About 60% of Americans (or more) will experience acid reflux at some point in their lives. As soon as we experience the painful and burning sensation creeping up our esophagus, we are quick to reach for that bottle or box of antacids. Antacids are some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the US--right there next to statin medications to lower LDL cholesterol (more on that subject in another post).
The cause of acid reflux is not an over production of acid. Therfore, the cure cannot be pills that lessen the amount of acid produced.
The problem with too much acid in the esophagus is a result of a weakened lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Your LES sits at the bottom of your esophagus and is like a door that opens and closes, leading into the upper part of your stomach. When the LES is weakened, acid can escape from the stomach back up into the esophagus. Here's a photo:
Did you know that antacids aren't meant to be taken for a long period of time? Did you know that antacids can cause a cascade of unfortunate events in your body? Bottom line: Big Pharma is making billions- and at your body's expense. Here's a picture I found that summarizes all of the negatives that come from over-prescribed and over-used antacids.
Stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid (HCL), is vital for our body to function correctly. Stomach acid helps us to absorb so many nutrients like calcium, zinc, iron, folate, B12, just to name a few. Stomach acid acts as one of our body's defense mechanisms, destroying pathogens and boosting our immunity. It activates digestive enzymes so we can properly break down, digest, and absorb our food. And...stomach acid, believe it or not, can actually help us to sleep better!
So- how do you correct acid reflux then?
There are many non-medication methods, but here are my top 5 picks:
1. Eat smaller meals- avoid overeating- which causes pressure to build in your stomach, loosens the LES, and makes acid much more likely to escape in the wrong direction.
2. Eat slow- chew every bite and allow the stomach acid to do it's job- naturally.
3. Understand your problem/acid triggering foods. Some of the most common are processed foods, chocolate, peppermint, citrus fruits, and spicy foods.
4. Try to avoid eating a high fat meal less than 2 hours before bedtime. Fat has the slowest transit time through your GI tract so that acid has a lot more time to creep back up into the esophagus.
5. Try not to gulp a bunch of water down with a meal. Take small sips if needed or wait until after your meal to drink a glass of water. (The water dilutes the stomach acid- seems like a good plan but remember one of HCL's jobs is to help you digest your food- you don't want to mess with that!)
I hope this paints a clearer picture of what's really going on with acid reflux and allows you to nix the reflux for good! Keep me posted on how you're doing!
As always, consult with your physician before discontinuing prescribed medications.