1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The Deception of "Heartburn"

What Your Doctor or Pharmacy Won't Tell You

David L. Antion, Ph.D. is a certified Nutrition Consultant.  He has studied clinical nutrition for over 40 years.

    Have you noticed the number of antacids, acid blockers, and aids for indigestion on your local over the counter medicine shelf?  They range from Tums to Rolaids, from Pepcid-AC to Tagamet, from Mylanta to Pepto-Bismol. 

     Americans are having a devil of a time with indigestion it appears.  And why?  Mostly because people eat "dead" foods.  What do I mean by "dead foods"?  Let's take the example of an apple.  Place it on your kitchen counter and in a few days it will begin to digest itself or spoil or rot.  Why?  Because it has living enzymes in it that cause it to ripen or digest itself.

    By contrast, place some bleached white flour on the kitchen shelf.  It can remain unchanged almost indefinitely because all the enzymes have been removed.  Therefore, when it is consumed, your body has to supply additional enzymes to digest it.  And, because it has no bran, it becomes very difficult to eliminate from the body causing some constipation.

     What Is Heartburn?

     Heartburn is defined as the "burning feeling in the esophagus" when the hydrochloric acid (HCL) of the stomach is splashed into the esophagus.  What causes "heartburn"?  First let's ask what the stomach does and what the role of hydrochloric acid is. 

     The stomach's main job is to receive chewed food and to coat it all with HCL.  But, as we get older we produce less and less HCL.  It is estimated that by age 50 the average person produces only half the HCL they did at age 15!  Thus the stomach has a more difficult job in coating all its contents.  In order to do this, the stomach flips and churns the food in order to coat it all with HCL.  In this process some of it bumps against the valve that leads to the esophagus and spills onto the esophagus.  Only a little acid can cause severe burning.

     When that happens, an antacid such as Tums or Rolaids or just plain baking soda will relieve the discomfort.  But then, people get to thinking that their entire problem is caused by too much acid.  They then reach for even stronger medicine.

Enter The Pharmaceuticals

     The drug companies have figured it out!  They realize that there is an enormous market to be tapped.  They have come out with two different drugs that prevent the stomach from manufacturing acid.  One type is the histamine H2 receptor antagonist -- Axid, Pepcid, Zantac, etc.  These cause the stomach to secret less acid.  But there are side effects such as dizziness, headache, diarrhea, diminished sex drive, hair loss.  Some rare side effects include confusion, rash, sore throat, fever, irregular heartbeat, unusual bleeding or bruising, fatigue, weakness and constipation.

The other type is the proton pump inhibitors -- Nexium, Prevacid, Priolsec, Protonix, etc.  These have common side effects such as diarrhea and stomach pain.  Infrequent side effects include nausea, loss of appetite, headache, heartburn (the very thing it is supposed to prevent!), muscle pain, skin rash, and drowsiness.  The rare side effects are: weakness, unusual tiredness, sore throat, fever, sores in the mouth, bruising, bloody urine, difficult and frequent or painful urination.

Then, of course, there are the straight antacids like Tums, Rolaids, etc. which neutralize some of the hydrochloric acid in the stomach rendering it ineffective.  It also neutralizes any HCL that splashes into the esophagus.

     Why do we need HCL?  What does it do?  

     Without HCL people will lose a taste for meat, will tend to have excess intestinal gas shortly after consuming proteins, bloating, bad breath, body odor, anemia, and have low mineral amounts in their blood.  HCL helps in the absorption of calcium and iron plus many other minerals.  

     HCL also is the first line of defense when things enter the mouth.  By having sufficient stomach acid we are defended against germs entering the system through the mouth and even stops the development of parasites.  People with insufficient hydrochloric acid (HCL) are often protein deficient which can lead to a lowing of the immune system.

The Wrong Direction

     Notice what is happening.  People are beginning to think that any form of indigestion can be cured with an antacid, a histamine H2 antagonist or a proton pump inhibitor.  Many who, shortly after eating, experience a bloating sensation reach immediately for an antacid like Tums.  But, if you are over 50 you already have lower amounts of HCL being produced.  Taking an antacid or a drug that stops the production of HCL will only create more problems.  Now the stomach is churning the food in order to coat it but there isn't enough acid so more flipping of the food takes place and sooner or later some of the little bit of acid splashes into the lower part of the esophagus causing some burning.  We are then convinced that our problems are coming from too much acid.  It's just the opposite!  There is too little acid!

     Many older adults are creating health nightmares for themselves.  They often do not feel well.  They get insufficient protein, they absorb insufficient calcium and iron leading often to increased anemia and increased risks for osteoporosis.

Why Does Acid Bother Some?

     It is true that when people are under severe stress they may secret more acid and eventually cause themselves some problems.  But few doctors or laymen are aware of the assault on the stomach from alcohol, caffeine, as well as aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal pain relievers.  In fact, most medicines and drugs are very hard on the stomach lining.

     After the stomach lining is assaulted by these drugs, normal production of HCL will often burn the unprotected part of the stomach and may cause an ulcer.  For those who have experienced this pain, they blame HCL.  But the truth is that hydrochloric acid is needed and essential for digestive function. 

     What I do

     I take HCL with at least one meal per day and generally two.  Whenever I have a meal containing meat, I will usually take two hydrochloric acid tablets.  Rather than causing indigestion the HCL actually helps me digest my food better and get better absorption of protein, calcium, iron and other trace minerals.  In addition it keeps the intestinal tract healthy by maintaining a healthy acid balance.  The chlorides are important for easy and proper elimination.

     Realizing that after 50 I produce only half as much acid as I did when 15 (and I don't recall having digestion problems in my teens, do you?) it makes sense that I would need more not less acid!

     Because I take the HCL with or following my meals, I experience almost no indigestion.  I feel good as a result.  

     People are not told the whole truth about digestion, how food is digested and what the stomach does. They are being allowed to assume that all their problems come from too much acid when the truth in most cases is that they don't have enough acid.

     At Guardian Ministries we try to guard the truth in every facet of life that promotes spiritual growth and understanding, a closer relationship with God and Jesus Christ, better health, better family and social relationships. 

     It is with this hope and intent in mind that we present this article.  May God help you to see, understand and act on the truth.

                                                    --- David L. Antion, Ph.D.