Reflux or GERD is a topic of concern today. I receive a lot of questions from my patients as we go over their drug list about stomach and gut health in general. The word indigestion means lack of digestion and is a very common problem. Many people are on antacids or prescribed medication for their digestion. Most of these medications treat only symptoms, such as gas. The real cause of reflux in my experience is due to not enough stomach acid, which causes gas to develop. The lack of protein digestion causes methane gas to occur. Protein is the most difficult form of food to digest and requires more acid in the stomach, not less. Protein is found in most meats, fowl, and fish as well as many bean dishes. Grains are also a major source of protein in our diets. Because we use protein to make muscle, bone, hair and fingernails, we can’t just stop eating it. Protein is essential for almost every function in the body. Even the enzymes we use to break down our foods are made of protein. Often times, what we eat will affect our acid levels. Drinking water or other beverages before a meal will dilute the levels of acid available for use in digesting protein. Many other foods can be hard on the acid levels also.
Our esophagus, stomach, and small intestine are lined with a mucus layer created by the body to protect the muscle from the stomach acid. This works sort of like using rubber gloves when handling a strong detergent, the glove protects the skin of your hands. Stomach acid normally has a pH of 2. This is the equivalent of battery acid in your car battery… or like the saliva of the Alien in the movie of the same name. This acid can remove the skin from your fingers down to the bone in a very short time. Because of that, the body has devised a way to protect the sensitive tissue of the stomach, the esophagus and the beginning of the small intestine.
When you eat, your stomach lining produces acid to help break down the protein. Protein requires more acid than carbohydrates or fats for that process. As we age, we produce less acid in our stomach. The other end of the stomach from the esophagus is called the pylorus. The pylorus has cells that are sensitive to the amount of acid in the stomach. As the protein breaks down normally, the pylorus allows the passage of that broken-down food into the small intestine, where pancreatic enzymes and bile from the gallbladder affect it. If too little acid inhibits the protein digestion in the stomach, the protein denatures, producing methane gas, a natural byproduct of protein breakdown without acid.
Two things can happen as a protein denatures number one, the gas that is produced pushes up on the top of the stomach and produces acid reflux, i.e. Stomach contents into the esophagus, and even into the mouth. The second thing that happens is that the stomach does not release its contents into the small intestine in a timely fashion causing gastroparesis (slow stomach emptying).
As the gas in the stomach, pushes the contents up, the esophagus can become injured and cause strictures from the weak acid in the stomach. A stricture is a narrowing of the passageway. The mucus layer is thinner in the esophagus. Medical treatment includes expanding the esophagus because the person who has strictures can’t swallow as well as needed. This is painful and, unfortunately, this symptomatic treatment does not address the true cause of the problem. Using antacids or some prescription medicine which reduces stomach acid actually creates a larger problem than the current problem of not enough acid to begin. Most people who reduce their protein intake will notice an improvement in their digestion. However, protein is very important for the formation of muscle and bone and should not be reduced or eliminated from the diet.
On the other hand, as undigested protein enters into the small intestine it denatures there also. This can create gas in the intestinal tract and is the cause of diverticulum, or pockets in the intestinal tract. The intestine is a muscle, and because of that, it expands and contracts as necessary just as any muscle does. When a muscle is over-stretched continuously, it can lose its tone. This can cause the muscle to be less able to return to its normal shape, which can cause pockets in the intestinal tract. As these pockets are hard to empty with normal muscle movement or peristalsis, food will rot in these pockets and cause inflammation also known as diverticulitis.
As a side note, inflammation in the intestine is often called irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis (depending on the location of the inflammation). Inflammation can cause damage to sensitive tissues and can lead to steroid therapy and even surgery. It is possible that Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) is a protein digestion problem. Gluten is a wheat protein.
The easy answer to this problem is to stop aging. However, as we all know, that doesn’t happen. Therefore, the next thing we require to do is find a way to increase our stomach acid naturally. Chiropractic adjustments will normalize the brain’s instructions to the stomach. Nerve control from the brain will stimulate the stomach to act as it should, which will balance the flow of acid, enzymes, and bile to the digestion. Also, there are supplements on the market that can increase stomach acid. They actually are acid products containing betaine hydrochloride ( HCl). These products, when taken about 30 min. before a meal will actually increase stomach acid to normal levels. This will eliminate the indigestion problems that cause gas.
Protein digestion is critical to our health and well-being. By increasing our protein absorption, our body can produce enzymes and muscle tissue and bone tissue that will help us maintain our health.
Side effects of the purple pill (and all its relatives):
A headache, Flatulence (gas), Indigestion, Nausea, Diarrhea, Dizziness, Constipation, Sleepwalking, Rash around privates, Inflammation in pancreas, stomach, and colon, Liver failure, Aggression, Depression, Hallucinations.