Monday, 6 February 2017

Relieve Heartburn Without Drugs

Heartburn is a nasty condition that affects more than 40% of all Americans. When someone suffers from recurrent bouts of heartburn, they are typically diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD (GORD in Australian/British English). Pharmaceutical medicine has convinced society that the only way to avoid heartburn and its complications is to take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which block acid production in the stomach. This often does not go well. A recently published study found that people over the age of 75 who are on PPIs have a 44% greater risk of dementia, but over 70% of people taking these don't even need them!

But what if you do need them? You also need sufficient stomach acid to properly digest food, in particular, protein. And you need to not die - other problems linked to PPIs are cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and a general increase in mortality. Actually, a common cause of heartburn is a weakened sphincter at the end of the oesophagus, which is meant to keep food, acid and enzymes in the stomach. If it isn't strong enough to close properly, the contents of the stomach can escape back into the oesophagus, causing pain, discomfort and even raising the risk of oesophageal cancer because of the damage. Fortunately, there are natural treatments that can neutralise acid in the oesophagus, while not affecting the pH of the stomach. What are they? A combination of calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate and licorice, particularly flavonoid-rich licorice. Calcium carbonate is an acid buffer, that is, it can reduce the power of acid. When it is taken in a chewable tablet, it can act against acid in the oesophagus and not the stomach. Magnesium carbonate also neutralises acid. Together, these minerals are also necessary for muscle contraction, which is the issue in many GERD/GORD cases, while PPIs can reduce their absorption. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been used to treat ulcers for a long time now, acting as an anti-inflammatory.

In a study of 20 people with GERD, chewable calcium carbonate was compared to swallowable tablets, bi-carb soda solutions or placebo for any effect on acid levels. Volunteers were first given foods that are known triggers for heartburn: cheese, chilli, raw onions and soft drink. Acid levels were monitored for the next 5.5 hours. Within half an hour, the chewable tablets reduced acid much more effectively than swallowed tablets. While oesophageal pH rose significantly, there was no decrease in stomach acid (a higher pH means less acid). A second study tested the effects of calcium carbonate on oesophageal motility, i.e. its ability to contract and push its contents into the stomach, where they belong. For this one, 18 heartburn sufferers were given a tablespoon of acid to swallow. Researchers then measured the amount of time and number of swallows that it took to raise the oesophageal pH back to 5 (mildly acidic). Without calcium carbonate, it took 20 swallows and 12 minutes. With the mineral, it took 12 swallows and 6 minutes.

As for licorice, a randomised, placebo-controlled trial aimed to test the effects of deglycyrrhyzinated licorice extract (DGL) on functional dyspepsia, a condition that includes heartburn as one of its symptoms. Patients given the licorice extract experienced a 51% reduction in their symptom scores, compared to 29% in the placebo group. 56% of those given the extract saw improvements in global efficacy scores, compared to no one in the placebo group. Overall, you don't have to live with either heartburn or the side effects of PPIs, although it is best to see a degree-qualified naturopath.

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