Acid Suppressing Drugs and Antacids (abbreviated ASDs) are widely used in the United States to suppress acid reflux or treat heartburn. When you swallow food and it is headed toward your stomach, it passes through a muscular valve called the “lower esophageal sphincter” (LES). This sphincter is designed to close in order to prevent your food or acid from coming up. When the LES relaxes inappropriately, the acid from the stomach can flow or “reflux” back into your esophagus.
There are dozens of different brands and blends of acid suppressing drugs. The most common ones can be broken down into three types of medications and I’ll put some examples of brand names in parenthesis:
- Antacids (Gaviscon, Maalox, Mylanta, Tums, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia, and Alka-Seltzer)
- H2 Blockers (Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac)
- Proton Pump Inhibitors, abbreviated PPIs (Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, and Aciphex)
Acid blockers (H2 blockers) and antacids neutralize stomach acid and are used to prevent damage to the stomach lining. Proton Pump Inhibitors are often used for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease in which stomach acid backs up into the esophagus), ulcers, and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (which is a rare condition where a tumor causes the production of too much stomach acid). Protein Pump Inhibitors block the production of acid to aid heartburn. The natural acid in the body was designed to break down food and medication. When this acid is suppressed, more serious problems like food allergies, depression, dizziness, heart arrhythmias and headache can result. Since they alter the acidity throughout the digestive system, the absorption of almost every single nutrient is affected.
Billions of dollars a year are spent on products to decrease or to get rid of stomach acid. Some experts estimate that acid reflux affects 50 percent of Americans. Everything affects everything. Pepsin, an enzyme produced in the stomach is absolutely essential for the breakdown of protein and it must have an acidic environment to work. The lining of the stomach naturally pumps out this acid for early digestion of some foods, especially protein. Inhibiting acid can cause a whole new set of problems. When it’s out of balance, so are you.
Our bodies need nutrition to repair and regenerate our cells. When food can’t be broken down into usable vital nutrients, many complications may result. The list could be virtually endless, but none of us can LIVE YOUNGER with heart disease, fatigue, candida, irritable bowel syndrome, increased risk of cancer, anemia, high blood pressure, brittle nails, hair loss, hearing loss, or a higher risk of gluten sensitivity. My intention is not to “freak you out” but to educate you on these common items in your medicine cabinet.
It is important to know that you can develop both dependence and tolerance to Proton Pump Inhibitors. You MUST wean yourself off of them gradually in order to minimize a severe rebound experience of your symptoms. Once you get down to a low dose of PPI medications, then you can start substituting with an H2 Blocker for the next few weeks. Discuss this with your physician before making any change. He or she can guide you effectively .
The goal is to treat the cause and not just the symptom. Think of Larry the Cable Guy standing in front of the corndog stand advertising a PPI. Treating symptoms is a never-ending story!
What lifestyle strategies can you implement to START SOMEWHERE to need less medication and feel better?
- Make sure you are getting enough beneficial bacteria in your diet. Traditional fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, pickled garlic, or pickled beets will all boost your digestive health.
- Eat slowly. I’m intentionally trying to do this by putting down my fork after each bite. It’s tougher to do that than you would expect. But it is worth it because I’ve found that I enjoy my food more and stop eating before I’m totally stuffed. Leisurely eating gives time for your brain to give the “I’m full” signal. It’s also much better for conversation!
- Ginger Root Tea – This is a pearl! Ginger is delicious and naturally anti-inflammatory. An aid to improve digestion, it has been found to have a gastroprotective effect by suppressing helicobacter pylori. Add two or three slices of fresh ginger root to two cups of hot water. Let steep of 15 minutes and enjoy before or after a meal.
- Use high quality sea salt. This is unprocessed salt such as Himalayan salt and will provide you with the chloride your body needs to manufacture hydrochloric acid. It also contains more than 80 trace minerals that the body uses.
- Vitamin D is important for the production of about 200 antibacterial peptides that help get rid of infection. Ask your doctor to test your level; the optimal range is 60-80 ng/ml. Make sure that your blood is tested regularly to know that you are in the optimal range.
- Decrease caffeine, alcohol and tobacco products if you are suffering from reflux problems. These make it worse!
- Exercise to improve your body’s immune system. Exercise is always part of LIVING YOUNGER.
- Eat the best food that you can afford. Minimize processed and sugary foods because they disrupt the healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.
One of my dearest friends kept mentioning to me that she had chronic diarrhea. I asked questions and questions and couldn’t figure out what was causing it because she is generally very healthy. Her physician put her on several antibiotics, which naturally made the problem worse. Finally one day, I asked “a random question” about acid reflux and she said that she was on daily prescription proton pump inhibitor. The package insert says that side effects include diarrhea. My friend talked to her physician and tapered off the medication. Her problem soon resolved.
START SOMEWHERE today to feel your best. Start slowly and intentionally and be assured that every small change makes a positive difference toward LIVING YOUNGER. You can do it. I will help you.
Ann Fam Medicine. 2011 May:9(3): 257-267