How Reflux and Heartburn Develops
Most doctors have probably told you that you have TOO MUCH stomach acid. Today, I’m going to warp your brain and explain how you might actually have TOO LITTLE stomach acid.
As it stands now, tons of Americans are taking heartburn or reflux medications like Prilosec (omeprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole), and Zantac (ranitidine). It is a growing problem. In fact, if you’re reading this article, there’s a high chance that you’re taking a stomach acid reducing medication. These medications are in the top five most prescribed and used drugs in America. We have been told that if you have heartburn, inflamed stomach lining, peptic ulcers, or reflux that you need to be taking stomach acid reducers to protect your stomach because you have too much stomach acid.
The proposed mechanism is that your stomach is making too much stomach acid, and it’s pouring into your throat (esophagus) and causing your symptoms. It has nothing to do with the fast food, candy, and soda that we might drink every day.
However, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that for many people this is completely wrong. I, like most other medical doctors, were taught information that was believed to be true, but may actually not be true.
Here’s the counter argument. After reading this explanation, you can make the decision for yourself. Which one makes more sense to you?
The stomach is a rather simple organ. It is responsible for beginning digestion. It has two main ways to digest.
The first way is for it to create stomach acid, which breaks down fats and proteins. The second way is by mechanical churning. This is like kneading dough – its physical labor.
The stomach prefers to break food down with stomach acid while doing very little churning. There are two outlets from the stomach: Up or Down.
- Contents can go up into the esophagus and cause heartburn, coughing, sore throat, horse voice, and throat clearing.
- Or, more appropriately, the stomach contents can go down into the small intestine through the pylorus.
These two exits are not equal. The pylorus (down) is more like a bank door vault. It only opens if you hit the right combination. For the pylorus, the right combination is the appropriate amount of acid: a lot of acid!
The other exit, the one that goes up into your esophagus, is a very poor door. It’s more like a screen door. Things can enter fairly easily with little force.
Now that you understand how contents leave the stomach, let’s imagine a scenario. Imagine that you are a standard American. You eat regular amounts of fast food and soda. You consume too much sugar combined with saturated and trans fats. You’re expecting your stomach to be able to break down these foods. However, over time, the stomach cannot keep up with the amount of acid required to break down these heavy foods. Especially since the amount of inflammation and stress in your body is beginning to affect the cells of your stomach.
Since the stomach can’t break down the food chemically due to lack of stomach acid, it begins relying on the churning more heavily. The stomach wrenches down on the minimally digested food, attempting to push it out either exit. The stomach attempts to force food through the pylorus, but it is shut tight. The pylorus, the bank vault door, remains closed. While the stomach is increasing pressure on the food, some of it begins refuxing up to the esophagus through “the screen door” since it is easily pushed open.
So, as the stomach wrenches and writhes, it begins shooting acid into your swallowing tube, your airway, and your sinuses. This can cause a myriad of symptoms from sore throat, sinus drainage, and heartburn. Some people only have a nagging cough that never goes away. It can also cause mucous on your vocal cords. Do you clear your throat excessively?
While I will agree that the symptoms are caused by acid, I will not agree that it is caused by too much acid in all cases. Quite frankly, the only place that acid should be found is inside the walls in the stomach. Therefore, any amount of acid not inside of the stomach should cause symptoms.
Now that you understand how decreased stomach acid can cause heartburn and reflux, you may be eager to find out how to get off of those addictive stomach acid reducers. Read my next blog to learn how to improve stomach acid and digestion: