A Natural Alternative to PPIs Proves Beneficial for Patients With GERD | 1MD Digestive

A Natural Alternative to PPIs Proves Beneficial for Patients With GERD

8 minute read


It is fair to say that most of the problems we have with our gut are caused by wrong food choices. When we eat the wrong food it causes imbalances throughout our system which can lead to some serious health issues. Problems like acid reflux, GERD, and gastritis can have far reaching impacts on the body. When it comes time to resolving your health concerns, the best place to start is your gut.  

The standard treatment options for GERD and other gastrointestinal problems include a litany of medications and sometimes invasive surgical removal of body parts. PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) are the most commonly prescribed medications for GERD and acid reflux disorders. You may know these as Gaviscon, Maalox, or Rolaids which are sold over the counter, as well as prescription-strength PPI drugs like Prevacid and Prilosec.

| Related: 11 Foods That Support Gut Health |

Once doctors start you on these medications, chances are you will be on them for a while. What you may not realize however, is that the manufacturers state to only use these drugs for 8 to 10 weeks. Of course, the other major red flag is that these drugs are only treating the symptom by blocking a normal bodily function, rather than helping get to the root of the digestive problem.


What do PPIs Do?

These medications reduce the levels of gastric acid present in your stomach. Physicians will prescribe them for gastric ulcers and GERD. There is an enzyme located in the walls of our stomach that produces the acid needed to breakdown our food. PPIs bind to and block these enzymes, reducing the amount of acid produced. With lower levels of acid in the digestive system, ulcers are given a chance to heal.

| Related: What Are Digestive Enzymes? |


The Truth About Acid Reflux

Surprisingly, the people who take PPIs actually have too little acid in their stomachs, rather than too much. The common diagnosis for GERD, gastritis, and acid reflux is too much acid which means PPIs get prescribed. Because the low levels of acid are overlooked and not addressed, the problem can get much worse with the continued use of PPIs. Without an endoscopy to confirm high acid levels, the reality is that you, more than likely, have the opposite.  

With GERD, the acid reflux experience comes from acid leaking from the stomach back into the esophagus. This can have many causes such as a weakened esophageal sphincter. Regardless of the cause, the fact is that your symptoms are not being caused by too much acid, but rather acid flowing where it is not supposed to go.

Too Little or Too Much? The Stomach Acid Test

There are simple tests you can do to determine if you have too much or too little stomach acid.  Using baking soda, you can see if your stomach is producing the right amounts of hydrochloric acid. The Heidelberg test is the most scientific, but by no means 100% reliable.  

Mix one quarter teaspoon of baking soda with eight ounces of cold water.  Drink this mixture first thing in the morning before ingesting anything else, then time how long it takes you to burp. This gas is a result of the acid in your stomach reacting with the baking soda to form carbon dioxide.

Do not wait longer than five minutes; if you reach that time without belching you can stop. If your stomach is producing adequate levels of acid, you will burp within two to three minutes. Repeated or excessive burping in the first two minutes can indicate excessive stomach acid.  


The Dangers of PPIs

The many side effects that come with PPIs are not the only thing you should be concerned about. The reason we have stomach acid is to break down proteins from our diet. A lack of stomach acid means this process cannot happen. Proteins that are left undigested move into the intestines and remain whole. This creates a health problem that not many people are aware of; dysbiosis.

| Related: How to Make Good-For-Your-Gut Yogurt From Scratch |

Dysbiosis means that your intestinal flora is out of balance and there are more unfriendly bacteria than friendly ones. Undigested proteins in the gut can ferment and become hosts for dangerous bacteria like h. pylori and candida.

Your gut’s permeability is also affected as gaps begin to appear between cells lining the intestines (commonly known as ‘leaky gut’). This leaking increases inflammation to the area. Additionally, lower acid levels leave people exposed to a dangerous bacterial strain, C. difficil. This strain is known to cause diarrhea, colitis, and other bowel problems.

Hydrochloric acid is important for providing protection against infection, too. As we sleep, it is normal for small amounts of acid to travel towards the esophagus and trachea due to our position. Aspiration, as it is known, can be more dangerous if the acid contains bacteria.

When your stomach has a less acidic environment, bacteria are more likely to flourish and so have better chances of getting close to your lungs when this happens. Once in the lungs, these bacteria can cause serious problems like pneumonia.  

PPI’s suppress the production of acid which can also interfere with our ability to absorb calcium and vitamin B12. This can impact bone health and various problems associated with B-12 deficiency like immune system disorders, anemia, and intestinal disorders.

The problems of taking PPIs have been extensively studied. One such study concluded that PPI drugs can actually induce symptoms. Subjects who previously had no symptoms started to develop them after two weeks of taking a prescribed PPI (1).   


The Natural Solution To GERD

If what you have read concerns you, then you will be glad to know there are alternatives to PPIs. The following list of solutions can help with your acid reflux and GERD symptoms. These approaches will increase your stomach acid levels, in the event you are low and you can avoid all the dangers of PPIs.

♦ Ginger root tea (also aids digestion)

♦ Slippery elm bark can be made into a tea to soothe mucous membranes

♦ You can increase your hydrochloric levels by eating more living foods that contain their own digestive enzymes.

♦ Supplement digestive enzymes with each meal to help break down foods

♦ Reduce foods high in acid (citrus and tomatoes)

♦ Licorice can help with gas and bloating

♦ Add more naturally fermented foods to your diet as these provide natural relief for heartburn and GERD.

♦ Some people get relief from eliminating dairy, coffee, tea and high fat or spicy foods.

♦ Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar in small does mixed with water can be sipped at meals to help aid digestion.

♦ There are hydrochloric acid supplements available BUT you should not take these unless you have had verification of low acid levels from an endoscopic procedure.


The Bottom Line

When the balance in your digestive system is disrupted from stress, poor diet, or too many antibiotics, it is a good idea to increase your intake of probiotics. Depletion means you are at risk for serious disease and infection, so the sooner you create a balance again, the better off you will be. Speak with your physician about the different probiotic supplements and your IBS symptoms. A daily dose may be beneficial in the long term, rather than just taking some after a round of antibiotics.

Our intestinal tract is responsible for all the nutrient absorption from our food so it is essentially our life line. Every system in our body (urinary, reproductive, circulatory and immune) needs the nutrients that are collected from the gut. People suffering from IBS have an upset and irritated intestinal tract, so nutrients are not going to be properly absorbed. This means every other system is at risk.  Probiotics can help ease the symptoms of IBS, and your gut and friendly flora can thrive. A healthy and happy gut leads to a healthy and happy body. 

Read Next >>> Digestive Enzymes Help Improve Colon Health



  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3093718/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3090427/
  3. http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/03/health/proton-pump-inhibitors-early-death-risk-study/index.html
  4. http://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/news/20170703/popular-heartburn-drugs-death-risk#1

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