What Causes Acid Reflux?
One of the most common complaints I see in my practice is acid reflux and GERD. Did you know that Nexium is the #2 prescribed drug in America with over $6 billion dollars in sales?! And that’s just Nexium! There are many other Rx drugs that either neutralize stomach acid or stop acid production. Other common names for these are: Omeprazole, Prilosec, Prevacid, Zantac, Naproxan and Pepcid. Many of these can be obtained over the counter now without a prescription. And then there are the old stand bys too like Tums and Rolaids.
Since this class of drugs is so commonly prescribed, there is obviously a stomach acid crisis going on in America! Acid production must be off the charts for many Americans. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The acid reflux crisis in America is a reflection of stomach acid deficiency, not overproduction. Yep, you heard me correctly. For the vast majority of people with acid reflux and/or GERD the problem is that they make too little acid.
How and why does this happen? First off, stomach acid is hydrochloric acid (HCL) and one of the key components is chloride. Where does the body get chloride? How about from sodium chloride, aka salt? But, salt is BAD for us, right? Well, that’s another blog post that is coming, but the short answer is NO. Salt is a necessary nutrient for lots of reasons, one of which is to provide one of the key building blocks for HCl.
Another factor is chronic zinc deficiency. Many people have very low Zn status because of poor soil quality, eating too many processed foods, and being stressed out (stress is a major factor that affects mineral balance). Zinc is needed for the body to produce HCl. Low zinc= low HCl.
The last factor I’d like to highlight is a weakened Cardiac Sphincter (CS). The CS is gatekeeper between the esophagus and the stomach. It is supposed to close tightly after food passes through and stay shut while food is broken down in the stomach. Remember my north to south post? The digestive process goes north to south. When it backs up and goes the opposite direction, there is a huge problem. The CS gets weak and loses its integrity when the diet contains too much sugar, processed foods and alcohol.
Imagine a closed Tupperware full of chewed up food that is sitting in a car that is 98.6°. It starts to rot, putrefy and expand, right? Left too long and the top might pop right off! Well, when there isn’t enough HCl in the stomach to quickly start to break food down and send it south to the duodenum, then it sits there and starts to rot, putrefy and expand. Then the weakened CS “pops” open and ugh, acid that was too weak to break down the food, hits the esophagus and since the esophagus doesn’t have a protective lining like the stomach, even a little acid will burn. Ouch!
Stayed tuned for my next blog entry which will give some suggestions for alleviating acid reflux without Rx drugs. (Read it here)