What's going on with my gut? Part 2: Acid reflux and heartburn
Are you one of millions of people who suffer from acid reflux, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and/or heartburn? If yes, this blog is a must read for you.
One of the most common causes of impaired digestive function as we age is the reduction in the amount of hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach. Yet millions of people are being put on medications called Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), which are designed to reduce acidity in the stomach. PPIs (such as Nexium, Omeprazole, Prevacid and Prilosec) are amongst one of the most widely prescribed drugs today, presumed safe yet with more and more scientific research exposing their potentially harmful effects.
Stomach acid plays a vital role in numerous digestive processes and without it our digestive health, and our health in general, suffers. Heartburn occurs when stomach acid is pushed up from the stomach into the oesophagus. To prevent this occuring, we have a valve that separates the oesophagus from the stomach (LES valve). Any amount of acid, no matter how little, in the oesophagus is going to cause a problem. The important question to ask therefore is what is causing the LES valve to malfunction? The valve is in fact regulated by stomach acid and can therefore malfunction when acid production is blocked. When, for example, we consume certain aggresive foods, such as coffee, sugar, alcohol, onions etc, the weakened LES valve allows contents of the stomach to leak back into the oesophagus, causing heartburn. More and more scientific evidence is linking lack of stomach acid to the following issues and symptoms:1
Bloating, belching and flatulence immediately after meals
Undigested food in stools
Heartburn, often thought to be caused by too much stomach acid
Indigestion, diarrhoea, constipation
Vitamin B12 deficiency
SIBO - bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine. Without stomach acid, which kills ingested pathogens, you are going to be more prone to bacteria (and parasites) taking up residence inside your digestive tract
Hair loss in women
Multiple food allergies
Various autoimmune diseases
Three Consequences of Low Stomach Acid
When your stomach acid is low, you are unable to digest and break down protein. This causes the protein to sit in the stomach and ferment resulting in most people with low stomach acid feeling tired, sluggish, bloated and full many hours after eating meat.
Low stomach acid leads to mineral deficiencies. One of the functions of stomach acid is to produce an enzyme that makes B vitamins (especially B12) available for absorption, affecting energy and brain function.
Pathogenic bacteria such as parasite infections, SIBO, yeast overgrowth, Candida and overgrowth of H.pylori are more able to flourish in a low acid environment, leading to numerous health problems.
Potential consequences of potent acid suppression are now emerging. In fact, low stomach acid is being held responsible for the increase in clostridium difficile and is being linked to dementia, allergies, candida, eczema, hypoglycaemia, autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, depression and thyroid disorders. If you are on any PPIs, do not stop taking them ‘cold turkey’ as this can cause an immediate over production of acid making your symptoms much worse. Seek the advice of a healthcare practitioner who will help you reduce your medication over time.
If you are concerned that you may have a problem with low stomach acid, get in touch to arrange a free 30-minute phone consultation.
If you are interested in learning more about stomach acid, please read my earlier blog on the subject.