Are Anti-Acids the Cure For Heartburn? Or Are They Masking Bigger Health Issues?
Nearly everyone has experienced indigestion, heartburn and that “queasy” stomach that comes on after eating something we knew we shouldn’t have – usually some highly processed junk food. As a “one-off” occurrence is this really the worst thing in the world of health? No, of course not. But the truth is, for too many people this isn’t a “one-off” thing.
A whopping 60% of the adult population experiences heartburn monthly, and nearly half of those individuals experience symptoms multiple times – weekly! Knowing this, it is not surprising that every year hundreds of millions of prescriptions are written for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) medication alone!
Even though Nexium, the leading treatment choice for symptoms of GERD, was made available OTC back in 2012, many felt it wasn’t as effective as Nexium RX. So what was one to do?
Well, AstraZeneca had the answer! To combat the high demand of prescription meds, and to provide patients with the convenience of by-passing a visit to the doctor and having their anti-acid medication delivered straight to their door, AstraZeneca Launched Nexium® Direct-to-Patient Program:
“Today, people are taking a more active, participatory role in their healthcare. With this in mind, AstraZeneca has created NEXIUM Direct, giving patients and prescribers a choice when it comes to how they receive branded NEXIUM from AstraZeneca,” said Linda Palczuk, Vice President, Cornerstone and Commercial Excellence. “NEXIUM has been a treatment option for acid reflux disease for over 13 years, with more than 236 million prescriptions written. We’re proud to offer patients and prescribers another way to receive this important treatment.”
Great! So now everyone can get their much needed anti-acid one way or another, problem solved! Or is it?
Let’s start with the obvious question. Why is it that so many people need these anti-acid meds to quiet symptoms of indigestion, heartburn and GERD, all of which can eventually lead to ulcers and even esophageal cancer?
Yeah, I know the biggest claim of Nexium is that it “heals” the damage. But does it really? Even before the OTC version and the direct to home option became available, a possible link between Nexium (also known as a proton pump inhibitor along with other leading brands such as Prilosec), and esophageal cancer was found. (Isn’t that something it is designed to prevent?)
New research published in 2016 found evidence that these heartburn medications are linked to serious kidney issues, including kidney failure.
But back to my question? Why are so many people experiencing these symptoms in the first place?
Of course, the answer is tied to the standard American diet and lifestyle. But bring this topic to the forefront and it is too often met with strong beliefs that if either diet or lifestyle dramatically deviates from the societal norm of fast, processed, tasty and addictive, then it is as if we are challenging American tradition. After all isn’t that the message of Larry the Cable Guy?
“Americans love their food, so treat frequent heartburn with Prilosec OTC to block the acid that causes it – so you don’t get heartburn in the first place.”
And many prefer to treat the symptoms rather than treating the cause – poor diet and lifestyle practices.
Interestingly two of the leading side-effects of taking anti-acids such as Nexium are:
- Low Vitamin B12 levels
- Low Magnesium levels
And ironically both of these nutritional deficiencies are epidemic in the United States even without the added side effect of these drugs compounding the problem. Furthermore, the cause of GERD is largely related to a magnesium deficiency as it can cause the pyloric sphincter to weaken. What a cycle! Not to mention that low Vitamin B12 levels can lead not only to anemia and fatigue but depression as well, which of course can lead to more junk food intake. With millions of people also taking antidepressants, one has to wonder if it is possible that there is a direct correlation?
Did you know that the following hinder magnesium absorption?
Soft drinks that contain phosphoric acid such as Coke and Pepsi. The phosphates that are formed bind to minerals (including magnesium, calcium, and zinc) making it nearly impossible for your body to absorb them.
Grains. Grains contain phytates which bind to minerals which then interferes with absorption.
Stress. Stress alone is a major cause of nearly every illness and disease. It causes the body and mind to live in a low level of “fight or flight” and once this occurs, the body is no longer able to absorb the nutrients needed to sustain life. This can be caused by nutritional stress, physical stress and/or emotional stress.
So is it any wonder that so many are suffering?
Now, what about other types of anti-acids such as TUMS? I have even heard that they are often recommended for use as a calcium supplement. There are two problems with this recommendation:
- Calcium carbonate is very difficult to absorb without a sufficient amount of stomach acid. TUMS is designed to neutralize stomach acid. This then blocks the absorption of the calcium.
- In order for calcium to be absorbed it needs the assistance of Vitamin D (another nutritional deficiency that is of epidemic proportion in the United States).
Artificial Food Dyes. The assortment of artificial foods dyes has a long list of side-effects including hyperactivity, allergies and even cancer.
Because of this, they have been largely banned in many countries.
Talc. Yep, this is the same talc used in the powder that is now linked to cancer. So we are being told not to put talc on our bodies, but consumption is okay! What? Well, the FDA considers talc as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). They also consider artificial foods as GRAS too.
I don’t know about you, but YIKES! And no thanks!
At the end of the day, we have to question the cause of digestive issues rather than simply placate to the virtual band-aid that these anti-acid medications provide whether prescriptive or OTC. And though these meds may seem like the easy and fastest solution, they sadly come with a greater price in the long run. Your health and quality of life.
By implementing simple changes in your lifestyle nutritionally, physically and emotionally, you can make significant shifts in your overall health and sense of well-being. Not to mention, relieve symptoms such as indigestion and heartburn.
Incorporate more real foods. Staying away from processed and fast food is a great first step. These foods are often loaded with sugars (including artificial sugars), artificial chemicals that are not necessary and serve only to add more toxic burden on your body. These ingredients also make it more difficult for your body to absorb what nutrients may be contained in the food.
By eating real foods (ideally organic so as to prevent consumption of pesticides and GMOs) your body can get the nourishment it needs and begin to heal. As a result, you will begin to have more energy, less pain, and find that you are more focused and mentally alert.
Eating fast and processed foods cause your body to become acidic, which creates the perfect environment for the development of inflammation, and chronic inflammation is present in every illness and disease. Because these types of foods contain so many added artificial chemicals, the presence of pesticides, and are subject to irradiation, they are basically stripped of all nutrition.
Now your nutritionally depleted body not only has to struggle to use what little nutrition is available to it but also get rid of the foreign chemicals it has no use for.
Simply eliminating these added chemicals will make a big difference in your state of health. And by feeding your body the nutritionally dense real whole foods (meaning not processed) it deserves, you will reduce the acidity that is causing symptoms of GERD, heartburn, and indigestion.
TIP: Each week switch out one processed food for a whole food (meaning not in a box). In other words, lose one and add one! Everyone can make one change at a time!
In the meantime, there are some quick and natural remedies for heartburn that really work!
Mustard. Have you ever tried to relieve symptoms with a tablespoon of mustard? Works like a charm!
Apple Cider Vinegar. Drinking a teaspoon or two of Apple Cider Vinegar with a squeeze of lemon is extremely alkalizing and a wonderful addition to any diet. This is especially true when you are experiencing symptoms of inflammation such as heartburn.
Drink plenty of water. An astonishing 75% of Americans may be suffering from chronic dehydration. Simply drinking more water can be the cure for many health issues including heartburn if it is indeed caused by chronic dehydration. But keep in mind, it takes time for your body to adequately absorb the water it needs.
Moderate exercise. Keeping your body in motion is another way to improve immune function and reduce stress levels. Examples of some of the best types of exercises to improve your immune system are walking in nature, bike riding, dancing, yoga, Qi Gong, and Pilates. Remember you are trying to help your body heal, so nothing too strenuous.
Deep Breathing. Though we all breathe without much thought, taking the time to put some mindful intention into your breath can make a significant difference. Breathing deeply and mindfully decreases stress levels, which in turn reduces inflammation in the body. In times of stress (especially when of a chronic nature), your breath becomes shallow and you lose the vital life-giving breath that fills your lungs and circulates throughout your body. When this happens the following occurs:
- Muscles around your neck, chest and upper back become tense and tight.
- Shoulders begin to roll forward as your body tries to invite more air into the lungs.
- You may find you have shortness of breath more often.
- You may experience symptoms of anxiety – lightheadedness, dizziness, panic.
- Other symptoms such as headaches, cold extremities, and generalized pain are all common symptoms of your body not getting the oxygen it needs to function optimally.
- Take a few moments multiple times a day to relax your face, neck, chest, and shoulders.
- Take a deep breath (ideally through your nose) as slowly as possible. Hold for a second or two at the top of the breath.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth and at the end of the exhale give the breath a last extra push out.
- Repeat at least 10 times and on each exhale be mindful to relax your shoulders even more.
TIP: Place little post-it notes reminding yourself to “relax your shoulders” in various areas of your home and workplace. You will be surprised how often your shoulders creep up throughout the day. Simply relaxing your shoulders will help you breathe more effectively.
Address Your Fears. Yeah, I know this one is loaded and not a “quick fix”. But when we fall into bad patterns (or habits) of any kind, it is usually because we are searching for an escape from our current life situation. And this can take a big toll on not just your mind and state of well-being, but also on your body. Did you know that just the state of unhappiness has been linked to heart disease, autoimmune and even cancer? And too often this sad state leads to unhealthy habits as we attempt to “feel” better. For example:
- Excessive drinking, smoking, junk food consumption
- Succumbing to a sedentary lifestyle (i.e. not getting out, not socializing)
And of course, these examples only exuberate the problem.
When we are not happy, we have a tendency to seek out means that give us the illusion of feeling happy. Even if just for a moment. Unfortunately, many of these chosen patterns can be toxic and ultimately make matters worse, eventually resulting in the manifestation of an illness or disease.
Pharmaceuticals can help, but they too are only an illusion of a fix or “cure,” allowing you to feel that you can continue engaging in those unhealthy habits.
Addressing your fears is not an easy task and requires patience and honesty. But it can be incredibly freeing and, most importantly, healing. A good place to begin is by asking yourself a few simple questions:
Am I truly living my life authentically? Meaning is your life full of passion and purpose? If not, what steps can you take to make necessary changes?
Are you surrounding yourself with friends and family that offer a positive outlook on life? If not, what steps can you take to change your environment into a more positive one?
TIP: Challenge yourself to learn something new each week. This will help you to start exploring so that you can rediscover passions that you may have forgotten about and possibly lead you to new ones.
Give yourself a break. Too many of us are constantly trying to please other people, looking for acceptance or approval from others, losing sight of our authentic selves, and/or have forgotten how to truly love ourselves enough to allow ourselves to just live.
Sadly, some have never truly known self-love. Stuck in the confines of mainstream mediocrity, it’s easy to lose our way and forget about what moves us – our passions and the spark that keeps us truly alive!
I encourage you to try making these changes for 30 days. I guarantee that after just one month you will feel even better than you can imagine! I think you can agree that your health is certainly worth it!