A patient may come in and explain that they have acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD and is on a pill to help it. Yet, they have been on this pill for a long time or take several pills for this condition and they still get acid reflux episodes. This is not normal, whatsoever! Did you know that only a small percentage of people have true GERD but the majority of people diagnosed with this condition actually produce too little acid in the stomach. The acid in the stomach has to have a high PH value so it can liquefy foods like steak. Your stomach liquefies the food so it can pass a small tube called the small intestines. The small intestines is where you absorb all your vitamins, minerals and nutrients. If your stomach cannot liquefy this food (I always like to use steak as a visual example) then it cannot get in that little tube opening. So, imagine a piece of steak, sitting at the bottom of the stomach (imagine the stomach like a balloon with the end of it being the opening to the small intestines), blocking that little tube opening. The stomach has a lot of space in it so it can hold a lot of food, but if you keep adding food to it and nothing is coming out, you are going to have a really stuffed stomach balloon.
Now this is where we get the acid reflux. For some reason, the stomach has stopped making enough acid, so it cannot liquefy the food. The reasons could be: stress, H pylori, food poisoning, medications, diet, etc. Sometimes we never know the reason. All we know is the stomach stopped making acid. “Wait, the doctor says I have too much acid and that is what is causing my heartburn.” Well, this food that has been sitting and piling up in your stomach for days, is now rotting. Have you ever walked by a dumpster with food in it? It has that rotten, acidic, vomit smell! That is what is in your stomach. This old food is rotting in your stomach and that rotten food acid is what's leaking up into your esophagus causing the acid reflux. So, why in the world would we give a proton pump inhibitor to stop acid production in our stomach? Personally, I would like my stomach to start making more acid to break this old food down and go down the small intestines, emptying the food out. How do we do that?
Occasionally, we will give patients something to increase their stomach acid and it helps some but not completely. Do you want to know why? That is because your pancreas and your gall bladder work together to produce enzymes that breakdown fat, protein, and carbohydrates. If your pancreas and gallbladder don’t make their enzymes, then you are only breaking down 1/3 of your food. This is why we also add pancreatic enzymes and bile salts to help the process. I call this 'the perfect triad'. Always remember the gallbladder, pancreas, and stomach work as a team and we must support them as a team. If someone does not have a gallbladder, this is why they have stomach issues such as IBS. They are missing that enzyme to break down fats. Now the pancreas, stomach AND liver have to work harder.
So, what is so wrong with proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec or Nexium? Well, not only does it stop acid production which digests your food but it also stops the killing of any foreign bugs you consumed (that sounds really nice that they are living and breeding in your stomach). But you see, these drugs act as fertilizer for everyday bugs that then go on to wreak havoc.
What I try to emphasize to my patients is, I know your acid reflux or heartburn is annoying, but if you keep masking the symptoms with a drug, you are only going to make things worse. If your stomach cannot kill bugs and digest your food, you will be inundated with parasites, bad bacteria, malnutrition (because you can’t absorb your nutrients), inflammation (because the food is irritating your lining), cancer (because you are causing destruction in the cells of your body), and other issues. Did you know an unhealthy GUT is the #1 reason for a majority of arthritis, autoimmune disease, and hormone problems? Why don’t we fix this first and stop masking the symptoms?
If you would like to know more about acid reflux or how we can help, please contact our office.