It May Be Low Stomach Acid – not GERD!

 

DISCLAIMER:  I’m not a doctor, nurse, or any other type of medical professional.  I’m only a Certified Aromatherapist who enjoys research.  All of the information I’ve written about below was gathered through my own research and personal experiences in order to help my own frustrating bodily symptoms. Everything stated below is my own opinion, and I do not recommend you doing the same unless you’ve first talked with a Functional Medicine doctor or other medical professional. 

About 5 years ago, my insides felt like they were coming undone.  I had horrible acid reflux, constant belching, nausea, a dull ache under my right rib.  On top of all of that, I had constipation/diarrhea, gas and bloating.  After a quick visit to the gastroenerologist, I was diagnosed with GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) and given a prescription for an acid blocker medication called Omeprazole.

Having GERD makes it hard to eat because of the wrath your favorite foods take out on your innards.  If you love pizza, cookies, pasta, french fries, chocolate or burgers, you will be in a lot of pain after eating them.  I assumed that my doctor was correct in his diagnosis, and didn’t question his authority.  Taking Omeprazole helped my reflux and excessive burping, and I was able to eat again without many issues.  I added digestive enzymes to my diet and that seemed to help with the gas and bloating.

After some research, I discovered that there are multiple causes of GERD symptoms, and by treating them, you could be rid of GERD symptoms forever.  One of those reasons is LOW STOMACH ACID.  That’s right, low stomach acid – not high.

Unfortunately, most doctors today are quick to write a prescription for an acid blocker, rather than seek out the root cause of your digestive issues.  This is  how they miss the fact that you may have low stomach acid.  I suggest making an appointment with a Functional Medicine Doctor to get your symptoms checked out.  Taking Omeprazole could cause your body further harm if you don’t actually have GERD.

Below is a list of symptoms you might be experiencing if you are suffering from either GERD or LOW STOMACH ACID:

Frequent heartburn
Trouble sleeping from heartburn
“Vomit burps”
Sore/scratchy throat
Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
Gas
Bloating
Constipation/diarrhea

Feeling like there’s a lump in your throat
Damaged teeth from stomach acid
Chest pain
Bad breath
Nausea
Dry, brittle, peeling nails
Dry hair
Loss of hair
Acne on your chin
Red broken capillaries on cheeks
Vomiting

During the years I was taking Omeprazole, it felt as though it gave me my life back.  I still had some bloating now and then, and so I took a good digestive enzyme with every meal and it helped with that to an extent.  The entire time I was taking Omeprazole, I had a strange fungal rash on my upper back.  It would never go away.  I assumed the rash was gut-related and that I had a lot of gut healing to do.  My doctor told me it was just tinea versicolor, a non-contagious fungal skin rash.  I’d put anti-fungal creams on the rash, but they would only fade the rash – never heal it.

I noticed that over time, I’d gotten a lot of red broken capillaries over my cheeks.  My clear skin was ruined, as nothing seemed to lessen the redness.  Expensive creams, homemade creams, eating less sugar, etc.  I didn’t know what this was related to, and so I chalked it up to just having fair, Scandinavian skin.

When I’d gotten my Omeprazole My prescription, it apparently had unlimited refills – which is just wrong in and of itself.  So, month after month, year after year, I continued to refill my Omeprazole prescription, not thinking anything of it.  I didn’t want to be on this drug forever, but a few people I know told me that they’d been on it for years and that they were just fine. 

Sadly, I can’t remember the last time I actually had an appointment with the doctor who gave me the Omeprazole prescription.  Out of the 4-5 years I was taking the drug, I believe I only saw him 4 times.  Once for our initial consultation and diagnosis, and a check-up and then for 2 colonoscopies (are you jeally?).

Last year, my friend Erin, a Nurse Practitioner, posted an article on Facebook about the dangers of Omeprazole. This somewhat piqued my interest because I’d never heard of there being any issues with acid blockers.  After reading the article, I shrugged it off.  I figured there was no way I could ever stop taking Omeprazole.  Imagine Gollum from the “Lord of the Rings” holding a bottle of Omeprazole – that would be me.  It would take an elephant tranquilizer dart to the neck to pry “My Precious” Omeprazole from me. 

Fast forward a few years, and I’m making my usual errands on a Saturday.  I stopped at Walgreens to refill my Omeprazole prescription.  The pharmacy assistant said there was a problem and they had to call my doctor to confirm a refill.  I thought to myself, that’s odd, and went about my day.

A week later I receive an online message from my doctor, at the patient portal website, stating that he’s no longer going to refill my prescription because PPIs aren’t recommended for long term use (uhm, okay…why didn’t you tell me this like 4 YEARS AGO, doc???).  He also recommended that I use over-the-counter Omeprazole as needed (No thanks…OTC omeprazole is only good for 14 days at a time, and to be used no more than every 2 months or so). 

A few days after taking my last Omeprazole pill forever, I ate my usual food and got acid reflux.  It was worse than before.  I was hoping it had magically gone away – I was wrong.  After some online research, I discovered this was called “PPI withdrawal.”  I had bloating, gas, vomit coming up to my throat and excessive burping. 

On the weekends, I’m a foodie, food junkie, gorger of goodies, cookie chomper, butter slurper, cheese muncher, pizza hoarder – you name it!  I eat out ALL the time – it’s one of the things my husband and I really enjoy doing together on our date nights.   I love food so much that I was nominated to be on the Yelp ‘Elite’ team for my area – meaning I write Yelp reviews when I go to restaurants and then I get invited to all of Yelp’s free food tasting parties throughout the year.  It’s my thing, and I love it.  How was I going to continue this with such horrible acid reflux??

After some research, and I discovered that there are many natural means to help with acid reflux.  Apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, licorice root, DGL, digestive enzymes, just to name a few.  I’d already been using digestive enzymes, which helped my bloating greatly.  A glimmer of hope!  The only problem was that these just mask acid reflux symptoms.  I needed to figure out the root cause of my GERD symptoms. 

This is when I learned about low stomach acid, and how its symptoms can mimic high stomach acid symptoms.  This was something I never would have imagined.  Was it possible that all my problems have been caused by low acid?  I mean, if my doctor put me on an acid blocker, it must mean I have high stomach acid, right? 

People are diagnosed with GERD because they present various symptoms to their doctors, such as heartburn and acid reflux.  They’re given a PPI prescription and sent on their merry way.  What some doctors aren’t telling you is that those PPIs can cause unnecessary harm to your body if taken longer than 8 weeks.  Some of the side effects of long-term use of PPIs could include:  bone loss, potential increased risk of hypocalcemia, hypomagnesemia, Clostridium difficile infections and pneumonia.  

When you have low stomach acid and eat a large meal, the food gets to your stomach, but there isn’t enough acid to break it up/digest it.  So, the undigested food ferments, which causes gas.  The gas pushes up on the opening that usually keeps your food in your stomach, and causes some stomach acid and food particles to get pushed back up your esophagus and into your throat.  You then complain to your doctor that you have acid reflux, heartburn, etc., and they assume it’s GERD. 

The main problem with taking acid blockers when you have low stomach acid is that it’s blocking even more acid from doing its job!  Your stomach, for lack of a better word, is ‘starving’ for acid.  It needs acid to help you digest, and if you’re not digesting well, you’re not absorbing the minerals and nutrients as well as you could be.  Mineral deficiencies makes your body susceptible to a host of other diseases.

If you have low stomach acid, technically all of your GERD symptoms can go away if you just take Betaine HCL with Pepsin (which is betaine hydrochloride with the digestive enzyme Pepsin.  Pepsin breaks down meat proteins).  Betaine HCL with Pepsin helps aid your body in creating it’s own stomach acid over time.

IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY NOT ON ACID BLOCKERS, and experiencing GERD symptoms, it wouldn’t hurt to test for low stomach acid before going to see a gastroenterologist.  It’s a simple test, and could be the answers to all of your digestive issues!

I’ll explain the test below:

TESTS FOR LOW STOMACH ACID:

  1. Baking Soda Test (Least reliable).  When you first wake up in the morning, before eating or drinking anything, dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of baking in 4-6 oz. of water and drink it down. After you drink it, check the clock. If you do not belch within 5 minutes, you have low stomach acid. If you belch within 2-3 minutes, you don’t have low stomach acid. If you belch a lot, then you have high stomach acid. Don’t mistake small burps for belching. We swallow air when we drink, and little burps might be caused by that. Do this for 3 mornings in a row so that you get a good average reading.
  2. Betaine HCL w/ Pepsin Test (Most reliable).  Get a good bottle of Betaine HCL with Pepsin (about 650 mg) from Amazon.  Take one pill with a meal that consists of at least 4-6 oz of meat protein.  Pepsin helps break down proteins. If you don’t feel a burning sensation in your stomach, that’s a sign you don’t have enough stomach acid.  You will then take 2 pills the next time you have a meaty meal. If you still don’t feel the warmth/burning, add another pill on to the regimen until you feel a warmth/burning sensation in your stomach or chest.  Some people take over 10 pills per protein meal!  When you feel that sensation, you know that your dosage from now on should be one less than you just took.  I currently take 5 with a large protein meal. 

    You will take this dose of pills with each protein meal for as long as you need to manage the symptoms.  Once you feel the burn again, you will decrease by another pill, and so on, until you don’t need to take them anymore. 

Finding out about low stomach acid has been a game changer for me.  Knowing that I don’t actually have GERD after all, is great news.  Now, I can easily treat my issue with Betaine HCL until my body can produce enough acid on its own.  I no longer have GERD symptoms – unless I don’t take enough Betaine HCL with a meal. 

Obviously, if you have other worrisome symptoms, please make an appointment with a doctor – a Functional Medicine Doctor, if you have one in your area.  Before taking any new supplements, be sure to contact your doctor to be sure that there are no interactions with any medications you might be taking already.

I have a good routine going right now, which seems to help me feel my best.  My routine consists of:

1.  Before a Protein Meal:  I take 1-2 aloe vera gels by NOW Foods (I got mine here), and two-three digestive enzymes and my individualized dosage of Betaine HCL w/ Pepsin.

2.  After a Protein Meal:  If I overdid it with junk food, and I feel reflux or bloating, I will either take another Betaine HCL, or I’ll just take another aloe vera gel.   The aloe vera gels help coat the gut and esophagus to keep it from irritation.  I may also take a digestion calming supplement from my essential oil company, which contains a synergistic group of essential oils that all help ease stomach discomforts.

If you purchase aloe vera gels, please make sure to get the good stuff.  It should not contain the part of the plant that contains latex.  That part is toxic.

3.  Probiotics Daily.  I also take a good probiotic daily.  With the American diet, I believe everyone should be on a good probiotic.  They are necessary for maintaining a healthy gut.

4.  Sacchromyces Boulardii.  This is a very specific probiotic that survives your stomach acids and makes it into your lower intestine to fight any bad bacteria that may be causing SIBO.  It is also great to take when traveling to other countries where there might be digestive bacteria that you could pick up in their water, or if you have any type of stomach bug, such as gastroenteritis.

It’s hard to believe, but I’m SO grateful that my doctor cancelled my Omeprazole prescription.  It’s one less prescription that I need to pick up at Walgreens and less harm to my body. 

I should note that, as always, changing your eating habits and exercising regularly help greatly.  I am in the process of finding a lot more Whole30 recipes to add into our family’s mix of meals, so I’m not purposely provoking my gut.  I’m also making my own Homemade Ghee to cook with instead of butter.  It’s great immune systems, it’s anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and doesn’t contain lactose or casein – great for lactose sensitive folks!  And it’s delicious.

You can read about Omeprazole’s harmful effects in this article

If you’re currently on a PPI prescription for major digestive illnesses or ulcers – please stay on your medication and talk to your doctor first about using natural means to manage symptoms.  And DO  NOT take Betaine HCL with Pepsin IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY TAKING PPIs.  You need to have your doctor wean you off of the PPIs before trying Betaine HCL.


Karen Kornichuk
Certified Aromatherapist
Member of National Association
for Holistic Aromatherapy

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