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Peace and Good Eating


By Jennifer A. Sheffield

In the 19th century, Mark Twain said, “Part of the secret to success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” Today, however, heartburn is one of the two most common complaints doctors get (the other is constipation) and cases of a resulting type of esophageal cancer rose six fold, between 1975 and 2001, according to studies by the National Institutes of Health.

The bad news is that heartburn can lead to the pre-malignant condition that raises the likelihood of developing esophageal cancer; Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s develops due to long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). What’s worse, is that prescription medications designed to treat this condition come with ever-emerging risks, and can cause a depletion in stomach enzymes that help with digestion.

Most nutrition physicians, according to Michael T. Murray, ND, an author and authority on natural medicine, believe that a lack of gastric secretion—not excess of acid—is the true cause of indigestion. So the good news is that you can beat the heat by managing symptoms with natural supplements and developing slower eating habits. By switching your focus from blocking, to aiding your digestive process, you can start on your road to success.

The Spicy Statistics
It is estimated that one in 10 people with chronic acid reflux will develop Barrett’s; defined as a change in the alkaline lining of the esophagus to protect itself from stomach acid back up. When symptoms of the disease improve on their own, it is because cells in the esophagus change, to resemble the stomach. Adenocarcinoma is the type of esophageal cancer that takes shape, whereas squamous cell carcinoma is linked to smoking and alcohol consumption.

By the time symptoms are realized by patients, cancer is in its late stages and not survivable. The American Cancer Society estimated that during 2008, 16,470 new cases were diagnosed and 14,280 died. Incidences increase with age, with eight of 10 patients falling between the ages of 55 and 85. This disease also affects men three-to-four times more often than women. Luckily, survival is improving—45 years ago, only four percent of Caucasians versus one percent of African Americans survived. Today 18 percent of Caucasians and 11 percent of African Americans survive at least five years after diagnosis.

The most common symptom is trouble swallowing, or pain felt a few seconds after, with a feeling like food is stuck in the throat or chest. The medical term for this is dysphagia, which causes narrowing of the esophagus opening. Bread and meat are usual culprits, but if the cancer grows, liquids will not pass, and mucus starts coming up. Half of patients with esophageal cancer lose weight without trying.

In addition, if you have hoarseness, a constant cough, bone pain or bleeding in the esophagus, which turns stools black, talk to your doctor. These can get worse when lying down less than two hours after eating. Having symptoms does not mean you have cancer, but getting tests, or nutritional counseling, can keep you from being a statistic.

Your Body on Bad Acid
The real secret to success in fighting food back is chewing. Saliva neutralizes acid and provides passage for the painless breakdown of food into the stomach. Acid is essential to stimulate enzymes in your small intestine that defend against food-borne infection. Appetite researcher Dr. Barbara Rolls of Penn State University has also shown, that when people eat and socialize, they eat about 50 percent more.  Small, leisurely meals are best, since supersize meals open the sphincter muscle between the stomach and esophagus allowing acid to splash up. Don’t gulp—and don’t get GERD!

The kinds of food you ingest can also affect heartburn symptoms. An abstract published in the Annals of Oncology in 2011 identified five dietary patterns and concluded, “a diet rich in foods from animal origin and poor in foods containing vitamins and fiber increase esophageal cancer risk.” It was also discovered recently in a study conducted at the Cleveland Clinic that with patients with Barrett’s esophagus, having diabetes can double the risk of developing esophageal cancer.

A number of epidemiological studies have examined the association between vegetables, fruits, carotene, Vitamins A, C and E and oral, pharyngeal and esophageal cancers. The result of 35 studies, according to an abstract in Nutritional Cancer (2002) by the Department of Stomatology at the University of California points to the preventative role of cruciferous and yellow vegetables along with total fruit intake, combined with other micronutrients. An article in Carcinogenis reports a protective benefit for Vitamin E, and selenium, against esophageal cancer. In a 25-week experiment with rats, those that received diets containing both Vitamin E and selenium had a lower number of visible tumors.

pH is the best measure, though, in determining acid content in foods, and the body. pH stands for “potential hydrogen” and gauges how much your body is unable to convert back to an alkaline state. An important concept, says Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, Dean at Huntington College of Health Sciences, is that, “each whole pH value below 7 is 10 times more acidic than the next higher value and a pH value above 7 is 10 times more alkaline.” A normal range is actually quite small—between 7.38 and 7.42. In research in human esophageal cells, exposure to more acidic pH contributed to the pathobiology of mucosal injury in GERD. Taking a hydrochloric acid (HCL) supplement (500-600 mg) can improve the release of pancreatic enzymes when it is taken throughout a large meal.

Conversely, antacids reduce hydrochloric acid levels your body depends on, making HCL one of the simplest and least expensive remedies for reversing indigestion with no known toxicity issues. It sterilizes the entire intestinal tract and prevents food sensitivities. Murray has observed that the, “best results are found from multi-enzyme preparations that focus on vegetarian and fungal sources.” Solaray’s HCL with Pepsin (250 mg) also contains papaya leaf. This enzyme (papain) aids in digesting proteins and carbohydrates. Too much, though, can cause diarrhea. Drinking plenty of water and adding lemon may also support hydrochloric acid, and further assist with digestion. Avoid red wine, carbonated beverages and milk, which can stimulate the secretion of stomach acids, worsening the problem.

Acid Alternatives
Under normal circumstances the valve at the lower end of the stomach opens when its contents are adequately acidified. If acid is low, it takes much longer and contents ferment. Malnutrition can occur from the lack of proper exposure of food to an acidic environment, making neutralizers, and inhibitors, problematic to overall health.

Popular heartburn drugs known as proton-pump inhibitors (such as Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium) constrict arteries, which can lead to high blood pressure and a weak heart, according to a study at Houston Methodist Hospital published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation. In addition, the latest study on the risks associated with this class of drugs (omeprazole) published in the Journal of Internal Medicine linked its prolonged use to a 25 percent increase in bone fractures among postmenopausal women. It is estimated that over 40 percent of these women have no gastric acid secretion, and that being the case, cannot uptake calcium. Long-term use also doubled women’s risk of contracting gastrointestinal (GI) infections. In fact, patients taking blockers are 4.5 times as likely to develop pneumonia than someone who never used them. Also check your B-12 levels if you have been taking acid blocking drugs since they reduce a binding protein that affects its absorption, called intrinsic factor. Probiotics can help to restore digestion naturally, plus, one-to-three tablespoons of Swedish bitters drunk 15 minutes before a meal gets digestive juices ready for solid food.

Afterward, instead of chomping a Tums, chew anise seeds to quell heartburn. Chewing half a teaspoon of anise (which tastes like licorice) can quickly sooth even stubborn upsets. The seeds are 75 percent anethole—a phytonutrient that spurs the release of digestive enzymes, improves intestinal movements to make sure food flows properly through the digestive system and does not revisit the esophagus, and helps block gas formation.

Or pop a peppermint. This plant is an antispasmodic and it may help to sooth inflammatory, digestive tract issues. Studies have shown that peppermint oil capsules that are enteric coated to control the location of digestive absorption have improved Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and GERD symptoms by 70 to 85 percent over a period of weeks. The usual dosage, says Murray, of capsules containing peppermint with caraway seed oil is one or two (200 mg) up to three times daily between meals. Peppermint tea may have a similar effect.

If you can’t say no to coffee, consider a low-acid coffee, like Puroast, which is 100 percent real coffee but contains 50 percent lower acidity. Plus, it is sustainably processed using renewable energy technologies. In the company’s consumer survey, over 90 percent reported reduced stomach problems when switching to Puroast. And, research conducted by the University of California Davis found this low-acid coffee to have a pH that reflects an acid level of 50 to 80 percent lower than leading brands, claiming to be “stomach friendly.”

After you’ve made diet changes, a number of supplemental products, can be especially effective in older adults, such as AbsorbAid from Nature’s Sources. This company designed its original, 100 percent vegan-and gluten-free support formula to improve nutrient absorption using plant enzymes. Berry-flavored gummy chews are packed for taking to restaurants, or, for occasional indigestion, as well. Two capsules of the original formula, containing lipase, athylase, with protease (from Bromelain) is recommended with each meal. For evening discomfort you can open two capsules and mix with water.

AbsorbAid’s most recent formula, called Platinum is suggested for those who are athletes, or have been injured, are recovering from an illness, eat more meat proteins, or have pain and inflammation. Platinum contains 12 active enzymes, with heat stable probiotics, to protect your immune system.

Another method of treating, and preventing, uncomplicated cases of GERD is chewing licorice before meals. This stimulates the secretion of mucin, a protective coating in the stomach and intestines. De-Glycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) extract by Enzymatic, is also gluten-fee, comes in chocolate, and fructose-free formulas, and its potent 10:1 extract means it provides an immediate soothing benefit to your stomach lining. The three-times daily tablets are chewable, because saliva enhances the effects of DGL’s natural compounds and the glycyrrhizin compound—associated with high blood pressure—has been removed.

Be aware that certain supplements can cause a heartburn effect, such as those for inflammation, like Zyflamend, which contains highly concentrated herbal formulations of ginger that can be pungent, to a sensitive digestive system. Supplement company, New Chapter, calls this uncomfortable sensation of digestive warmth the, “internal sauna” effect and recommends taking the supplement with a full meal and water to acclimate your system. Cod liver oil, taken for high triglycerides, can also cause you to have heartburn, if not taken with meals.

Script Safety
Stopping an antacid regimine cold can cause heartburn symptoms to be more severe initially, so until you can wean off your medications, under the supervision of a knowledgeable practitioner, it wouldn’t hurt to follow these tips.

First, keep track of medicines you use. Include names, dosages and strengths and show this list to your doctor on each visit, even if he or she is your regular physician. Seemingly innocuous medications can interact with other drugs, herbs, and supplements. For instance, antacids prevent antibiotics from being absorbed into your bloodstream, and have the same effectiveness-lowering affect on blood thinners, heart medications, and in particular, thyroid medication.

Also use medications as directed, and go over anything you don’t understand with a pharmacist. For example, did you know that you are not supposed to take Prilosec for more than 14 days or more than every four months unless directed by a doctor? If you still have doubts, ask what tests might be done, to further understand your condition, and catch more serious problems early.

Finally, while new outpatient procedures show real promise in some cases of Barrett’s esophagus; some even eliminating pre-cancerous tissue so that the patient never progresses to cancer, go with your gut about heartburn and do not base your life or death on hope in numbers or the pharmaceutical industry’s comedy act. Turn off your television and put an end to your consumption of “Larry The Cable Guy” commercials that tell you to “block the acid” and take control of your belly flora instead, and don’t get heartburn in the first place.


Hey guys, I am currently about 255 and 5'7, closer to 30s when it comes to % of bodyfat than 20s, and I'm beginning to feel a bit lethargic, which will be way too early for my age :( I am trying to get started doing the paleo diet but there is a great deal of conflicting advice about this. To make it easier - I figure I had merely get going already and tweak my process from there. I am determining between 2 publications right now (LINK) - Has anyone read either/can suggest which is more complete overview of all the paleo details? Really excited to start getting a little healthier and lose some weight!

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