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Episode 628
The Doctor's Farmacy

How To Reverse Acid Reflux

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Heartburn and reflux are major problems for so many people. At least 10 percent of Americans have episodes of heartburn every day and 44 percent have symptoms at least once a month. So why are we suffering from reflux? What is the cause? Is it something we are doing or something we are eating? Is there some other factor that’s driving this epidemic?

In today’s episode of my series I’m calling Health Bites, I discuss simple actions you can take to uncover the root cause of your reflux, the problem with acid-blocking drugs, and more.

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Transcript Note: Please forgive any typos or errors in the following transcript. It was generated by a third party and has not been subsequently reviewed by our team.

Narrator:
Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Reflux is common. It doesn’t mean that there’s something defective in human design, it means that we’re doing the wrong things to our body and our bodies are rebelling. They are clues your body needs to actually do something different. Your body is calling for your attention, and symptoms are basically warning signs. They’re not meant to be suppressed, they’re meant to be investigated.
Hey everybody, welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s Farmacy with an F, a place for conversations that matter. And today I’m bringing you a new feature of the Doctor’s Farmacy podcast called Health Bites, to improve your health by taking small steps that can have a big difference in the long term. And today we’re talking about our really common problem, reflux, also known as heartburn, a more advanced version, but it’s what we used to call heartburn. And it’s a big problem. It affects about 10% of Americans who have this every day. That’s millions and millions, tens of millions of people. And 44%, almost half the population have symptoms at least once a month. Now overall, reflux and we call it GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease, or heartburn, basically affects 25 to 35% of the population. And acid-blocking drugs, Nexium, Prevacid, AcipHex, Prilosec, Purple Pill, they’re the third leading cost of drugs in terms of sales.
What is a bad design flaw, we’re humans just poorly designed, and we are subject to this condition because we’re human, or is there something we’re doing that’s causing it? And rather than just taking a drug to suppress stomach acid, which we desperately need to digest our food to absorb minerals, to absorb B12, to digest protein, those drugs are super powerful and they shut off so many important digestive functions and they cause secondary problems, including irritable bowel, bloating, community-acquired pneumonia, osteoporosis, B12 deficiency, the list goes on and on. These are not really safe drugs in the long term. They cost a lot of secondary downstream effects and they’re not side effects or just effects we don’t like. They are pretty consistent. So what, when we do, if we can’t take these drugs, we have to look at the root causes.
So let’s get down into it. What are the big factors? Dietary factors are huge. So fried foods, spicy foods, citrus foods, tomato-based foods, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, smoking, all drive reflux up. So if you are eating these foods, you might want to stop them and see if that has an impact, although there may be other factors. Eating before bed for sure will cause reflux. Eating with a full stomach that you’re already full, basically overeating, being overweight and your stomach gets pushed up by all the fat in your stomach and that big belly causes reflux. Chronic stress inhibits your digestion. You do not want to be digesting your meal when you’re running from a saber-toothed tiger. So your gut shuts it down and things back up. So, that’s not good.
Magnesium is really important. About 45% of Americans are low in magnesium or deficient or insufficient. Magnesium comes from eating beans and greens and a lot of things we don’t eat, nuts and seeds. And we’re efficient also because we do a lot of things that cause efficiency or stress, which cause us to pee out magnesium. We drink a lot of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, all deplete magnesium. And that is needed to relax the cincture in the lower part of your stomach to let the food go down. If it’s not enough magnesium in your body, it’ll stay contracted and the food will come up.
Another big factor are food sensitivities. So people don’t often realize, but it could be gluten, dairy are the most common. I would definitely get rid of those and see if it helps. Bad bugs often, bacterial overgrowth, that bug’s growing in your gut, used growing in your gut. We call it SIFO or SIBOs. Small intestinal fungal overgrowth or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth really can be a problem. If you eat a lot of sugar, processed foods. If you’re constipated. If you have motility issues. Basically, you can get this bacterial overgrowth and that causes more problems, because the food doesn’t move through. It ferments and you get gas and it’s just a whole problem.
There’s also a bacteria that can cause this. It’s known to cause ulcers called helicobater pylori, h pylori. And it’s really common. It’s often not a huge problem for people. But if you have persistent reflux or have an ulcer, it’s important to get tested and treated for it. And we’ll talk about how to test for things.
So there’s a lot of causes that have to do with what you eat, and you want to focus on getting rid of those things that are driving it. There’s a lot of stress factors, obviously bad lifestyle, things like caffeine, alcohol and smoking, bacterial issues in your gut, food sensitivities, all can drive reflux.
And it’s not just about taking a pill to shut off stomach acid, it’s about fixing the underlying problem. So what are the things you can do? What are the ways you can actually see if any of these things are a big factor? Well fix your diet. So get rid of foods that may be common triggers like spicy foods, citrus foods, tomato-based foods, fried foods. Get rid of food sensitivities for a while. Gluten, dairy are the most common, but there may be other ones like eggs or certain things that can be a factor. The 10 day detox diet is a very good elimination diet that helps reset your system and heal your gut. Often will fix this in a minute. Get rid of things like alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, which all trigger reflux. So don’t think about it as forever, but try it for a while and see, oh geez, when I drink I get reflux. Or when I have coffee, I get reflux. Or whatever I’m doing is triggering it.
Also, lifestyle. Make sure you don’t eat two or three hours before bed. Digest your food. Don’t feel stressed when you eat. Your body needs to be in a relaxed state to digest your food, in order for the cincture to relax, the food to go through and everything to work, you can’t be under stress. So I recommend people to do something called the take five practice. Just take five breaths in, five breaths out just before you eat. It’ll calm your nervous system. It’ll activate the vagus nerve and relax all the sympathetic activation that often inhibits proper digestion.
So what other things can you do? Well, there’s certain supplements that can really help rather than taking medication. So instead of using Tums or Rolaids or that kind of stuff, you can use licorice. Actually something called DGL de glyceride licorice, which you can chew two or three tablets before you eat and then often can be really effective, and before bed.
Also, I use a combination of glutamine, which has been really well-studied and it’s used a lot in Japan and other countries, but not so much if you have a reflux. Glutamine is an important amino acid, but it helps as the fuel for the gut lining and it helps heal and soothe the gut. Aloe also helpful, licorice combination. So it’s a glutamine, aloe, licorice combination. It’s a powder, a teaspoon, pinch, 15 minutes before you eat can be very effective. Probiotics also can be very helpful. Digestive enzymes help break down the food. Magnesium also really important, relaxes the digestive system. And also you can add something called zinc carnosine. Carnosine is really important also in helping the digestive function. Zinc is important for activating your enzymes.
So remember the key is not to take these acid blocking drugs, which cause real problems. And the data’s pretty strong on these. They can cause bacterial overgrowth and irritable bowel. So you trade one gut problem for another. They can cause pneumonia, they can cause B12 deficiency, zinc deficiency, other mineral deficiencies. They’ve been linked to osteoporosis. So short-term fine, but long-term not a good idea. The key is not taking a drug, it’s finding the root cause.
So let’s say you do all these lifestyle things, you change your diet, you do an elimination diet, you get rid of the fried and spicy foods, you take the magnesium, you relax, you take probiotics and do all this wonderful stuff that we just talked about. You get rid of alcohol, caffeine. What happens if you’re still struggling? Well, you need to kind of dig deeper. I would encourage people to test for H pylori. That can be a breath test. It can be a stool antigen test are the best ones. You want to check for gluten sensitivity. I use a panel called Cyrex three. But you can also do Steel A antibodies that you can get from Lab Core, Quest. Regular lab food sensitivities may be a factor. Gluten and dairy. And there’s my favorite lab is Cyrex, and I use Cyrex four, which is a cross-reactive panel against gluten. Check your stool test, look at what’s going on in your gut. Look at digestive enzyme function. Look at whether you’re maldigesting foods, whether there’s healthy bacteria or not, or you have bacterial overgrowth or fungal overgrowth.
And then you got to treat those things. So I actually wrote a whole textbook chapter on how to treat reflux using functional medicine. And it’s one of the things we do the best at. So I encourage you to not be despairing and certainly don’t think you need to take a drug for the rest of your life to inhibit your stomach acid.
Because while it can help in the short term and long term, it’s a problem. And I would just add one caveat. Often if people are on these drugs and they want to come off them, you can do all these things that I mention. But even if you stop the drug, you’re going to have problems. And here’s why. We get something called rebound acid production. So when you stop an acid blocking drug like Prilosec or Prevacid, your body will rebound and produce way more acid. So that’ll make you think you need to take the drug. But the best way around this is to fix all the root causes that we just talked about and then slowly taper the drug. So I would basically cut the dose in half and take it every other day, every third day. You can sort of slowly ween off over a couple of weeks, and that often will really kind of mitigate a lot of the problems of getting off it.
So reflux is common. It doesn’t mean that there’s something defective in human design. It means that we’re doing the wrong things for our body and our bodies are rebelling. They’re clues your body needs to actually do something different. Your body is calling for your attention. And symptoms are basically warning signs. They’re not meant to be suppressed, they’re meant to be investigated. And unfortunately most of our healthcare system is about just suppressing and shutting down things as opposed to optimizing and improving the function of things, which is why we call it functional medicine. So this is really a powerful strategy for fixing reflux. It’s one of those home runs in functional medicine. I love seeing patients with it who’ve been struggling for years because they get so much better.
Be sure to share this podcast with your friends and family, subscribe wherever you hear podcasts, and we’ll see you next time on the Doctor’s Farmacy.

Narrator:
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search there, find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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