HEALTH: The Truth about Heartburn

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By Dr. Lydia

Every year Canadians spend over $650 million dollars controlling the searing pain of heartburn and its more serious counterpart gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD). While many people suffer with almost daily bouts of burning chest pain and food that repeats on them, very few patients understand why this is happening or how to permanently rid themselves of this condition.

The biggest myth about acid reflux is that it is caused by excessive stomach acid production. In reality, the opposite is true. When you swallow food, it travels down a tube called an esophagus and finds its way to your stomach. Between the stomach and your esophagus is a valve, called a sphincter. This sphincter closes when the stomach is digesting, preventing the acidic contents of your stomach from splashing upwards into your esophagus, which is painful.

The sphincter knows to close when there is a certain volume of acid in your stomach. Many people with chronic reflux actually have low stomach acid, and therefore the sphincter does not receive the signal to close and acid splashes up, making you regret that last extra spicy pound of chicken wings.

Most popular heartburn treatments like antacids and prescription proton pump inhibitors only serve to further reduce the acid in your stomach. This provides temporary relief but does not permanently solve the problem. The truth is that we need stomach acid. Long term use of these acid reducing medications prevents mineral absorption, leading to osteoporosis, encourages bacterial growth in our digestive tract and can increase our risk of pneumonia.

The trick to permanently solving heartburn is to avoid trigger foods in the short term. You will be able to eat them again once you are healed. Know your body and keep a diet diary to track your symptoms.

There are two digestive aids that facilitate the breakdown of food products, so that you do not have food sitting in your stomach, causing reflux, for extended periods of time, betaine HCl and digestive enzymes.

Betaine HCl is available in many health food stores and it is actually a gentle form of stomach acid. By giving your body a little bit of hydrochloric acid, not only do people with low stomach acid digest more effectively, they also have better signaling to that lower esophageal sphincter to remain closed.

We have all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” That’s only partly true. You are what you eat, digest and absorb. Digestive enzymes are a safe and effective way to prevent heartburn and encourage breakdown of our foods. Often people with GERD will complain of bloating and a feeling of food just sitting in their stomachs. Most enzymes do not start working until food has moved through the stomach, into the small intestine. Taking an enzyme before eating means that these little helpers are present in the stomach before food even gets there. This prevents that food from lingering in the belly preventing acidic back splash. These supplements will make eating a lot more pleasurable.

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