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What Medicine Has Got Wrong About Heartburn & Reflux.

Updated: May 4, 2023

The most obvious symptom of esophageal reflux is heartburn. It occurs after eating and can last from a few minutes to a few hours. It feels like a burning sensation in the pit of the stomach, and can move up into the chest and throat.

Esophageal reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter malfunctions, allowing the backward flow of acid, bile, and other contents from the stomach into the esophagus.

Current Treatment

Reflux can result from gastritis (inflammation of the stomach itself), peptic or duodenal ulcers, a hiatal hernia, or even the chronic use of Anti-Inflammatory drugs (NSAlDs). Conventional treatment usually involves medications (H2 antagonists, antacids or proton-pump inhibitor drugs)

Facts about stomach Acid

  • A normal stomach acid level creates a pH of 1.5 to 2.5.

  • As we age, the parietal cells in the stomach lining produce less stomach acid

  • called Hydrochloric Acid (HCI).

  • From the age of 40 many people already have suboptimal stomach pH

  • Half of the people over the age of 60 have hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid)

  • By age 80, 80-100% of relatively healthy people have low stomach acid.

Do Antacids Help?

No! These medications block the absorption of nutrients like zinc, folic acid, B 12, calcium, and iron. This can lead to fatigue, anemia, and depression. And long-term use of these medications can block all stomach acid. But your body needs acid.

The esophageal sphincter is stimulated to close by the release of stomach acids. Picture the esophageal sphincter as a doorway that separates our oesophagus (throat) from our stomach. The door is opened by the food we take in and closed when the naturally occurring stomach acid is released.

It may be a matter of too little and not too much

When there's not enough acid present—because antacids have neutralised them—the esophageal sphincter may not close properly, allowing acid to travel back up into the oesophagus and cause heartburn.

Ironic, isn't it? Antacids can actually make heartburn worse. The stomach needs acid to break down proteins for digestion. No protein digestion means no amino acids. No amino acids, means no neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, etc.).

Other purposes of stomach acid

  • Stomach acid provides our first defense against food poisoning, H.pylori, parasites, and other infections.

  • Without adequate acid, we leave ourselves open to decreased immune resistance and a variety of other health problems.

  • Overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine occurs in 20% of people aged 60 to 80 & 40% of people over 80.

  • Stomach acid is necessary for absorption of many minerals, some vitamins and protein.

  • Adequate HCI is necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper.

  • B12 deficiency causes weakness, fatigue, and nervous system problems.

  • Acid is critical for the breakdown of protein bonds in the stomach, and poor acid content in the stomach causes indigestion.

  • The symptoms of hypoacidity often mimic those of hyperacidity.

What happens when we have low stomach acid

Low stomach acid can lead to all sorts of problems, including:

  • Intestinal permeability (leaky gut)

  • Anaemia

  • Fatigue

  • Increased allergy disorders

  • Depression, anxiety

  • Bacterial and yeast overgrowth

If you're suffering from heartburn, low stomach acid is most likely a problem

Common Symptoms of Hypochlorhydria (Low Stomach Acid)

  1. Upper digestive tract gassiness.

  2. Bloating, belching, burning and flatulence immediately after meals.

  3. Undigested food in stool.

  4. A sense of fullness after eating, indigestion, diarrhea or constipation & nausea after taking supplements.

  5. Itching around the rectum.

  6. Chronic candida infections.

  7. Weak, peeling and cracked fingernails.

  8. Iron deficiency.

  9. Dilated blood vessels in the cheeks and nose (in non-alcoholics)

  10. Acne

  11. Multiple food allergies.

A functional Medicine Approach

A trained Functional Medicine Practitioner has all the tools required to get to the root cause of acid reflux and heartburn and many other gastrointestinal issues that so many of us suffer with today.

Prepare the terrain

Avoid foods that can relax the esophageal sphincter and make heartburn, reflux, and GERD worse. These include fried, spicy, or fatty foods; carbonated drinks; citrus fruits; peppermint; chocolate; coffee; tea; alcohol; tomatoes; garlic; and onions. Avoid lying down for at least three hours after you finish eating. Try to eat smaller meals, and more frequently (perhaps four or five in a day).

When you do lie down, try elevating the head of your bed about six inches (to facilitate keeping the gastric contents in the stomach). You can also try sleeping on your side, which would remove pressure from the esophageal sphincter, helping to keep gastric contents from backing up into your esophagus.

Supplement Support

  1. Digestive Enzyme support with meals. Digestive enzymes increase the acidity of gastric juices and stimulate pancreatic digestive enzymes. They also enhance protein and starch digestion and absorption, whilst restoring the environment in the small bowel to enable healthy flora to survive. They are specifically indicated for bloating after meals.

2. In consultation with a trained Functional Medicine Professional you may consider supplementing with Hydrochloric Acid (HCL). Your Practitioner will test your stomach acid using a HCI supplement to determine the correct dosage of HCI support for you.

Looking to Revitilise your Digestive Health?

Jenny Hague Functional Medicine & Health Architects is the go-to practice for anyone looking to get to the root cause of heartburn and acid reflux. We provide comprehensive assessments backed by Functional Medicine principles and a personalized care plan for each individual. Our Functional Medicine Practitioner will take the time to listen, conduct detailed online questionnaires, and create a custom care plan that will help you beat the discomfort of heartburn and reflux.


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