What’s Burning You?
The REAL Cause of Heartburn, Indigestion and GERD (and How To Correct It)
By Dr. Dana Myatt
Older people have considerably more digestive problems than younger folks, and this has typically but incorrectly been blamed on over-production of stomach acid. Not only have medical studies debunked excess stomach acid as the cause of indigestion, but common sense debunks the myth as well.
Why does this matter? Because the chronic use of antacids and acid-blocking drugs for indigestion has some dangerous and even deadly side-effects
The "Acid Over-Production" Myth Debunked
Do you really think that some bodily function starts working better with age? Hahahaha!
With age, nothing works as well as it did in earlier years. I hope I’m not popping anyone’s bubble here.
Come on – we don’t move as fast at age 57 as we did at 27. Vision and hearing are typically less acute in our 70s than they were in our 30s. Skin is less elastic at 69 than at 29. Production of hormones and body fluids decreases with age. Why would we think that our stomachs do the opposite of all other organs and become more active with age instead of less active? Only a drug salesman or a pill-pushing doctor would try to convince us of such foolishness.
The stomach’s primary job is to digest protein and emulsify fats, and it does this by making an extremely powerful acid called hydrochloric acid (HCL) and a protein-digesting enzyme called pepsin. The hydrochloric acid made by a healthy stomach is one million times stronger than the mild acidity of urine or saliva. A leather-like strip of jerky can be quickly turned into "beef soup" by the action of hydrochloric acid and pepsin in the stomach. That’s how normal digestion is supposed to work.
But just like the rest of an aging body, the stomach’s hydrochloric acid and pepsin production decreases over time. As a result, we do not digest food as well. The term "indigestion" implies lack of digestion, not over-digestion. This is why we can’t eat a whole pepperoni pizza washed down with a bottle of soda like we did when we were teenagers. Our aging stomachs don’t have the same digestive vigor – strong hydrochloric acid and pepsin – to digest food like youthful stomachs do.
Medical Science Verifies Low Acid Production
OK, that’s the common sense of it. Now here’s the science. Many older studies conducted on several thousand people in the 1930′s and 1940′s showed that half of all people by age 60 were functioning at only 50% gastric acid output. Numerous contemporary studies verify that that stomach acid production often declines with age.
The Bottom Line: when someone over age 40 has chronic or chronic / intermittent indigestion, that indigestion is almost certainly due to a weaker stomach with less acid and pepsin output, not a stronger stomach making more digestive juices.
"But My Symptoms Feel Like Too Much Acid…"
Strong stomach acid and pepsin quickly "emulsify" fats and proteins, making them ready for the next step of digestion, passage into the small intestine. When these digestive factors are weak, food remains in the stomach for longer and it begins to ferment. Gas pressure from the fermentation can cause bloating and discomfort and can can also cause the esophageal sphincter to open, allowing stomach contents to "backwash" into the esophagus.
Even though weak stomach acid is the central cause of this, even this weak stomach acid, which has no place in the esophagus, will "burn." This burning sensation confuses many people, including doctors, who then "ASSuME" that excess acid is to blame. Too little acid, resulting in slowed digestion, and gas which creates back-pressure into the esophagus is the real cause of almost all "heartburn" and GERD.
Why People Take Acid-Blockers
Why in the world would anyone take antacids or acid blockers to correct a deficiency of stomach acid? In two words: symptom relief.
But if heartburn or gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) are caused by too little stomach acid, why does blocking more of the acid relieve the discomfort? And why isn’t that a good thing to do?
Remember, even weak stomach acid does not belong in the esophagus. When ALL acid production is blocked, the “backwash” of stomach contents into the esophagus will not burn. However, repeatedly using this “band-aid” method has some serious long-term consequences.
The Dangers of Antacids and Acid-Blocking Drugs
Our bodies need 60 or so essential nutrients. “Essential” means that the body MUST have this nutrient or death will eventually ensue, and the nutrient must be obtained from diet because the body cannot manufacture it. Many of these essential nutrients require stomach acid for their assimilation. When stomach acid production declines, nutrient deficiencies begin.
Calcium, for example, requires vigorous stomach acid in order to be assimilated. Interestingly, the rate of hip replacement surgery is much higher in people who routinely use antacids and acid-blocking drugs. We know that people who have “acid stomach” were already having trouble assimilating calcium from food and nutritional supplements due to lack of normal stomach acid production. When these symptoms are “band-aided” with drugs which decrease stomach acid even more, calcium assimilation can come to a near-halt. The result? Weak bones, hip fractures and joint complaints resulting in major surgery.
Jonathan Wright, M.D., well-known and respected holistic physician, states that “Although research in this area is entirely inadequate, its been my clinical observation that calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, chromium, selenium, manganese, vanadium, molybdenum, cobalt, and many other micro-trace elements are not nearly as well-absorbed in those with poor stomach acid as they are in those whose acid levels are normal. When we test plasma amino acid levels for those with poor stomach function, we frequently find lower than usual levels of one or more of the eight essential amino acids: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Often there are functional insufficiencies of folic acid and/or vitamin B12.”
Remember, these are essential nutrients. Deficiencies of any single one of them can cause serious health problems over time. Weak bones, diminish immune function, failing memory, loss of eyesight and many other “diseases of aging” are often the result of decreased stomach function.
Ulcers can even be caused by too little acid. Surprised? We know today that most ulcers are caused by a bacterium called h. pylori. This little beastie is killed by strong stomach acid. But when stomach acid is weak, watch out! Weak stomach acid is how h. pylori gets a foot-hold. (People with active ulcers should not supplement hydrochloric acid until the ulcer has healed).
Diseases Associated with Low Gastric Function
Low stomach acid is associated with the following conditions:
- Acne rosacea
- Addison’s disease
- Allergic reactions
- Candidiasis (chronic)
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Celiac disease
- Childhood asthma
- Chronic autoimmune hepatitis
- Chronic cough
- Dermatitis herpeteformis
- Diabetes (type I)
- Gallbladder disease
- Graves disease (hyperthyroid)
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Laryngitis (chronic)
- Lupus erythromatosis
- Macular degeneration
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle Cramps
- Myasthenia gravis
- Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC)
- Pernicious anemia
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
- Reynaud’s syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Stomach cancer
- Ulcerative colitis
It also appears that many cases of depression, which appear related to too little neurotransmitters (which in turn are made from amino acids) may in fact be inability to absorb the necessary precursors due to – you guessed it – low stomach acid. I suspect there are a large number of other diseases that begin with a failing digestive system and that have not yet been recognized as such.
Even so, many people who have low stomach acid do not have symptoms of heartburn, “acid indigestion” or GERD.
The Gastric Acid Function Test
Here’s a simple question. Before your doctor diagnosed GERD from “too much stomach acid,” did he/she perform a stomach acid function test?
X-rays and gastroscopy do not evaluate stomach acid production. The medical test for stomach acid, called the Heidelberg test, requires swallowing a small capsule and then having it pulled back up on a “string.” You’d remember if you had this done. Interestingly, this test is ALMOST NEVER PERFORMED before excess stomach acid is diagnosed, hence the incorrect diagnosis!
Why The Blind Spot In Medicine?
From the 1800’s up until the 1950’s, hydrochloric acid (HCl) supplements (both with and without pepsin) were widely prescribed and used. Physicians simply considered replacement of digestive acid to be like replacement of thyroid hormone for a failing thyroid or hormone replacement for aging ovaries.
In the 1950’s, some badly designed and misinterpreted “research” was used to convince physicians that HCl and pepsin replacement therapy is unnecessary. Besides, the “replacement” therapy – HCL and pepsin – are natural substances that are difficult to patent. Instead, drug companies focused on patentable drugs to treat “hyperchlorhydria” (excess stomach acid), and the highly profitable prescription and OTC acid blocking drug industry was born.
Once again I ask: if a doctor diagnosed you with excess stomach acid, did he or she actually perform the Heidelberg test? If you diagnosed yourself, did you perform a gastric acid self-test? No? I rest my case.
The Gastric Acid Function Self-Test
Fortunately, the Heidelberg test is not required to arrive at a correct diagnosis of too little stomach acid. You can perform a gastric acid self-test at home using some betain HCL capsules taken with meals. If digestion improves – bingo! You’re hydrochloric acid deficient.
This issue of low stomach acid is central to so many diseases that I recommend a gastric acid self-test to EVERYONE over age 50 and anyone under age 50 who has any medical complaint related to nutrient deficiency.
I’ve put together an inexpensive yet highly effective “Gastric Acid Function Self Test Kit” that includes full instructions for testing your own stomach acid (it’s easy with the instructions) plus “test sizes” of the supplements – including hydrochloric acid and pepsin – needed for the test.
Testing your own digestive function is simple and easy, and it could save you much grief, sickness, and yes, heartburn.
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