Heartburn is a common symptom and deserves a Part 2 to discuss the hazards of common drugs used to manage it. Here’s a recap from Part 1: Heartburn occurs when stomach acid is too low to completely digest food. Therefore, food ferments and sits in our gut, causing pain and attracting bacteria.
In addition, if we have poor parasympathetic tone (aka we have trouble switching our mind and body out of the stressors of our day and into the relaxed “rest and digest” state), the muscular ring at the bottom of the esophagus opens and allows stomach contents and bile to flow up the esophagus, causing pain and inflammation.
Many people who feel this indigestion pop a Tums (antacid) or Protonix, Prilosec, or Nexium (proton pump inhibitor (PPIs)), which work by neutralizing stomach acid in the case of Tums and stopping acid secretion in the case of the others. These actions relieve pain temporarily.
Unfortunately, these drugs are quite harmful because they inhibit the natural digestive process. The stopping of this process has multiple negative effects:
First, antacids and PPIs decrease the absorption of nutrients from food and put users at increased risk of osteoporosis and other problems related to nutrient deficiencies.
Second, preventing acid production also halts the downstream process of moving the food bolus through the small intestine. Acid is needed to move this bolus through, which triggers the gallbladder to dump bile. Bile is needed to break down fats and break down proteins.
Third, without acid, bile becomes thick and sticky. It builds up and gets stuck in the gallbladder, which can lead to gallstones in the gallbladder.
PPIs also cause dysbiosis, an imbalance of bacteria in the stomach and intestines, which generates bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation and increases the risk of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
Every process in the body is connected to another process and each exists for a reason. When we interfere with the body’s natural wisdom and force it to compensate for our own poor choices, undesirable results often occur.
Fortunately, naturopathic medicine has multiple therapies to both wean people off of Tums and Protonix and also fix the reason why people have heartburn in the first place.
In the meantime, most of us can likely benefit from doing the following to improve digestion and get the most out of our food:
- Have proper food hygiene!
- Eat sitting down, in a relaxed environment, without TV, phone, computer, books, or stressful news or conversation.
- Express gratitude for the food.
- Chew each bite of food 30x, until the food is liquid, making less work for your stomach.
Reference: Jacobs C, Coss Adame E, Attaluri A, Valestin J, Rao SS. Dysmotility and proton pump inhibitor use are independent risk factors for small intestinal bacterial and/or fungal overgrowth. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013 Jun;37(11):1103-11. doi: 10.1111/apt.12304. Epub 2013 Apr 10. PMID: 23574267; PMCID: PMC3764612.