The Stomach Acid Myth: The Real Root Cause of Heartburn + 5 Tips to Implement Now

The Myth:

Heartburn or acid reflux is caused by the stomach producing too much acid.

The Truth:

Heartburn or acid reflux is caused by the stomach producing too little acid.

Most people are confused and misguided on the true cause of heartburn, or acid reflux. This is not your fault, as our culture tends to focus on providing relief from a symptom rather than fixing the root of a problem. We see advertisements all over the place for antacids, so we think that if an antacid will provide relief, and because acid is coming up, this must mean that the body is producing too much acid. However, this is very rarely the case. 

The most common cause of heartburn (obviously there are other causes and factors but we are focusing on the majority here) is that the stomach is creating too little acid to break down the food fully, which causes the food to sit in the stomach for too long, allowing it to ferment and for bacteria to grow. This fermentation process causes a lot of pressure, and with nowhere else to go, it goes up the esophagus, causing the heartburn sensation. The pH of the stomach is meant to be between 1.5-3.0. The esophagus, however is not hospitable to an acidic environment, hence the burning feeling in the chest. 

Over-the-counter antacids and acid reducers such as zantac and prilosec only help with the symptom, but if taken long-term actually damage the system even more. Most doctors know that these drugs are not meant for long-term consumption, but it seems this information is very rarely passed on to the patient. This may be because most people self-prescribe themselves these drugs since they are offered without a prescription. The danger in this is that people are not educated on the long-term implications of taking a drug that is only meant for short-term use. Why would you want to lower the acid in an environment that is already too low?

Low stomach acid is a common problem in developed nations. According to Jonathon Wright, MD (author of “Why Stomach Acid is Good for You), approximately 90% of Americans produce too little stomach acid. He arrived at this conclusion after measuring the stomach pH of thousands of patients in his clinic.

The stomach is meant to be acidic. This is how it breaks down our food. We need to strengthen the stomach's ability to break down food, by allowing and encouraging it to be acidic. Not having enough stomach acid not only leads to heartburn, but also to many digestive complaints, as the digestive system is all connected. It is a one-way highway, if there is a slow car blocking the road, it will affect the whole highway. But do not get confused, this does not mean that you should be eating a predominantly acidic diet. Diets that are high in acidic foods can cause a lot of harm to the digestive system. We want to strengthen the digestive system from the root so that the stomach is functioning properly and producing the ideal amounts of acid to help break down food. 

So how do we fix the problem? 

This will be a process, but it is well worth it. Here are some tips on how to improve stomach acid. 

-Start your day with warm lemon water with raw honey. Add lemon and apple cider vinegar to your meals, especially if you eat meat. They can easily be splashed on almost all meals. 

-Drink water and liquids away from heavy meals. Make sure to get adequate amounts of water, but liquids are best absorbed on an empty stomach. Too much liquid with foods makes digestion difficult. Avoid iced drinks as this puts out the digestive fire, and makes the body work harder than it needs to in order to regulate temperature. 

-Add more ginger and peppermint into your diet. This can be fresh, or dried as a tea. This is a great digestive tea.

-Use digestive enzymes to help break down your food. This allows you to maximize the nutrients that your body will absorb from your food. My favorite ones are these

-Add in probiotics and prebiotics. This is especially important if you are not eating fermented foods on a daily basis. Probiotics are the good bacteria, and prebiotics are the food that feeds the good bacteria. Taking them together will optimize the results and allow your system to keep on thriving. I recommend these probiotics and these  prebiotics

These tips are just a few things to implement now, but this is not intended to diagnose or treat your disease.  I suggest finding a good Acupuncturist/Nutritionist to put you on an individualized plan to optimize results. Acupuncture and herbal medicine is amazing at balancing out the digestive system and providing relief from heartburn and acid reflux.