by Heidi Toy, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner
The National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Digestive Diseases reports that 60 million people experience heartburn at least once a month and 25 million experience symptoms daily. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), one the most common digestive disorders, is also one of the most mismanaged diseases by the medical establishment.
The anti-acid industry is worth over $15 billion annually, and as the usage of these drugs increase, our health declines.
Acid reflux is believed by many to be too much stomach acid, hence an acid blocker. The problem with this theory is that the incidence of heartburn and GERD increases with age while stomach acid levels have been shown to decline with age. The truth is, heartburn is not caused by too much stomach acid. It is caused by too little, and the way to heal it is not by taking acid blockers but by taking stomach acid until the body is able to make its own normally.
So why do antacid drugs provide relief of symptoms? Read on.
Stomach acid has the acidity of 0.8, battery acid is 0. The pH scale ranges from an acidity of 0 to an alkalinity of 14 and is a base 10 scale, which means when you go up or down the scale, the next number is multiplied by 10. So for example, you move up or down the scale by two, the acidity or alkaline of a substance is changing by 100, by 3 – 1,000, by 4 – 10,000 and so on.
When food enters the stomach it mixes with what is called hydrochloric acid (HCL) and it becomes chyme (rhymes with time). I call this “the burn and churn.” This mechanical mixing of our food with acid is when the enzyme pepsin, required for protein digestion, gets triggered.
Now here’s the catch: in order for food to move into the small intestine, it must reach an acidity level of 1.5–3.0 to pass through the tight muscle separating the stomach from the small intestine called the pyloric sphincter. The small intestine is where the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and fats occurs. If it is not acidic enough, the pyloric sphincter will not open and chyme will sit in the stomach. As it sits there fermenting (carbohydrates), putrefying (protein), and turning rancid (fat), it’s becoming a toxic mess, and the body wants to get rid of it.
What happens when you shake a bottle of fermented liquid like beer? It explodes! That same thing is occurring in our stomach, and it has nowhere to go but up into your esophagus. What is crucial to understand is that any amount of acid in the esophagus will burn it because the lining here is not protected against acid like the stomach is. Chyme with the acidity of 4–5 is too alkaline by 10 to 100x to pass through the pyloric sphincter into the small intestine and too acidic by that same 10 to 100x to be in the esophagus.
When an acid blocker is taken, it does decrease the acid and reduce the symptoms of heartburn and GERD, but in no way does it heal the problem In fact it makes the problem worse. The longer someone is medicating with acid blockers, the more severe the condition becomes, making this become a lifelong medication for those who are taking them.
People who take acid blockers for an extended period of time have been shown to have increased bacterial overgrowth, impaired nutrient absorption, decreased resistance to infection and parasites, and an increased risk of cancer and other diseases.
Without adequate stomach acid we are not able to properly digest and absorb the nutrients from our foods. Low stomach acid has been linked to a plethora of nutritional deficiencies.
B12 is needed for nerve activity, brain function, and by the liver as part of detoxification. B12 enters the body bound to animal proteins and cannot be separated from its carrier protein unless there is adequate stomach acid.
Iron is required for the oxygenation of body tissue. People who are anemic are iron deficient, and their tissue is being starved of oxygen. Studies have proven that people with chronic anemia also have below normal stomach acid secretion.
Folate is crucial to red blood cell production—it helps prevent osteoporosis-related bone fractures—and to prevent dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease. Low stomach acid interferes with the absorption of folate by raising the pH of the small intestines. It has also been shown in studies that both the drugs Tagamet and Zantac reduce folate absorption.
Around 99 percent of the calcium in the body is used to keep our bones and teeth strong, thereby supporting skeletal structure and function. The rest of the calcium in our body plays key roles in cell signaling, blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve function.
Zinc plays a crucial role in over 300 enzymes in the body. It is vital for growth and cell division and fertility. Among all vitamins and minerals, zinc shows the strongest effect on our immune system. Low zinc levels reduce and weaken T cells, which are required to recognize and fight off certain infections.
Another role of HCL is to bathe and disinfect our foods, making our stomachs one of our first lines of defense against foreign invaders such as harmful bacteria. It also keeps our beneficial bacteria in our intestine where it belongs, as having bacteria in the stomach and esophagus creates problems.
People with low stomach acid or on acid blockers are more susceptible to pathogens like salmonella, campylobacter, cholera, listeria, giardia, and C.Difficile. Their immune system is also decreased in its ability to fight infections.
Heartburn and GERD are caused by too little versus too much stomach acid. However, it is possible to heal the body and rid one of the dependency on acid-reflux drugs. It should be done with a practitioner who understands the protocol, as it is very bio-individual and takes time and know-how. In my clinical practice, it has been my pleasure to help many people heal from this and other health issues.
Heidi Toy is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, and the owner of “Educated Nutrition”, located in Altoona, WI. Her focus is helping people heal holistically, with an emphasis on autoimmune disorders.