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I Am Often Asked About Heartburn, or Acid Reflux

Posted by Dr. Paul Grussenmeyer on

Since one of the questions on my medical forms concerns acid reflux and its relation to sleep apnea, I am often asked about heartburn, or acid reflux as it is properly called.  As with any medical problem, it is of utmost importance to determine THE CAUSE, and not just treat symptoms.  Treating only symptoms has made certain corporations rich and the rest of us in the United States poor and unhealthy.  Acid reflux, heartburn, stomach ulcers, indigestion will feel better temporarily with the antacids which are usually consumed, but the symptoms will keep coming back and other additional major health problems will be promoted.

2 of the major causes of acid reflux are sleep apnea and INSUFFICIENT STOMACH ACID.  That means your pH is too high, or another way of saying it is that your stomach is not acid enough.  A third cause is insufficient mucus lining the stomach.  Not that fat green guy from TV commercials, but a protective lining of mucus secreted by mucous cells lining your stomach.  Lack of mucus, eroded due to digestive tract inflammation, allows acid and small food particles to push into the diaphragm area and reflux into the esophagus.

With sleep apnea, the stoppages of breathing creates a negative pressure in the chest, drawing stomach acid into the esophagus area, no matter what the pH is.  Have severe sleep apnea treated with CPAP or BiPAP, and mild to moderate sleep apnea treated by a knowledgable dentist using proper intra-oral appliances and laser collagen treatments in the throat area when appropriate.  Do not ever attempt to treat a serious medical problem, like sleep apnea, with the over-the-counter garbage sold in retail stores and pharmacies.

Normal stomach pH is 1 to 3.  If your stomach pH is higher than that, the swallowed food does not break down properly, and piles up in your stomach ( you get that full, lingering high stomach pressure after eating, sometimes described as gas and bloating) which pushes stomach acid back into your esophagus.  When your stomach acid is in the normal pH 1-3 range, the food breaks down normally and passes easily into the small intestines for the next phase of food processing.

From the last 2 sentences you can probably discern that the cause of most symptoms being treated with anti-acid drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, is NOT ENOUGH STOMACH ACID.  So doing what almost all physicians and people do, taking antacids, will make your situation and overall health worse, not better.

How can you tell what your stomach acid pH is?  Your physician can prescribe a stool test, but better and extremely accurate is a HEIDELBERG test.  When performing the Heidelberg test, the patient swallows a small electronic device about the size of a vitamin capsule. This device tracks acid levels in the stomach as the patient swallows   baking soda, which neutralizes the hydrochloric acid in the stomach. If the acid level does not return to normal after the baking soda is swallowed, the patient has insufficient hydrochloric acid.

The capsule is attached to a long thread to control the position of the capsule in the stomach. After the pH measurements have been electronically recorded, the capsule may be allowed to pass through the rest of the digestive system.  This testing procedure may take 1–2 hours.

In general, as we age, acid levels drop and "heartburn" increases.  That should tell you that your physician should be having you take hydrochloric acid tablets with your meals instead of antacids.  

For problems of insufficient mucus lining the stomach, here are some remedies.  Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (the shorthand is DGL) is used as a soother for acid reflux burning and irritation.  It works on the esophagus, stomach, and intestines, causing more mucus to be secreted to protect those tissues from acid erosion.  Use it for any symptoms of indigestion.  Aloe vera is another anther anti-inflammatory offering of nature to combat the pain, bloating, and burning associated with acid reflux. It stimulates better better digestion, helping food move through your system faster so acid doesn't back-up into your throat.  The polysaccharides in the Slippery Elm herb act like mucus protecting your digestive tract tissues from acid burns.  I also like ginger tea (make it yourself from the root), lemon balm, and chamomile for helping digestive tract distress.  Yo don't have to use them all.  Just try one, or two, to start.  See what you like best.