Digestion 101: Stomach Acid & Reflux
One of the biggest mistakes my patients make, is thinking that an acid stomach and acid reflux issues mean they have too much acid in their stomach. Actually it means just the opposite. So don’t make the mistake of popping antacids as a solution, and don’t reach for the Xantac, Pepcid AC or the little purple pill. Instead try natural options and your gut will thank you. Stomach acid is an essential part of the digestive process. It not only breaks down proteins, but it also eliminates unwanted bacteria in our food, protecting the rest of the digestive system. One of the biggest mistakes my patients make, is thinking that an acid stomach and acid reflux issues mean they have too much acid in their stomach. Actually it means just the opposite. There is too little hydrochloric acid in the stomach, creating an overabundance of other digestive elements and can lead to an overactive immune system trying to eliminate bacteria that the poor quality stomach acid isn’t handling. The resulting inflammation will make any acid production painful. Poor upper digestive function can cause anorexia, a prolonged sensation of fullness or stagnation after eating, undigested food in stools, belching or flatulence, intolerance of fatty foods and nausea. It may also cause food intolerance and even migraine headaches.
I begin treating acid issues in the mouth. Your saliva and the chewing of food is the trigger for acid production in the stomach. For that reason, if you smell food and don’t eat, you will produce acid anyway, as the stomach gets ready for food. If this happens daily, ulcers can form. This is particularly true of executives, who work through lunch, wolf down a late dinner, and have coffee for breakfast. The saliva also contains antibacterial agents to make less work for the stomach in handling bacteria in the food. And don’t kid yourself — there is bacteria in everything, especially in the most natural and organic foods. Standard Process Parotid PMG helps to increase saliva production, and bitters such as Gentian, Globe Artichoke, Cinnamon and Ginger. I love a wonderful bitters formula from Australia’s Mediherb called Digest Phytosynergist. There is even an alternate version for people who already have ulcers called Hi-Pep Phytosynergist. Bitters act through the taste response, stimulating the vagal nerve which then stimulates peristalsis and the parietal cells for gastric acid secretion. This is called a syalagogue which improves salivary function through the bitter taste response.
Second, I work on soothing irritated tissue in the stomach and esophagus with marshmallow root, chamomile, licorice and okra pepsin. Meadowsweet modulates acid production and acts as an astringent.
The third aspect is geared towards reflux issues, with weak sphincter reflexes at the top of the stomach. This may have been caused by chronic overeating, frequent spicy foods or even weakened muscle tone. The increased acidity and irritation from the contents of the stomach break down the mucosal lining of the stomach and esophagus. Again, Digest or Hi-Pep can increase the tone of the stomach sphincters to improve gastric function. But this is where yoga can really help by lengthening the torso and relaxing even the deepest muscles.
Finally, B & C vitamin deficiency can create all the symptoms typical of hypochlorhydria or low stomach acid production. This will be evident because there will be immediate symptoms following meals with heavy proteins, such as fatigue, dizziness, exhaustion and a bloated feeling. What is needed in this instance are whole vitamin complexes that help to resolve the resulting lactic acidosis that is common with this long-term deficiency. This vitamin regimen will also promote the production of mucin which is necessary to not only the protective aspect of the gastric mucosa, but also the building of connective tissue.
In the case of ulcers, they need to be treated depending on whether they are gastric or duodenal ulcers. Duodenal ulcers generally have a high gastric acid production, while gastric ulcers have a low gastric acid production. An increase in gastric acid may be an attempt by the body to control bacterial growth, therefore antimicrobials would be best such as uva ursi, thyme, cinnamon, andrographis, propylis. Also, organic cranberry concentrate can keep bacteria from adhering to the lining of the gut, just as it does to the urinary tract, which is also epithelial tissue. Since smoking also leads to ulcers, it is evident that increasing microcirculation can be helpful, such as with ginkgo. Stress can certainly contribute to gastric ulceration by stimulating the fight or flight response. Coffee (with or without caffeine), stimulates gastric acid secretion, and therefore should be avoided with duodenal ulcers. In peptic ulcers there is also a deficiency in pancreatic bicarbonate and bile salts can reflux and damage the gastric mucosa. Licorice improves pancreatic bicarbonate secretion.
Don’t make the mistake of popping antacids as a solution, and don’t reach for the Xantac, Pepcid AC or the little purple pill. Instead try natural options and your gut will thank you.