Heartburn. If you have it, you want it to go away. And you're not the only one suffering.
The United States is the world's heartburn leader: 25 million people experience heartburn daily and 60 percent have digestive problems on a regular basis, according to the National Heartburn Alliance.
Heartburn, or acid indigestion, may be a symptom of gastro- esophageal reflux disease, GERD. If you have it often, along with difficulty swallowing, chest pain, nausea and a sour taste in you mouth, consult with you physician.
About 10 percent of GERD suffers may develop a serious pre-cancerous condition, Barrett's esophagus.
Antacids may spell temporary relief for heartburn, but antacids may also spell long-term side effects when overused.
Reducing stomach acid may not be the best cure for heartburn, since inadequate hydrochloric acid is more common than excess acid production; both conditions often produce similar symptoms.
Jonathan Wright, physician and co-author of "Why Stomach Acid is Good for You," found that 90 percent of his patients with GERD had too little stomach acid.
"Overuse of antacids can inhibit absorption of essential nutrients, vitamins B6, B12, folate, zinc, iron and calcium and impair digestion of protein, minerals ... and over many years, may lead to depression, osteoporosis and arthritis," he wrote.
Low-salt diets may contribute to HCl deficiency because sodium and chloride help stimulate hydrochloric acid production.
Heartburn drugs are also being linked to pneumonia, especially in the elderly or people with asthma.
Researchers in the Netherlands reported that people taking proton pump inhibitors (Nexium, Prevacid or Prilosec) had double the risk of developing pneumonia. Taking Tagamet and Pepsid also elevated the risk.
In her digestive guidebook, "Gut Solutions," physician Brenda Watson describes HCl as one of nature's most essential antibiotics.
"It neutralizes the bacteria present on all the raw vegetables you eat."
Over time, the use of antacids may make your body more inviting to yeast infections and h, pylori, the bacteria associated with gastric ulcers.
According to Dr. Watson, calcium-based acid neutralizers, such as Tums, Rolaids, Mylanta and Pepto Bismol, are alkaline compounds that may adversely affect the bowel and promote constipation or diarrhea.
Ironically, the calcium in products such as Tums is in an inorganic form, calcium carbonate, which is very poorly absorbed. It actually neutralizes the HCl required for it to be used by the body. Many of these antacids contain sodium or aluminum and can interfere with the absorption of other drugs and antibiotics.
"Prilosec should only be taken for a short time ... I'm wary of it and instead recommend using a natural product, DGL," writes Andrew Weil, integrative physician.
De-glycyrrhizinated licorice does not suppress stomach acid. It protects and soothes the lining of the stomach and inhibits bacteria that cause ulcers. The component in licorice that causes those effects has been removed for DGL. It is inexpensive and safe to use.
Foods that aggravate reflux include coffee, tea, carbonated beverages and alcohol, as well as garlic, raw onions, mint, fatty foods, citrus, tomatoes and spicy food.
If you chew gum between meals, your stomach will produce more acid when it's not needed.
Drugs such as Valium, progesterone and nitroglycerine may also trigger heartburn.
Popular home remedies to improve digestion include drinking aloe vera juice, sipping apple cider vinegar at mealtime, eating fresh pineapple or papaya and drinking chamomile, slippery elm or ginger tea.
Also consider taking digestive enzymes and probiotic (acidophilus) supplement to restore beneficial bacteria to your digestive tract.
Simple lifestyle changes may often improve or eliminate heartburn. Sleep on your left side, don't lie down or lift anything heavy for three hours after eating, don't slump during or after meals, eat slowly, chew food to a mush and avoid overeating. Drink ample water, but do not use ice or drink with meals.
Applying these suggestions for a few weeks can provide significant relief. Saying goodbye to heartburn means saying hello to better overall health.
The information in this article is for educational purposes. Consult your physician if you have a medical condition.
Margot Bennett is a licensed nutritionist at Mother Nature's Pantry, located in the Garden Square Shoppes, 4513 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call her at (561) 626-4461.