Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid surges from your stomach back up into your esophagus, the tube that connects your stomach and mouth. If you can taste vomit at the back of your throat, usually after a meal, that’s acid reflux.
Many people regard acid reflux as a mere nuisance or – at worst — a miserable inconvenience.
But did you know that if you have heartburn or reflux more than two or three times per week, you may be ignoring a major cancer risk factor?
It’s true. Acid reflux or heartburn can progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and eventually turn into cancer of the esophagus or other dire conditions.
And if you were thinking the familiar acid reflux drugs like Zantac and Nexium are an easy answer, think again. They can destroy your health.
Read on for the rest of the story… including the true cause of the problem and natural cures that work. . .
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that 60 million people experience heartburn at least once a month. 25 million endure it every single day.
GERD – a more serious form of acid reflux – is the most common digestive disorder in America.
Normally, after you swallow food, it passes through your esophagus down to your stomach. Then a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) closes, preventing the food from coming back up.
When the LES doesn’t function properly, acid mixed with half-digested food escapes from your stomach back into your esophagus. It’s uncomfortable because the stomach acid irritates and inflames the lining of the esophagus.That’s where the “burn” in heartburn comes from.
How GERD causes throat and esophageal cancer
Studies now show a strong link between acid reflux and cancer of the esophagus, plus other head and neck cancers to boot.
Once you’re having frequent heartburn (i.e., you’re in the GERD disease state), your risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus increases, because the cells lining the esophagus change with the chronic inflammation caused by reflux.
Barrett’s esophagus is a precursor to an esophageal cancer called adenocarcinoma.
Esophageal cancer is more common in those with Barrett’s esophagus, three times more common in men than women, and most common after age 55.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2018, 17,290 new cases of esophageal cancer will be diagnosed, and 15,850 people will die from the disease.
While it’s far rarer than other cancers (compare it to 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer), survival rates are far grimmer. Just 15 to 20 percent of patients will be alive five years later. Most cases aren’t diagnosed until it’s pretty much too late to save the patient.
Who should be most concerned
If you have heartburn more than two or three times a week, you need to know the REAL cause, and to try some of the natural solutions I’m going to suggest in the next couple of minutes.
Even if your heartburn is a distant memory from 10 or 20 years ago, it’s worth at least mentioning it to your doctor – especially if you have trouble swallowing, have a long-lasting hoarse voice, have a family history of Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer, or you cough or choke when lying down.
Both Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer are detected through endoscopy, during which a scope peers into your throat and stomach.
Symptoms of reflux or GERD include the following – some of them quite subtle.
- Burning sensation in throat/chest
- Pain in chest / upper abdomen
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
- Trouble swallowing
- Bitter taste in mouth
- Respiratory problems / asthma
- Sore throat or hoarse voice (that doesn’t develop into a cold)
- Feeling worse when you lie down
- Feeling worse after a meal
Fortunately, as with many cancers, lifestyle can play a key role in reducing your risk. But first things first: let’s tease out the root cause. . .
What “everyone knows” is wrong
Heads up: the cause is probably not what you (or your doctor) think.
Getting the root cause wrong can lead to devastating results. Yet if you ask a dozen people on the street what causes acid reflux, most of them will tell you it’s due to too much acid.
Well, you won’t win any Jeopardy points with that answer. But you may lose your health.
Scientific studies make it clear that heartburn and GERD do not stem from excess stomach acid.
The current prevailing theory is that GERD is caused by a dysfunction of the LES valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach. The only time this valve should open is to allow food to pass through on its way down.
The esophagus is supposed to be a one-way street.
If your LES works properly, it doesn’t matter how much acid you have in your stomach… it won’t move back up the esophagus.
On the other hand, if your LES is lax, even a tiny amount of escaped stomach acid can inflict serious damage. Unlike your stomach, your esophagus has no protective lining against acid.
Yet for decades, the medical establishment has been obsessed with finding ways to slash stomach acid. Zantac and Nexium have been multibillion dollar drugs. And you can add Tums, Rolaids and other over-the-counter antacids that have been around longer than I have (and that’s a really long time). In total, Americans spend more than $13 billion per year on acid-suppressing drugs.
But, to paraphrase a famous bit of political advice, “It’s not the acid, stupid.” Doctors should ask, “What’s causing the LES to malfunction?”
It’s well documented that GERD is caused by intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which occurs when pressure from below pushes stomach acid back up through the LES.
So what’s triggering IAP?
Is this hidden pressure causing the burn?
Low stomach acid triggers both bacterial overgrowth and poor carb absorption.
Microbiologist Dr. Norm Robillard, author of the book Heartburn Cured, argues that poor carb absorption triggers bacterial overgrowth, which in turn triggers IAP and reflux.
Think about it this way…
One of the key roles of stomach acid is to inhibit bacterial overgrowth. At a normal acidic stomach pH of less than 3, most bacteria can’t survive longer than 15 minutes. A pH of 3 is very acidic.
On the other hand, low stomach acid, especially with a pH level above 5, offers the perfect growth platform for microbes. We can see confirmation in the fact that when mice can’t produce stomach acid they develop bacterial overgrowth, inflammation, and precancerous intestinal polyps.
That’s why Dr. Jonathan Wright, MD, of the Tahoma Clinic in Washington State, is adamant about testing all heartburn patients over age 40. He says that more than nine times out of ten, patients have too little acid.
It’s well established that antacid drugs cause stomach acid to plummet to near-zero levels. Yet that stomach acid, if we just left it alone, could support carb digestion by releasing pancreatic enzymes, a crucial factor in carb digestion.
Making matters worse, fermenting of undigested carbs produces gas, which also triggers IAP, reflux, and GERD.
Reducing bacterial load and limiting carb intake have both been proven to greatly improve, if not completely cure, acid reflux and GERD.
This not-so-innocent bystander wreaks havoc
Some experts also believe that one surviving strain of bacteria is especially damaging – H. pylori. You’ve probably heard of it as “the” cause of ulcers.
H. pylori is the most common chronic pathogen in humans – a staggering 50% of the world’s population is infected.
Infection rates increase with age – 1% per year of life. So age is a key risk factor.
Scientists know that H. pylori squashes stomach acid production. That’s how it manages to survive in the highly acidic environment that normally kills bacteria within 15 minutes.
It’s commonly assumed that stomach acid plummets with age. But could H. pylori actually be to blame?
And antacid drugs just make the problem worse.
How much worse? Check out these horrible outcomes.
Warning: conventional medicine’s “cure” can destroy your health
Acid-suppressing drugs fail to treat GERD.
They actually make the underlying condition (low acidity) worse. In general, low acid equals poor carb digestion and bacterial overgrowth. Which pretty much guarantees lifelong use of the meds – a nifty sales strategy for drug companies.
I mean, can doctors and drug companies really not know something I found out with an hour or two of surfing PubMed, the database of all medical journal articles?
Curing a disease demands dealing with the root cause. A symptom is not a cause. So while acid-suppressing drugs may work as a Band-Aid to mask the symptom, you’re really being deceived, not healed.
6 devastating side effects acid-suppressing drugs
#1: Stomach cancer
Acid-suppressing drugs allow H. pylori to flourish. And that’s a key risk factor for stomach cancer.
But in 2017, a large study that followed 63,000 people for seven years discovered another way that certain acid-suppressing drugs cause cancer.
This time, researchers specifically tried to eliminate H. pylori as a factor. So they treated for it at the outset of the study.
Still, they found that those who used proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) were twice as likely to develop stomach cancer. The longer the drug use, the more the risk soared… to five-fold after one year and more than eight-fold after three years of regular use.1 Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid are familiar PPIs. There are others.
Scientists think PPIs increase cancer risk by triggering high levels of the gastrin hormone, which is linked to gastric adenocarcinoma.
Therefore, it’s entirely possible that some acid-suppressing drugs boost stomach cancer risk by not just one, but two mechanisms – H. pylori and gastrin.
#2: A stomach full of pathogens
Your stomach is your first line of defense against pathogens. A healthy stomach is almost completely sterile… too acidic for microscopic bugs to survive.
Once drugs knock down your acid levels, all bets are off. You’ve opened the door to pathogens in a big way.
Tests bear this out. Tagamet and Zantac raise stomach pH (i.e. reduce stomach acid) from 1-2 (good levels) to 5.5 to 6.5. Prilosec and other PPIs are worse – just one pill can reduce stomach acid by 90-95% for nearly a day. Higher doses create a zero acidic state.
A stomach so low in acid gives the perfect safe harbor for pathogens. It’s dark, warm, moist, and full of nutrients.
Which makes you a sitting duck for major infections. A scientific review showed that PPIs boost the risk of all these nasty bugs and infections:
One hopes that in developed countries, most of us don’t have to worry about cholera and typhoid, but most of the other diseases on that list remain a live threat.
Not only do PPIs create a hospitable environment for pathogens, they also impair your immune system’s ability to fight them.
#3: Hindered nutrient absorption
Stomach acid is crucial to healthy digestion – and to health itself. Nutrient absorption in your stomach occurs within a very narrow acidity range.
Nutrient shortfalls lead to all kinds of other diseases and conditions, and an imbalance in your stomach acid can mean your cells are effectively starved for nutrients… no matter how much good, healthy food you eat! You do have to be able to digest it before it can do you any good.
#4: Autoimmune diseases
Low stomach acid and bacterial overgrowth trigger leaky gut. Undigested proteins leak through lesions in the intestinal wall and find their way into your bloodstream, where your immune system attacks them as “foreigners.” This predisposes you to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune disorders.
#5: Heart attack
A large study of 93,000 GERD patients using PPIs showed they had a 16 to 21% greater risk of heart attack than non-PPI-users. Scientists have long linked the use of Plavix with cardiac events, but now they tie it to all PPIs.
PPIs cause dependence. If you try to ditch them cold turkey, you may experience a severe GERD rebound… often worse than before you started them.
Wean yourself off gradually, stepping down your dose till you reach the lowest dose. Then substitute over-the-counter H2 blockers, and gradually wean yourself off those as well. A good holistic doctor can help you. (H2 blockers reduce the level of stomach acid in a more benign way.)
If you haven’t started taking acid-suppressing drugs, don’t. Use the following lifestyle hacks instead. They’re non-addictive and will build your health instead of destroying it.
These lifestyle hacks nix reflux and GERD forever
While GERD may tempt you with the “quick fix” of drugs, opt instead for natural alternatives that won’t destroy your health in the process. In fact, they’ll actually build your health and increase your energy.
- Get to a healthy weight. Obesity is an independent risk factor for GERD, because it increases IAP and triggers LES dysfunction.
- Adopt a low-carb organic diet (or even a very low-carb one for a limited time) to stifle bacterial overgrowth. Pathogens love sugars. The limited tests with low-carb diets were overwhelmingly positive. The low-carb diet is also very effective for weight loss, and for reasons unrelated to GERD it’s good treatment for cancer, as I’ve said frequently in this newsletter.
- HCL with Pepsin. Your doctor can test your stomach acid levels (if he or she is open-minded). To optimize stomach acid levels, one source recommends a DIY method: pepsin-containing hydrochloric acid (HCL) supplements. Start taking 650 mg at the start of each meal. Increase levels gradually every few days till you feel a mild burning sensation. Then back off to the previous dosage and stay there, to help boost acidity. I haven’t tried this and would prefer to do it under a doctor’s supervision if I did.
- Eat more raw foods, which contain natural enzymes and co-factors that enable good digestion.
- Restore healthy gut bacteria with raw fermented foods (for instance, sauerkraut or cabbage juice) or a quality probiotic supplement. I endorse this idea enthusiastically.
- Keep a food diary to find out what foods trigger your reflux. Give up grains and dairy for one month; re-introduce them one at a time to see if you react. Some people discover they’re allergic to foods they never suspected. Culprits may include caffeine, chocolate, peppermint, tomatoes, citrus, fatty foods, dairy, grains… and sometimes even meats. Many people say spicy foods bother them. I never had a high opinion of this idea, but I’m coming around to it after finding I have a reaction myself to a couple of spices.
- Rethink what you drink. Alcohol can cause or exacerbate GERD. Sorry about that. Its mechanisms of harm are too many to ignore – relaxing the LES and making it loose, creating acetaldehyde and other toxic by-products that interfere with esophageal contractions, and causing direct tissue damage to both esophagus and stomach.
- If you do choose to enjoy a drink, do it earlier in the day, not as a nightcap.
- Better, drink ginger tea 20 minutes before meals. Steep two or three slices of fresh ginger root in two cups hot water. Ginger is a well-established remedy for stomach complaints.
- Drink a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar in a glass of water daily.
- Boost your intake of B vitamins; they may reduce reflux risk.
- Eat dinner three hours before bedtime to allow digestion in an upright position. Eating right before bed is a terrible idea.
GERD can lead to health issues you never bargained for, so address it today the natural way, and rediscover what it means to feel well.
Meanwhile. . .if you’re in a bad mood, the bacteria in your gut may be to blame. In our last issue we talked about the amazing new discoveries scientists are making about the microbiome. For instance, a certain strain of bacteria hugely increases your risk of Parkinson’s disease. If you missed this eye-opening article, you can read it now, just below. . .
- Heartburn Cured, by Dr. Norm Robillard
- Why Stomach Acid is Good for You, by Jonathan Wright, MD