3 Simple steps to eliminate heartburn and acid reflux huffpost heartburn after gastric sleeve

At least 10 percent of Americans have episodes of heartburn every day, and 44 percent have symptoms at least once a month. Overall, reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as heartburn) affects a whopping 25 to 35 percent of the US population! ( i) As a result, acid-blocking medications are the third top-selling type of drug in America today. Two other drugs to treat reflux, Nexium and Prevacid, are among the world’s best-selling drugs( ii) and account for $5.1 and $3.4 billion in sales annually (in 2006)!

Things have certainly changed since I was in medical school. In those days, GERD wasn’t even considered a serious disease. Instead, people had heartburn or ulcers, but that was pretty much it. When acid-blocking drugs first came on the market, even the pharmaceutical representatives warned us how powerful these drugs were.


They told us not to prescribe them any longer than six weeks and only for patients with documented ulcers.

Now, these drugs are given like candy to anyone who ate too many hot dogs at a ball game — and one drug, Prilosec, is available without a prescription. Their manufacturers have created the illusion that we can eat whatever we want with no consequences, just by popping a pill. They even have commercials showing a family rushing to stop their father from eating a big sausage with fried onions and peppers — and he tells them not to worry because he took his acid-blocking pill!

I know someone who used to work for the makers of Pepcid, another acid blocker. He told me that when it first became available over the counter, teams of drug company representatives would stand at the gates of county fairs and southern barbecues and hand out free samples.

Acid blocking drugs obviously block 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.

The research also tells us that taking these drugs can cause dangerous overgrowth of bacteria in the intestine called Clostridia, leading to life-threatening infections.( iv) For many more people, low-grade overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine leads to bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea (many of the common side effects noted in the warnings for these drugs). This can cause irritable bowel syndrome.

In addition, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that chronic use of acid-blocking drugs leads to an increase in the development of osteoporosis and increase in hip fracture because blocking acid prevents the absorption of calcium and other minerals necessary for bone health.(v)

Fried food, alcohol, caffeine, and soda can all trigger reflux. Spicy, tomato-based or citrus foods may also cause problems for some people. Smoking also increases the risk of reflux. Being overweight and having your belly fat push up on your stomach can prevent it from emptying, triggering reflux. Having a hiatal hernia (where your stomach pushes up through your diaphragm) can also cause trouble and can be diagnosed by x-ray. Eating large meals and eating before bed are two other main reasons for reflux. These are the most obvious causes, and the ones you have probably heard about. However, there are a few more that bear mentioning.

Stress contributes to reflux. Clearly, food is supposed to go down, not up, when you eat. That’s why there are two main valves, or sphincters, that control food going in and out of your stomach — the one at the top (or the lower esophageal sphincter) and one at the bottom (the pyloric valve). When you’re stressed, the valve on the top relaxes and the valve on the bottom tightens up. This may result in food traveling back up your esophagus. Practice active relaxation and you mitigate this problem.

While controversial, I believe that a common infection can cause not just ulcers but reflux as well. This bug is called Helicobacter pylori and can be identified by a simple test blood or breath test. In my experience with patients, this treating the bacteria can eliminate reflux even if you don’t have an ulcer.

Food sensitivities or allergies can also cause reflux. Common culprits include dairy and gluten-containing foods like wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Plus, overgrowth of bacteria in the small bowel or yeast overgrowth in the gut can cause reflux.

Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.