By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
Did you know that drugs for heartburn and indigestion are among the most frequently prescribed medicines in America? Sure, these drugs can temporarily cool that burning sensation.
But here’s what your doctor probably doesn’t tell you. All those antacids, proton pump inhibitors and H2 receptor antagonists might just be doing more harm than good.
Antacids buffer the stomach from hydrochloric acid (HA). HA is a digestive juice essential to proper digestion. What’s more, without enough HA, pathogenic bacteria can flourish—especially in the intestinal tract.
HA is also essential for the activation of the enzyme pepsin. If there’s not enough pepsin in the stomach, protein isn’t completely broken down.
And that can lead to stomach distress.
What’s even more worrisome, regularly taking acid-suppressing drugs known as proton pump inhibitors just might weaken your bones and make you more vulnerable to infection.
According to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine, drugs like Nexium increase the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women. In this study of more than 161,000 women over age 50, scientists at the University of Washington, Seattle, discovered that those taking proton pump inhibitors had a modest increase in their risk of spine, forearm or wrist fractures in addition to total fractures.1 Taking those little purple pills also boosts the risk of bacterial infection by as much as 74%.2
There’s also some evidence that H2 receptor antagonists like Zantac and Tagamet can increase the risk of an inflamed pancreas.
Now, while the occasional Tums probably won’t hurt you, relying on any of these acid suppressing drugs may contribute to other health problems. Plus, they don’t do a darned thing to address the underlying cause of your symptoms.
When people come to me with chronic indigestion, the first thing I recommend is a good digestive enzyme supplement.
Taken with meals, these supplements boost enzyme levels so you can more fully digest the foods you eat. Look for a mixed blend of amylase, lipase and protease enzymes. It’s also smart to eat more raw fruits and vegetables, which also contain enzymes.
Here’s another favorite that often surprises my patients. Increase your acid levels with betaine hydrochloride (HCI). While it might sound counterintuitive that low HA levels can cause heartburn, this is often the case.
At least half of patients with heartburn—especially those over age 60—don’t have enough stomach acid. To find out if you are among them, try taking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar when heartburn strikes. If the pain disappears, that’s a pretty good indication that your body isn’t producing enough HA. Take 600 mg of HCI at the beginning of each meal.
Here are a few more tips to quench the fire:
- Take a multi-strain probiotic supplement with added prebiotics (including fructooligosaccharides and inulin extracted from fruits and veggies) to fight pathogens that can cause digestive upset.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals and make sure to chew your food thoroughly.
- Try not to eat when you’re stressed. Instead take a few minutes to relax and breathe deeply before eating.
- Avoid clothing that’s tight around the waist.
- Don’t lie down within 3 hours of eating.
- Sleep on your left side. This keeps the stomach below the esophagus.
To heal the damage caused by GERD and acid-blocking drugs, try deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). Studies show that DGL eases heartburn symptoms and repairs the mucosal lining of the stomach.3 Simply chew two DGL tablets before eating or whenever heartburn strikes.
If you’re currently taking a proton pump inhibitor and want to switch to a safer, more natural remedy, it’s important to work with your doctor. I recommend taking 500 mg of mastic gum twice a day with 75 mg of zinc carnosine for 3 to 4 weeks while you make the transition.
With so many safe natural solutions to stomach pain, it’s easier than you think to cool the burn and enjoy mealtime again.
- Gray SL. Proton pump inhibitor use, hip fracture, and change in bone mineral density in postmenopausal women: results from the Women’s Health Initiative. Archives of Internal Medicine. 170;765-771. 2010.
- Linsky A. Proton pump inhibitors and risk for recurrent Clostridium difficile infection. Archives of Internal Medicine. 170:772-778. 2010.
- Khayyal MT. Antiulcerogenic effect of some gastrointestinally acting plant extracts and their combination. Arzneimittelforschung. 2001;51:545-553.