The second highest selling prescription drug in the US right now is something called Nexium, which is used to treat acid reflux. GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is the most common digestive disorder in North America, results in symptoms like heartburn and acid reflux. 60% of North Americans* will experience symptoms this year, and 20-30% will experience it this week.
Today, I’m going to explain to you why your understanding of heartburn and antacids is perhaps not what you thought, and how you can easily prevent GERD in a few simple steps.
Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal valve opens (when it shouldn’t), resulting in stomach acid coming up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation, known as heartburn. Keep in mind that stomach acid in your stomach is actually a good thing as your stomach is lined properly to handle the acidity - it's acid in the esophagus that isn't a good thing.
Pressure from the stomach is one of the main causes of the esophageal valve opening, which is triggered by a few things: overeating, obesity, or spicy/fatty foods.
While overeating, obesity and spicy foods are definitely contributors, people who are a completely normal weight and don’t really eat spicy foods still experience symptoms and here’s why: undigested foods and/or poor bacteria balance in the gut ALSO cause pressure on the stomach, leading to acid reflux. Here's the thing though, undigested food and/or poor bacteria balance can be a direct result of low stomach acid. Remember that – low stomach acid.
To take this one step further, we know that acid reflux and heartburn are thought to be a result of too much stomach acid; interestingly though, GERD incidences increase with age, while stomach acid decreases with age. When tests have been done on groups experiencing symptoms from GERD, over 90% actually had low stomach acid, not high stomach acid.
The stomach naturally has a very low pH, which means most bacteria can’t survive in that climate. Without low stomach acid though, bacteria can thrive, and as bacteria digest the food you eat, primarily carbohydrates, they ferment and produce stomach gas, leading us back to the pressure from the stomach causing acid reflux.
Now that we’ve established that low stomach acid is the primary cause of GERD, you can understand why antacids don’t get to the root cause of the issue. Since they continue to reduce acidity, they can actually make it worse! Yes, they'll alleviate your immediate symptom of the burning from acid in your esophagus, but they continue to lower your stomach acid in the stomach, which results in weak digestion, undigested food, and more pressure on the stomach.
So, here are some simple ideas to increase your stomach acid and address the root cause of acid reflux: