I believe that most modern health conditions are caused by an imbalance in the digestive system. The digestive system (or gut) is where the majority of the body’s immune system resides.
Antacids are one of the most popular drugs in the United States. Doctors write over 100 million prescriptions for proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) each year to treat Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) or acid reflux. Americans spend over $5 billion on Nexium, the most popular PPI, alone. PPIs reduce the production of acid in the stomach by blocking the enzyme in the wall of the stomach that produces hydrochloric acid. High stomach acid can be diagnosed by an endoscopy, but it is fairly rare. If you suffer from GERD, most likely you have too little stomach acid.
That’s right, most people with GERD are suffering from too little stomach acid, not too much. This condition is called hypochlorhydria and it affects up to half of all Americans. Production of stomach acid decreases as we age, and is also affected by a poor diet of processed foods.
Acid reflux or GERD is caused by stomach acid leaking up into your esophagus due to dysfunction of the valve that separates the lower end of the esophagus and the stomach, known as the lower esophageal valve (LES). The LES opens to allow food and liquids to pass easily into the stomach. Except for belching, this is the only time the LES should open. If the LES is functioning correctly, it doesn’t matter how much acid is in our stomachs - the LES keeps it out of the esophagus. Too little stomach acid causes a malfunction of the LES, allowing it to open improperly and stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus.
The effects of low stomach acid are serious:
There is a simple, at home test you can perform to see if you may suffer from low stomach acid:
Mix one quarter teaspoon of baking soda in 6 to 8 ounces of water and drink first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything. Time how long it takes to belch. If you have not belched within five minutes, stop timing, your stomach acid is probably insufficient. If your stomach is producing adequate amounts of hydrochloric acid you should belch within 2 to 3 minutes. Early and repeated belching may be due to excessive stomach acid.
There are ways to increase stomach acid naturally:
There are also natural alternatives when acid reflux does strike:
If you are currently taking a PPI, don’t quit cold-turkey. It’s important to reduce dependency gradually and that’s best accomplished under the supervision of a health professional.
Look for my next blog post of over-the-counter acid reflux medications. If you have any questions, or would like to schedule a consult, please contact me: http://mccannnutrition.com/contact.html
Cathy McCann is a functional nutritionist, coach, writer, speaker, and mom, who is passionate about guiding women through the journey of healing and rediscovering themselves in mid-life.