What Can I Do for Acid Stomach?
Aside from PPIs
photo courtesy of Jeshoots.com
This week’s column is the second part of an answer about acid and reflux. Susan originally wrote:
I want to know if you have solutions for acid reflux that could help me keep my need for medications down? I don’t want to be taking things when it doesn’t really get at the cause and I know nutritionists work with digestion. My problem is the reflux gets bad when I don’t eat and when I lay down at night. If I fast too long I’m feeling nauseous. I never feel comfortable anymore. I can’t take the low dose aspirin I need now because of the pain and that has me worried. Is there anything natural I can do to get this reflux more under control?
Last week we discussed how important it is to get a clear diagnosis from a licensed physician before proceeding with any treatment, holistic or otherwise. Then we dove into the natural methods to help manage a stomach ulcer that might have been mistaken for acid reflux. The two are often mistaken because symptoms can be similar. For that article, go here. This week we’re going to review holistic treatments on reflux.
Conventional medicine suggests that the cause of gastric acid reflux is too much stomach acid or sometimes a dysfunctional valve at the top of the stomach. But a nutritional perspective that very often ameliorates the problem - shows the opposite is frequently the case.
As we age, with our modern dietary habits, we frequently experience a drop in the amount of stomach acid we produce. The weak acid makes it difficult to fully digest our proteins. As a result, the stomach contents churn and ferment and cause gasses. This results in bloating and pressure on the valves at the top or bottom of the stomach, depending on the person. The problem manifests as GERD or as lower digestive dysfunction (gassy or IBS type symptoms).
The gasses (and acid) either travel upward or downward, depending on our constitution. And in some lucky cases, they just sit there. These are the people that start the meal with a six pack and end it looking (and feeling) six months pregnant. All this is exacerbated by the presence of parasites and bacteria that we aren’t protected against when we have lower than healthy stomach acid. H. pylori is one such infection, which we discussed at length last week.
The acid feeling is a signal that all is not right and we need to take action. Luckily, there are some simple things we can do to help the pain and determine if indeed there is too little stomach acid.
Is it too little acid?
Too little stomach acid is treated in nutritional circles with a quality digestive enzyme blend that includes a therapeutic amount of hydrochloric acid. Yes, we treat GERD with stomach acid. Add to that ox bile if fat digestion is a particular problem, as is often the case - especially if the gallbladder has been removed. A simple test to determine if acid can help prior to purchasing supplements is to add apple cider vinegar to the water and drink it prior to or with meals. If the digestive complaints are improved with the vinegar, you have a sense that indeed, acid levels need to be brought up.
Alternatively you can take a capsule containing the HCL and digestive enzymes with a meal and see if the digestion is improved. An improvement is a good sign. If there is improvement or amelioration these can be taken with each meal. They also contain enzymes that help with carbohydrate digestion, as well.
In many clients, removing the carbohydrates for a period of a week or two (especially wheat) resolves all acid reflux. Some nutritionists believe this is because the combining of carbohydrates with proteins in the stomach when it is not functioning optimally is sometimes too much to handle. However, I have seen this with people who consume next to no proteins in a meal. I personally think it’s because these foods (grains and particularly wheat) are so inflammatory as they are produced today.
Additionally, those with digestive distress benefit from adding supplements to soothe injured or inflamed digestive tissues and to rebalance the gut biome. Thus we recommend unpasteurized fermented foods or quality probiotics (I like renew life and bio-K). We also recommend DGL (deglycerized licorice) tablets. These are chewable tablets we use in herbal and nutritional circles for damaged digestive tissues. They can often bring immediate relief during an attack.
My suggestion is to try the natural route before going with the medications used for GERD (usually PPIs) because once on them the body suppresses digestive acids and will not be able to fully digest food (particularly proteins). This creates a myriad of downstream health problems, as a result.
The list of suspected long term side-effects of chronic use of PPIs keeps getting longer. They were never meant (or approved) for long-term use at their outset.
The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology in a post graduate course on PPI safety monitoring recommends that they be prescribed “in the lowest dose, for the shortest duration possible.” The problem, of course, is once you start them, how on earth do you get off?
So looking at dietary interventions as a first option is wise.
I also suggest fasting, which helps the body focus on healing itself. The data keeps pouring in to affirm this.
I would, however, strongly encourage anyone with long term digestive woes to seek out 1:1 professional nutritional help. It’s difficult to absorb several key nutrients when the stomach is not acidic enough or the digestive tract is otherwise damaged. Some of these nutrients require testing and professional supervision for optimal supplementation.
Thanks again to Susan for the excellent question!
As always, if you have your own nutrition and health related question, send it to me at email@example.com. Those seeking 1:1 help can find me at hopenotdope.ca.