Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and Antacids*


If the prevalence of TV advertisements for antacids is any indication, a great many people suffer from heartburn. Heartburn is the irritating effect on the esophagus when the stomach secretes excess hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid is required for the initial stages of the digestion of protein but not for sugar or starch. Habitually eating combinations of starch and protein conditions the stomach to secrete hydrochloric acid whenever food is swallowed, regardless of the foods combined. Moreover, the starch absorbs some of the acid meant for digestion of the protein. The result of habitually eating this combination is to train the stomach to compensate by secreting more acid than would be required for the digestion of the protein were it eaten alone and to secrete acid even if a meal devoid of protein is eaten. This over-secretion of acid causes heartburn. The way to eliminate heartburn is not by taking antacids but learning to eat in accordance with the physiology of digestion. That means combining foods for optimal digestion, not overeating in general and not overeating a particular nutrient, not drinking liquids with meals, and allowing the stomach to rest between meals.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux involves belching hydrochloric acid, usually when one is lying down. The lining of the stomach is well protected from hydrochloric acid, but the esophagus and throat are not. Therefore, acid reflux is a serious condition, which can cause injury to the esophagus and throat. Suppressing hydrochloric acid through use of pharmaceuticals provides relief but does not get to the root cause and may even produce side effects. The way to treat acid reflux naturally is similar to that of heartburn (above). Also—and this advice is very important—avoid eating anything for several hours before going to sleep.

Antacids, and My Ten-Year Addiction to Them

When I was about sixteen years of age, I was eating soup in a local Chinese restaurant and suddenly doubled over with severe abdominal cramps. I could not eat anything else that evening. My mother, who was with me, was very concerned and insisted that I see a doctor. I now attribute the cramps to a large amount of MSG (monosodium glutamate) in the soup. However, in those days (the early 1950s), nobody thought of MSG in negative terms.

The doctor palpated my stomach, found it to be overly sensitive, and said contemptuously, “You are only sixteen-years old, and you have every symptom of an ulcer.” He then put me on an “ulcer diet.” I had to drink a mixture of half cream and half milk every waking hour and was restricted to eating only melba toast, cottage cheese, and soft-boiled eggs—no fruit or vegetables. The doctor also directed me to take antacid pills four times per day. After a few days of this diet, I started to experience heartburn—something I had never experienced before. The heartburn, which increased in severity daily, was instantly relieved by the antacids. At that time, I had such faith in doctors that I thought this one to be a genius. I marveled that he knew that heartburn would develop and that he had the foresight to prescribe antacids.

Now I know that the antacids themselves had created the very condition that they relieved. They trained my stomach to secrete extra acid to make up for the acid they had neutralized. Unfortunately, it took more than ten years for me to understand this mechanism. During that period, I was an antacid addict. I always carried antacids with me and could not imagine going anywhere without them. I also know now that the “bland” ulcer diet that I was given—devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts—exacerbated the condition and only gave temporary symptomatic relief. What my stomach really needed was rest, not a constant bombardment with foods devoid (among other things) of any vitamin E, which very likely might have helped the condition.

Finally, I decided to stop taking antacids for several days to see what would happen. Sure enough, after a day or two of severe heartburn, the condition subsided and, soon thereafter, disappeared.

The irritation to my stomach, however, had been greatly exacerbated by the constant abuse of hard-to-digest food, continued to persist for years. It was only when I learned principles of fasting, digestion, combining foods for optimal digestion, and nutrition that my stomach recovered.

I now know that the prescribed diet of milk and cream every hour momentarily relieved the symptoms but continually aggravated the condition. Had I merely fasted for a day or two, the condition would have promptly healed.

*From Robert Chuckrow, The Intelligent Dieter’s Guide, Rising Mist Publications, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1997.

©Copyright 1997 by Robert Chuckrow

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