If you consult a doctor for acid reflux or any related problem, you’re most likely to get a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor (PPIs). These drugs are designed to stop the production of acid by your stomach.
While this may be the conventional way of treating acid reflux, natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola says that it’s actually counterproductive, as excessive acid levels are not the cause of reflux.
The Real Cause of Acid Reflux
Acid reflux – otherwise known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or peptic ulcer – happens when your stomach has low levels of acid. It’s a condition commonly related to hiatal hernia, where acid comes out of your stomach.
Symptoms of GERD or acid reflux include:
- Tightness in your throat
- Bad breath and dental problems
Normally, after the food passes through your esophagus into your stomach, a muscular valve called lower esophageal sphincter (LES) closes. This prevents food and acid from flowing back to your esophagus. However, in patients with acid reflux, the LES relaxes inappropriately, causing acid to come out.
Australian physician Dr. Barry Marshall conducted a research in the early ‘80s and discovered that the Helicobacter pylori bacterial strain causes chronic low-level inflammation of your stomach lining. This is the reason for many of the symptoms of acid reflux.
Taking PPIs can inhibit your body’s natural ability to kill this strain. Plus, suppressing stomach acid production can worsen your condition and lead to more detrimental health problems.
The Health Risks Associated with PPIs
Dr. Mercola says that when you treat acid reflux with PPIs, you’re:
- Only treating the symptom, not the cause
- Exposing yourself to potentially far more serious health consequences
Research published in the Archives of Surgery found that GERD patients who take PPIs have a higher risk of developing a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma. Furthermore, the study showed that patients with mild or absent GERD symptoms have a higher chance of contracting this form of cancer than those with severe symptoms.
People with GERD, especially those with advanced symptoms, are at risk for contracting another condition called Barrett’s esophagus, where stomach acid damages the lining of the esophagus. By taking PPIs, you increase your risk for these problems, as these medications cover up symptoms without treating the underlying problem.
Other complications linked to proton pump inhibitors are:
- Bone loss
- Hip fractures
- Clostridium difficile infection, a dangerous intestinal bacteria
- Higher risk of food poisoning, as stomach acid protects you against foodborne infections
If you do take PPIs and simply stop go cold turkey, you’re at risk of having the symptoms these drugs were meant to prevent. You may experience “rebound acid hypersecretion,” which is an increase in gastric acid secretion above pre-treatment levels within two weeks of stopping. In other words, because PPIs drastically hinder your stomach from producing acid, excessive acid buildup can be unleashed. This is why you should wean yourself off PPIs gradually.
Once you’re down to the lowest dose of the PPI, Dr. Mercola advises substituting it with an over-the-counter H2 blocker like Tagamet, Zantac, or Raniditine. Then, like with the PPI, wean yourself off the H2 blocker within the next few weeks. Afterward, integrate a lifestyle modification program that will help hinder this condition from developing once again.
How to Promote Digestive Health
Dr. Mercola says that the solution to heartburn and acid indigestion is to restore your natural gastric balance and function. Having an optimal amount of good bacteria in your gut will help digestion and increase nutrient absorption by 50 percent, as well as create useful B vitamins and vitamin K2. Your gut flora will also regulate your bowel flora, which may eliminate the Helicobacter strain without the use of drugs.
Fermented foods are the best sources of beneficial bacteria. Dr. Mercola recommends increasing your intake of foods such as natto, kimchi, kefir, and raw yogurt – not the pasteurized types that are sold in supermarkets that are are loaded with sugar and synthetic ingredients that nullify yogurt’s nutritional properties. It is also recommended to take a high-quality probiotic supplement if you don’t have access to these foods.
Dr. Mercola also provides natural tips that can aid in preventing acid reflux:
- Eliminate foods like caffeine and alcohol, which may trigger allergies.
- Increase your body’s production of stomach acid by eating acid production stimulants like high-quality sea salt and sauerkraut or cabbage juice.
- Take an over-the-counter betaine hydrochloric acid supplement, which can help your body digest food properly.
- Only consume high-quality, organic whole foods that are locally grown without any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels through safe sunlight exposure.
- Exercise regularly.