Gut health has become a prominent focus in Functional Medicine. Having too many bad bugs and not enough good bugs has been linked to numerous diseases and challenges such as obesity, diabetes, allergies, autoimmune diseases, eczema, cancer, heart disease and even autism. The connection between gut imbalances and chronic disease is growing stronger every day.
Today, we are talking about two challenges that involve deep gut healing: heartburn/acid reflux and candida.
Steps for Dealing with Heartburn
Our first question comes from Laurie who called in. “I’ve got 24-hour-a-day heartburn,” she says, “should I continue the Eat Fat, Get Thin Plan or not? Is heartburn too much acid or too little acid?”
When acid-blocking drugs first came on the market, even the pharmaceutical representatives warned us about how powerful these drugs were. They told us to prescribe them only to patients with documented ulcers and for no longer than six weeks. Now, these drugs are given out like candy to anyone who consumed too many hot dogs at a ball game — and one drug, Prilosec, is available without a prescription.
Acid-blocking drugs obviously block stomach acid that can cause symptoms of heartburn and reflux. But your body actually needs stomach acid to stay healthy. Stomach acid is necessary to digest protein and food, activate digestive enzymes in your small intestine, keep the bacteria from growing in your small intestine, and help you absorb important nutrients like calcium, magnesium and vitamin B12.
There’s evidence that taking these medications can prevent you from properly digesting food, cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and leading to problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, depression, hip fractures and more.
Root Cause of Heartburn and Reflux
Let’s take a look at the major causes of heartburn and acid reflux:
- Your diet. Fried food, alcohol, caffeine and soda can all trigger reflux. Spicy, tomato-based or citrus foods may also cause problems for some people.
- Smoking. Among its other health issues this habit causes, it also increases the risk of reflux.
- Being overweight. Excess belly fat pushes on your stomach and can prevent it from emptying, triggering reflux.
- Having a hiatal hernia (where your stomach pushes up through your diaphragm) can also cause trouble; this is easily diagnosed by having an x-ray.
- Eating large meals and eating just before bed are two contributors to reflux.
- Stress. Clearly, food is supposed to go down, not up, when you eat. There are two main valves (or sphincters) that control food going into and out of your stomach —one at the top (known as the lower esophageal sphincter) and one at the bottom (the pyloric valve). When you’re stressed, the top valve relaxes and the bottom valve tightens up. This may result in food traveling back up your esophagus. Practice active relaxation and you mitigate this problem.
- Magnesium deficiency is another cause of reflux because magnesium helps the sphincter at the bottom of the stomach relax, allowing the food to go down.
- A common infection, known as Helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori) causes not only ulcers but also reflux. It’s easily identified using a simple blood or breath test. In my experience with patients, treating this bacterial infection can eliminate reflux even if you don’t have an ulcer.
- Food sensitivities or allergies. Common culprits include dairy and gluten-containing foods like wheat, barley, rye and oats. Consuming foods that you have sensitivities to can cause an overgrowth of bacteria in the small bowel or yeast overgrowth in the gut and can result in reflux.
Steps for Dealing with Heartburn and Acid Reflux
By following the Eat Fat, Get Thin plan, Laurie, has already implemented a lot of these changes into her life. So, my recommendation to her would be to continue to maintain the dietary changes, and find a Functional Medicine doctor who can help her dig a bit deeper and take the following steps:
- Get the H. pylori blood antibody test or breath test. If you have H. pylori, treat it with triple antibiotic therapy from your doctor.
- Test for IgG food allergies and celiac disease.
- Get a breath or urine organic acid test to check for small bowel bacterial overgrowth. Ask your doctor about treating bacterial overgrowth with Xifaxin.
- If you have yeast overgrowth, treat it with antifungal drugs such as nystatin or Diflucan; herbs, such as oregano; or caprylic acid, found in foods like coconut oil and also available in supplement form.
- Try some natural remedies to help soothe the gut:
- Take 2 to 3 capsules of digestive enzymes with each meal.
- Re-inoculate the gut with healthy bacteria by using probiotics.
- Try 75 to 150 mg of zinc carnosine twice a day between meals — this has been extensively studied and is used frequently in Japan.
- Take 3 to 5 grams of glutamine powder in water twice a day to help heal the gut lining.
- Chew 2 to 3 chewable tablets of DGL (a form of licorice) 15 minutes before meals.
- Try 200 to 400 mg of magnesium citrate or glycinate twice a day.
Getting Rid of Stubborn Candida
Our next question comes from Jacqueline who writes, “Coming across huge #’s of people like myself suffering with chronic systemic candida. All these people have done rounds of botanicals, prescription anti-fungals, only to have it return. Any advice?”
Yeast overgrowth is quite common, but many people don’t know they have it and conventional doctors tend to ignore it. In medical school, we are taught that you either have a disease or you don’t. It’s black and white. However, our bodies weren’t designed with an “on” or “off” switch for disease. All diseases occur in shades of gray, creating a continuum of imbalance along a spectrum of disease. And Unfortunately subtle problems related to yeast are usually ignored and not linked to patient’s complaints. If a subject is not taught in medical school, it is assumed to not be real. Medical history proves this is a dangerous assumption.
We know that yeast overgrowth can be triggered by a number of things. These include a high-sugar, high-fat, low-fiber diet; impaired immunity; use of drugs, like antibiotics, birth control pills, estrogen, and steroids (like prednisone); and psychological stress.
Although symptoms of yeast overgrowth are similar to those of many other conditions. You may have a yeast problem if you have any of these problems:
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of energy
- General malaise
- Decreased libido
- Bloating and gas
- Intestinal cramps
- Rectal itching
- Altered bowel function such as diarrhea or constipation
- Yeast infections
- Frequent bladder infections
- Interstitial cystitis (irritable bladder)
- Menstrual irregularities like pain, bleeding, etc.
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Inability to concentrate
- Chemical sensitivities
- Low immune function
- Chronic antibiotic use for infections or acne
- Sensitivity to foods, chemicals or other allergens
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Craving for foods rich in carbohydrates or yeast
- Toenail fungus
I recommend a systematic approach to yeast overgrowth. Taking the following steps can help overcome this common yet underdiagnosed ailment:
Overcoming Yeast Overgrowth
1. Address predisposing factors. Don’t take antibiotics, steroids or hormones unless absolutely medically necessary.
2. Eat a diet that doesn’t feed yeast in the gut – low in sugar and refined carbohydrates, and low in foods that contain mold and yeast. For many, this might mean eating this way for a long period of time and sticking to a low-sugar diet indefinitely.
3. Use probiotics to repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria.
4. Take antifungal herbs and medications when indicated.
5. Identify potential environmental toxic fungi and molds in your home or workplace.
6. Reduce stress.
To see my full candida and yeast protocol, click here.
Now I want to hear from you. Are you dealing with heartburn or candida? What steps are you taking? Comment on my Facebook page. If you liked this video, be sure to share it with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. Also, do you have a question for our House Call series? Send me a tweet @markhymanmd and maybe next week I’ll make a House Call to you.
Wishing you health & happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD