Thursday, March 19, 2015

Heartburn - Dyspepsia - Acid Reflux

Today I would like to talk about acid reflux, aka heartburn or dyspepsia and the various approaches to tackle it.

We see commercials that say things like, "Are your favorite foods fighting you?  Fight back with [enter antacid here]!"  They show us pictures of people rubbing their tummies with scrunched up faces and warning that acid erosion of the esophagus can lead to esophageal cancer, then they propose their acid blocker medicine.  It's a simple fix!  Just one pill a day!  Your problem never goes away but that's okay because you have a pill.

Like most things, everyone has a lingering intuitive hint that suggests there must be a way to resolve it, not just repeatedly bandage the situation.

Did you know, the majority of acid reflux is caused by low stomach acid?  Does that surprise you?  How does one determine if they have too much or too little?

There are two ways to test if one has high or low stomach acid: the water test and the vinegar test.

The Water Test

If you drink a cup of water and the reflux gets better, your acid is high because you've diluted it and you received relief.  If it worsens, you have low acid.

The Vinegar Test

If you take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and reflux improves, you have low acid because you added acid.  If it worsens, you have high acid.

So what about those antacids?  Yes, indeed, what about those little suckers that people pop like candy after a meal.

Antacids suppress your acid production & also inhibit your body's ability to absorb calcium. Long term use often results in osteoporosis.  That is why on the commercials for prescription acid blockers they say, "may result in bone fractures....." while showing you a smiling person who is no longer clenching their chest and stomach.  They really don't want to say the "O" word, because people would balk.  Though, personally, I think bone fractures sound horrible enough.

It seems obvious enough that suppressing stomach acid production will only serve to cause the condition of dyspepsia to persist, and that is the case.  Because the condition persists, people keep taking antacids and consequently, over time, their body is deficient in calcium and taking a calcium supplement will not help them as they will not be able to digest or absorb it because they lack the acid production necessary.  It becomes a miserable cycle and the only party benefiting is the pocket book of the company making the "medicine."

From an energetic standpoint, acid reflux is ascending qi (chi), and must be redirected to descending.  Bitters accomplish this.  There are many bitter plants such as Dandelion root, Taraxacum officinale (and so much time is spent poisoning lawns to eradicate that lovely little plant), Yellow Dock root, Rumex crispus, Oregon Grape root, Mahonia ssp., Angelica root, Angelica archangelica, Elecampane root, Inula helenium, Goldenseal root, Hydrastis canadensis.....the list goes on.

Dandelion root is one bitter that actually can increase stomach acid production.  It also, like other bitters, redirects the qi downwards.

If you are familiar with lactofermentation, the probiotic preservation of foods, you will be pleased to know that the lactic acid formed by lactobacilli in fermented foods is said to normalize stomach acid production.

From a dietary standpoint, there are two major culprits in the modern diet for dyspepsia and they are both beverages:  alcohol and coffee.  Both introduce highly acidic conditions into the body and are usually consumed in rather generous amounts.

Dyspepsia has been known as a major cause of depression for more than a century, but today most doctors do not discuss that with depression sufferers.  As you can read below, the Eclectic physicians were quite aware of the connection.

"Dyspepsia is a very common disease...  The symptoms are numerous:  the patient generally complains of inability to attend to his usual business; the slightest exercise occasions fatigue; uneasy sensations in the region of the stomach, with a sense of fullness and tenderness upon pressure in that region; acrid eructations....patient troubled with great restlessness and with despondence of mind, palpitation of the heart; sometimes great heat or burning sensation complained of in the stomach; cough and expectoration sometimes attend this disease, the lungs appear affected from sympathy...the tongue coated and dry, showing a morbid condition of the mucous membrane of the stomach; bad, unpleasant taste in the mouth, more particularly in the morning; the breath fetid....much acidity of the stomach...  Melancholy generally attends dyspepsia, the mental powers become impaired; in fact, with patients laboring under this disease, none of the faculties are normal.  In long standing cases, the stomach will become ulcerated..."   (Bettes, J.N., M.D.  "Dyspepsia."  The Eclectic Medical Journals: A Re-Printing of Selected Articles from The Eclectic Medical Journal 1857.  Vol. 1.  Issue 2.  April/May 1995:  p. 8)

My personal experience has verified that simply limiting (especially eliminating) alcohol and/or coffee will reverse dyspepsia & improve mood dramatically.  Eating slow and chewing food well, as well as limiting the amount of water consumed during a meal are common recommendations today.  Bitters taken before or after a meal will always help dramatically...and have the bonus of resolving flatulence!  But remember, if coffee and/or alcohol is consumed on a daily basis in liberal quantities, dyspepsia will continue to exist and persist as you will be hyper acidifying your inner biome.  Diet is key.

This information is for educational purposes.  It is not intended to be replacement for the advice from a licensed medical professional and is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease.

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