Remember that scene in the Matrix where Neo is given a choice between the red pill and the blue pill. Morpheus is giving him the chance to know the truth or cling to the comfort of his false reality.
Morpheus: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
This scene reminds me of how I felt when I began to study nutrition and the inner workings of the digestive system. I was made aware of how much false information about health is prevalent in our society.
One of the top selling drugs in the U.S are proton pump inhibitors, with over $9 billion in sales each year. Heartburn or reflux is a common complaint among patients and it’s easy to assume that the solution is to prevent the burn by reducing stomach acid. But what if I told you, stomach acid is good for you.
The acidity is important for signaling the release of a number of hormones and enzymes which promote the process of digestion. Blocking stomach acid removes this trigger and inhibits the normal digestive cascade. This allows the food to sit in your stomach too long resulting the build up of pressure against the lower esophageal sphincter. When the sphincter releases the pressure the stomachs contents reflux into the esophagus leading to a sensation known as heartburn. Acid reflux is often a consequence of low stomach acid.
Adequate stomach acid is crucial for proper digestion and absorption. In fact, the acidity of the stomach needs to be below a pH of 4 in order for pepsin to be activated. Pepsin is the enzyme that breaks down protein. Without the activation of pepsin, proteins will not be properly digested. Partially digested proteins impact the intestinal lining leading to intestinal permeability or “leaky gut.” Improperly digested foods contribute to the development food allergies and sensitivities.
Chronically low stomach acid can lead to malnourishment and other disorders. Certain nutrients require adequate levels of stomach acid for their digestion and absorption. Such minerals are iron, copper, zinc and calcium, as well as, vitamins like, B12 and folate. Nutrients like zinc and vitamin B12 are necessary for the production of stomach acid. Depletion of these nutrients in turn inhibits stomach acid production creating a downward spiral.
Stomach acid is also one of the first lines of defense for invading microorganisms. Adequate HCl in the stomach produces a near sterile environment killing off pathogens as they enter from the esophagus and creating an unwelcome environment for the flora of the small intestine. Individuals with low stomach acid are more prone to bacterial invasion and frequently experience bouts of the “stomach flu.” Bacterial overgrowth in the stomach can also lead to malabsorption.
These are just a few reasons why stomach acid is actually good for you. Acid blockers may help with the pain but it’s creating a false reality for your health. Use natural remedies for the pain while you work to build your stomach acid to appropriate levels.
Natural remedies for heartburn include, aloe vera juice or deglycerized licorice (also known as DGL). This can help coat the digestive tract and cool the burn. Drinking a cup of warm lemon water before a meal or taking a shot of ACV can help to stimulate acid production and prevent heartburn. I personally use digestive bitters before each meal. Some people may need to take a betaine HCl supplement, however don’t use this if you are still taking acid blockers. You will want to work with a knowledgeable health practitioner to find the solution that is best for you.
Now that I’ve taken you down the rabbit hole, you have to ask yourself which pill is the best option. If you are taking acid blockers, please don’t stop taking them without the guidance of a doctor. There could be a rebound reaction causing you more pain. Work with a functional medicine doctor or nutritionist to heal your stomach lining as you wean off the medication. Acid blockers were never approved for long term use, but it’s important to work with a doctor to wean off the medicine appropriately.
What about you? Do you suffer from heartburn? What have you found that works? Let me know in the comments below.
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