care that he or she learned in medical school.

Having worked with hundreds of patients who first stepped into our clinic after being on prescription Proton Pump Inhibitors for years, this is an all too familiar scenario.

In your case, you suffer the discomfort of acid flowing backward from your stomach into your esophagus (heartburn).  The easiest fix for your doctor is to prescribe a pill to reduce the acid in your stomach.  If you have no acid, then you will have no acid to flow back into your esophagus.

Problem solved. Right?

“See you again in six months for a prescription refill.”

Immediately, you notice an improvement and are happy with the results.

You will gladly go back every six months, pay that co-pay, and get more bottles of Prilosec or Nexium.

But this isn’t the end of your story . . .

Over time you just don’t feel like yourself.  You begin feeling sick a little more often.  You feel a chronic sense of fatigue and can barely get through your day without complete exhaustion. While your heartburn is manageable, you notice other digestive issues with bowel movements.  You are gaining weight more easily than when you were younger, and your blood pressure and cholesterol slowly creep upward.


What Went Wrong?

When your doctor prescribed a proton-pump inhibitor to reduce the acid in your stomach, this was not fixing the root cause of the acid reflux.

Acid reflux occurs when a muscular valve at the base of your esophagus is not closing properly after food passes through to your stomach.  With the valve not fully closed, stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus causing the sensation of heartburn.

Your medication was only reducing the stomach acid so there would be no acid to flow back into the esophagus.

But your body needs stomach acid.

Stomach acid helps you to digest food for proper nutrient absorption.

Stomach acid combats food-borne infections before they enter the blood stream.

Stomach acid kills a common bacterium in your stomach called H. Pylori.  This bacteria is responsible for chronic inflammation in your stomach lining which can further lead to poor food digestion and absorption.

To say that stomach acid is critical to your digestive system would be a huge understatement.

Sufficient levels of stomach acid are critical to your body’s overall health.

How critical?

Your digestive tract is often referred to as your “second brain” because of its role in triggering the release of chemicals and hormones that regulate the rest of your body systems, especially your immune system.

So when your physician reduced your stomach acid to solve your heartburn symptoms, he or she potentially set you up for the dozens of disorders, ailments and conditions that are exacerbated by chronic, systemic inflammation throughout your body.

Certainly not by choice . . . just by accident.


Don’t Stop Cold Turkey

“So just stop my medication?”

No way!

Just as your body can become dependent on narcotics, your body can also become dependent on these acid-reducing medications.

Researchers have found that when patients stop taking these medications after long-term use, the body will actually then over-produce stomach acid.  For most patients, the underlying problem was never fixed—ensuring the muscular esophagus valve closes properly after food passes.

This immediate over-production of stomach acid flows back into the esophagus and causes excruciating pain.

It is an endless cycle.

It is no wonder that millions of Americans go back for that prescription refill, despite the laundry list of side effects and overall feeling of fatigue and sickness.


The Wellness Approach

Functional health focuses on fixing the root cause of the problem, rather than masking the symptoms with medication.


However, a functional health practitioner will never recommend patients to stop taking their medication without the approval of his or her physician.

Instead, functional health takes a scientific-based approach to investigating the root cause of your acid reflux.

Once the root cause is identified, you can take the necessary steps to begin solving that underlying problem, and your physician can then work to safely reduce (and even eliminate) your medication.

Notice that I said “you can take the necessary steps . . . .”

That is one other important distinction of functional health: Functional Health focuses on empowering you to take control of your own health so that you can make the best lifestyle choices for your unique body.

So if you are currently suffering from heartburn or are currently on heartburn medication, we invite you to become educated about Functional Health.  The website you are currently on is a fantastic resource and we link out to many other researchers leading the way in this revolution of healthcare.


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