Do you experience frequent heartburn/reflux? Indigestion? Maybe you take over the counter antacid relief, or your doctor prescribed you Nexium (the purple pill) or Prilosec. After all, it makes sense: If you have stomach acid burning your esophagus, you need an antacid to neutralize it for pain relief, right?
Actually, this is not always the case. The majority of reflux patients (> 90 percent) actually have LOW stomach acid, not high stomach acid (called hyperchlorhydria), which is actually not common (source). Conventional medicine has a knack for treating the symptoms without uncovering the underlying cause of what causes the reflux.
In the case of chronic heartburn, 9 times out of 10, the cause is insufficient or alkaline stomach acid, not too much stomach acid.
You Need an Acidic Stomach
Your stomach acid should be around a PH of 2, incredibly acidic, so that it can break down food into a liquid (chyme) that travels to the small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed, and then the large intestine, where waste travels onward and outward to be excreted.
If your stomach acid is at a higher PH, more alkaline, food cannot be properly broken down, and any pathogens, bacteria, or anything else that might be possibly contaminating your food won’t be killed, putting you at risk for food poisoning or intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
When food is not properly broken down, it ferments/putrefies in the intestinal tract, giving off gases and causing a burning sensation that then travels up the esophageal tract. This causes reflux. It also travels out the other end, causing gas and bloating. A lazy esophageal sphincter (LES) that fails to close properly also allows gas and acid to travel backwards and up the esophagus.
Gastritis, inflammation of the stomach lining, is a result of chronic heartburn.
Why Antacids are Not The Solution for Reflux
If you have chronic heartburn, GERD, or ulcers, you may have h pylori, a nasty bacteria that causes ulcers, gastritis, and systemic inflammation that can lead to stomach cancer. The 2005 Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to 2 scientists for “the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease.”
Antacids make heartburn worse because they neutralize acids and therefore raise stomach acid pH further, making it easier for h pylori to thrive and making it harder for you to digest food. That’s why reflux worsens over time. No purple pill will kill h pylori; it will only make conditions in the stomach better for it to thrive over time.
Low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) is a common problem and worsens with age. If you see undigested food in your poop, or if you belch or fart a lot, you likely have low stomach acid and are not absorbing necessary nutrients from your food. Also, low stomach acid makes it easier to contract h pylori and other bugs in the first place.
Of course, reflux can also result from consuming foods to which you’re allergic, and there are many common heartburn triggers such as spicy foods and citrus. But if you are experiencing reflux regularly, time to figure out the cause.
H Pylori and other bugs can be tested for via stool test. Once the h pylori is gone, your stomach and gut can heal; both will be inflamed as a result of the infection. You can take digestive enzymes to help digestion and to increase stomach acid. Follow up the program with a good course of probiotics to recolonize the gut. I cover in depth how to get rid of h pylori here. Check out my 4 step plan to heal your gut here.
Don’t live your life covering up symptoms of a very uncomfortable problem. Why take a pill for the rest of your life when you can get rid of the problem itself?
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.
I stopped prilosec 4 weeks ago, after years of taking it. I am 76, Having trouble with burning and indigestion, no reflux. Will the above regime eventually help me?
If you have h pylori, the mastic gum and DGL can kill it off, but I would recommend trying digestive enzymes and probiotics initially.
Read more here: https://www.maryvancenc.com/troubleshooting-digestive-issues/
Anyone that has a real bad flair up of indigestion boil a few little pieces of ginger root in water and drink that like a tea this is the only thing that has been helping.me and paracetamol when the pain gets really bad probiotics didn’t help much maybe they take a long time to help but I don’t have the patience also apple cider vinegar is suppose to be good any ideas about the truth about that?
i have constant burning pain in my stomach everyday,it worsens when i drink water or eat food, i was diagnosed with GERD and Gastritis 10 months ago. Have been taking anti-acids (pantaprozole sodium 40mg ,Ranitidine 150mg and gaviscon) watched my diet but i have not felt any improvement.I have even changed my sleeping position to be slightly upright and lying on my left side. but so far no improvement. I have frequently visited my GD but he is telling me to finish the 3 month dosage of the above medicine. My GD has changed lots of anti acids but neither of the drugs have responded well to me,please can i get a second oopinion?
Kevin, you should be tested for h pylori, a main cause of GERD. Otherwise, you’ll need to change your diet and work on healing the stomach lining and the gut.
i have a burnig stomach pain afetr eating this started when i started a course of ppi and it is being 9 days off and still have burning pain and loss of appetite. antiacids make my stomach burning worse. what should i take to help my stomach? i started DGl but not sure it is ok since i think i have low acid instead of high. what would you recomend? also coild this be a wothdrawal from the medicime, if so how lucky ng does it last?
Maria, it could be inflammation/gastritis or even h pylori. This post explains low stomach acid: https://www.maryvancenc.com/how-to-get-rid-of-heartburn/
and you’d want to consider stool testing and leaky gut healing: https://www.maryvancenc.com/heal-leaky-gut-naturally/
plus remove irritating foods (gluten, dairy, alcohol, coffee, tomatoes, chocolate, etc).
I have the same complaint. Seems antacids are making the heartburn worse.
I’ve been on Esomeprazole and Domperidone Combination for 8weeks plus. Yet I have very minimal improvement
I tried DGL didn’t seem to help at all. Tried slippery elm too.
The only thing that seemed to work is Zinc Carnosine. And since I ran out of it 2weeks ago, the heartburn is almost persistent.
It’s so frustrating.
I’ve removed dairy, beans ,Red meat, onions, garlic, tomatoes and even grains from my diet yet I haven’t improved significantly.
I don’t understand why my husband who has constant burping and acid coming up is helped by the purple pill, if you supposedly need more acid in your stomach instead of less.
Lorna, that is a very good question. Also, this is very old post. I have a newer, more detailed post on GERD and reflux: https://www.maryvancenc.com/how-to-get-rid-of-heartburn/
The answer is that when food isn’t digesting properly, it ferments instead of mixing with proper amounts of stomach acid (and enzymes), and the gases travel up the esophagus, causing burning. Antacids neutralize those gases but in the longterm make the problem much worse. I explain it all in detail in this post https://www.maryvancenc.com/how-to-get-rid-of-heartburn/