Heartburn is a symptom of stomach acid being in the wrong place. It happens when contents of the stomach reflux into your oesophagus and make it sore. If you want heartburn no more – find the cause and fix it, rather than suppressing symptoms with drugs that may be harming you.
Acid Is Important
Stomach acid is a majorly important part of protein digestion. Hydrochloric acid opens up big protein molecules and activates the enzymes that break protein down into its building blocks, amino acids. Amino acids are small enough to be absorbed into your body so you can make use of the protein you’re eating.
For proper protein digestion to occur your stomach needs to be very acidic – a pH of 2-3. This level of acidity also signals the sphincter between the stomach and upper gut to relax, allowing food on its way further down the digestive tract. This sphincter doesn’t relax well if the stomach acidity doesn’t drop low enough.
When the stomach contracts against a closed sphincter its contents get pushed back into the oesophagus and causing heartburn.
So what goes wrong?
Too Little Acid Causes Heartburn In Most People
If your stomach acid doesn’t get high enough the sphincter doesn’t relax to allow stomach emptying – the contents of the stomach spill back into the oesophagus instead. Two of the most common reasons for low acid are:
- Being over 40 years old – as you get older your stomach gets less good at producing acid.
- Eating too often – your stomach needs time to build acid up between meals.
The acidity of your stomach might get down to 4-5 (instead of 2-3), which is still more than enough to burn your oesophagus.
Low stomach acid is a really common cause of heartburn, and functional medicine doctors treat it with hydrochloric acid tablets, which you take when eating. These increase the acidity of the stomach, thereby relaxing the pyloric sphincter, and preventing reflux.
I took me a while to get my head around this when I first came across it, as it’s practically the opposite of what we’re taught as conventional doctors!
Is this another example of hiding the truth by Big Pharma to sell more drugs?
Conventional medicine treats the symptom which for many people is not caused by to much acid, but by acid getting into the wrong place. If you see your doctor about heartburn you may get put on acid suppression tablets. Common ones include:
These can give very fast relief but often makes the problem worse over time, by exacerbating an already low acid problem.
When I was first a GP doctors where very tentative at prescribing these drugs as a regular repeat medication because they are powerful. We strived to use the lowest effective dose. These days it’s shocking how many people take ever increasing doses of these medications.
Problems Of Long-Term Acid Suppression
If you suppress your stomach acid everyday by taking acid suppressing drugs your body will ramp up its effort to make more acid. This can lead to increasing doses of medication to control symptoms.
The other thing it inevitably leads to is poor digestion and absorption of protein, and some really important vitamins and minerals. Over the long term this leads to deficiencies and fatigue. The mineral depletion can be so bad that I’ve seen patients being admitted to hospital in a right tangle due to critically low magnesium and/or calcium.
Years of low calcium absorption can affect your bone health, putting you at risk of fractures.
High stomach acid kills of bugs. When you’re suppressing acid everyday you’re more likely to pick up bugs.
That said – if you’re taking acid suppression drugs don’t stop taking them without talking to your doctor. Some people are talking them to counter the sometime dangerous side effects of other drugs they need to take. Others have a more serious reason than simple heartburn for taking them.
Heartburn No More
For some people the simple and common sense things can be enough to sort out their problem. I’d encourage you to do all of this before reaching for medication:
- Avoid things you know set you off.
- Reduce snacking to allow acid to build up between meals.
- Don’t overfill your stomach by eating too much in one go – it will end up spilling out!
- Leave at least 2 hours between eating and going to bed.
- Reduce belly fat as this squashes the stomach making reflux more likely.
- If you’re troubled when lying flat at night – raise the head of the bed by about 6″.
- If stress is a trigger – address the cause.
- If you’re over 40 and the above hasn’t worked consider supplementing with acid tablets.
Click here for a DIY test to check your stomach acid + find out how to increase it if necessary.
Have a great week.