What's Burning You?
The REAL Cause of Heartburn, Indigestion and
GERD (and How To Correct It)
Older people have considerably
more digestive problems than younger folks, and this has typically but
incorrectly been blamed on over-production of stomach acid. Not only have
medical studies debunked excess stomach acid as the cause of indigestion, but
common sense debunks the myth as well.
Why does this matter? Because the chronic use of antacids and acid-blocking
drugs for indigestion has some dangerous and even deadly side-effects
The "Acid Over-Production" Myth
Do you really think that some bodily function starts working better with age?
With age, nothing works as well
as it did in earlier years. I hope I'm not popping anyone's bubble here.
Come on - we don't move as fast
at age 57 as we did at 27. Vision and hearing are typically less acute in our
70s than they were in our 30s. Skin is less elastic at 69 than at 29. Production
of hormones and body fluids decreases with age. Why would we think that our
stomachs do the opposite of all other organs and become more active with age
instead of less active? Only a drug salesman or a pill-pushing doctor would try
to convince us of such foolishness.
The stomach's primary job is to digest protein and emulsify fats, and it does
this by making an extremely powerful acid called hydrochloric acid (HCL) and a
protein-digesting enzyme called pepsin. The hydrochloric acid made by a healthy
stomach is one million times stronger than the mild acidity of urine or saliva.
A leather-like strip of jerky can be quickly turned into "beef soup" by the
action of hydrochloric acid and pepsin in the stomach. That's how normal
digestion is supposed to work.
But just like the rest of an aging body, the stomach's hydrochloric acid and
pepsin production decreases over time. As a result, we do not digest food as
well. The term "indigestion" implies lack of digestion, not over-digestion.
This is why we can't eat a whole pepperoni pizza washed down with a bottle of
coke like we did when we were teenagers. Our aging stomachs don't have the same
digestive vigor - strong hydrochloric acid and pepsin - to digest food like
youthful stomachs do.
Medical Science Verifies Low
OK, that's the common sense of
it. Now here's the science. Many older studies conducted on several thousand
people in the 1930's and 1940's showed that half of all people by age 60 were
functioning at only 50% gastric acid output. Numerous contemporary
studies verify that that stomach acid production often declines with age.
The Bottom Line: when someone over age 40 has chronic or chronic /
intermittent indigestion, that indigestion is almost certainly due to a weaker
stomach with less acid and pepsin output, not a stronger stomach making more
"But My Symptoms Feel Like Too Much Acid..."
Strong stomach acid and pepsin quickly "emulsify" fats and proteins, making them
ready for the next step of digestion, passage into the small intestine. When
these digestive factors are weak, food remains in the stomach for longer and it
begins to ferment. Gas pressure from the fermentation can cause bloating and
discomfort and can can also cause the esophageal sphincter to open, allowing
stomach contents to "backwash" into the esophagus.
Even though weak stomach acid
is the central cause of this, even this weak stomach acid, which has no place in
the esophagus, will "burn." This burning sensation confuses many people,
including doctors, who then "ASSuME" that excess acid is to blame. Too little
acid, resulting in slowed digestion, and gas which creates back-pressure into
the esophagus is the real cause of almost all "heartburn" and GERD.
Why People Take Acid-Blockers
Why in the world would anyone
take antacids or acid blockers to correct a deficiency of stomach acid? In two
words: symptom relief.
But if heartburn or gastro
esophageal reflux disease (GERD) are caused by too little stomach acid, why does
blocking more of the acid relieve the discomfort? And why isn’t that a good
thing to do?
Remember, even weak stomach acid does not belong in the esophagus. When ALL acid
production is blocked, the “backwash” of stomach contents into the esophagus
will not burn. However, repeatedly using this “band aid” method has some serious
The Dangers of Antacids and Acid-Blocking Drugs
Our bodies need 60 or so
essential nutrients. “Essential” means that the body MUST have this nutrient or
death will eventually ensue, and the nutrient must be obtained from diet because
the body cannot manufacture it. Many of these essential nutrients require
stomach acid for their assimilation. When stomach acid production declines,
nutrient deficiencies begin.
Calcium, for example, requires
vigorous stomach acid in order to be assimilated. Interestingly, the rate of hip
replacement surgery is much higher in people who routinely use antacids and
acid-blocking drugs. We know that people who have “acid stomach” were already
having trouble assimilating calcium from food and nutritional supplements due to
lack of normal stomach acid production. When these symptoms are “band-aided”
with drugs which decrease stomach acid even more, calcium assimilation can come
to a near-halt. The result? Weak bones, hip fractures and joint complaints
resulting in major surgery.
Jonathan Wright, M.D.,
well-known and respected holistic physician, states that “Although research
in this area is entirely inadequate, its been my clinical observation that
calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, chromium, selenium, manganese, vanadium,
molybdenum, cobalt, and many other micro-trace elements are not nearly as
well-absorbed in those with poor stomach acid as they are in those whose acid
levels are normal. When we test plasma amino acid levels for those with poor
stomach function, we frequently find lower than usual levels of one or more of
the eight essential amino acids: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine,
phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Often there are functional
insufficiencies of folic acid and/or vitamin B12.”
Remember, these are essential nutrients. Deficiencies of any single one of them
can cause serious health problems over time. Weak bones, diminish immune
function, failing memory, loss of eyesight and many other “diseases of aging”
are often the result of decreased stomach function.
Ulcers can even be caused by
too little acid. Surprised? We know today that most ulcers are caused by a
bacterium called h. pylori. This little bugger is killed by strong
stomach acid. But when stomach acid is weak, watch out! Weak stomach acid is how
h. pylori gets a foot-hold. (People with active ulcers should not
supplement hydrochloric acid until the ulcer has healed).
Diseases Associated with Low Gastric Function
Low stomach acid is associated
with the following conditions:
- Acne rosacea
- Addison’s disease
- Allergic reactions
- Candidiasis (chronic)
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Celiac disease
- Childhood asthma
- Chronic autoimmune hepatitis
- Chronic cough
- Dermatitis herpeteformis
- Diabetes (type I)
- Gallbladder disease
- Graves disease (hyperthyroid)
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Laryngitis (chronic)
- Lupus erythromatosis
- Macular degeneration
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle Cramps
- Myasthenia gravis
- Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC)
- Pernicious anemia
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
- Reynaud’s syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Stomach cancer
- Ulcerative colitis
It also appears that many cases
of depression, which appear related to too little neurotransmitters (which in
turn are made from amino acids) may in fact be inability to absorb the necessary
precursors due to - you guessed it - low stomach acid. I suspect there are a
large number of other diseases that begin with a failing digestive system and
that have not yet been recognized as such.
Even so, many people who have
low stomach acid do not have symptoms of heartburn, “acid indigestion” or GERD.
The Gastric Acid Function Test
Here’s a simple question. Before your doctor diagnosed GERD from “too much
stomach acid,” did he/she perform a stomach acid function test? X-rays and
gastroscopy do not evaluate stomach acid production. The medical test for
stomach acid, called the Heidelberg test, requires swallowing a small capsule
and then having it pulled back up on a “string.” You’d remember if you had this
done. Interestingly, this test is ALMOST NEVER PERFORMED before excess stomach
acid is diagnosed, hence the incorrect diagnosis!
Why The Blind Spot In Medicine?
From the 1800’s up until the
1950’s, hydrochloric acid (HCl) supplements (both with and without pepsin) were
widely prescribed and used. Physicians simply considered replacement of
digestive acid to be like replacement of thyroid hormone for a failing thyroid
or hormone replacement for aging ovaries.
In the 1950’s, some badly
designed and misinterpreted “research” was used to convince physicians that HCl
and pepsin replacement therapy is unnecessary. Besides, the “replacement”
therapy - HCL and pepsin - are natural substances that are difficult to patent.
Instead, drug companies focused on patentable drugs to treat “hyperchlorhydria”
(excess stomach acid), and the highly profitable prescription and OTC acid
blocking drug industry was born.
Once again I ask: if a doctor
diagnosed you with excess stomach acid, did he or she actually perform the
Heidelberg test? If you diagnosed yourself, did you perform a gastric acid
self-test? No? I rest my case.
The Gastric Acid Function
Fortunately, the Heidelberg
test is not required to arrive at a correct diagnosis of too little stomach
acid. You can perform a gastric acid self-test at home using some betain HCL
capsules taken with meals. If digestion improves - bingo! You’re hydrochloric
This issue of low stomach acid
is central to so many diseases that I recommend a gastric acid self-test to
EVERYONE over age 50 and anyone under age 50 who has any medical complaint
related to nutrient deficiency.
I’ve put together a “Gastric
Acid Function Self Test Kit” that includes full instructions for testing your
own stomach acid (it’s easy with the instructions) plus “test sizes” of the
supplements - including hydrochloric acid and pepsin - needed for the test.
Testing your own digestive
function is simple and easy, and it could save you much grief, sickness, and
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