Monday, March 4, 2013

Got Indigestion?

Who hasn't over indulged in a meal at one time or another? We're all guilty of eating more than we should whether it's from celebrating our teams Super Bowl victory by having a few extra buffalo wings & potato skins or hastily eating that slice of pizza as you race off to your next client.

Heartburn is a familiar foe to roughly 50% of Americans. The most common sign of heartburn is a painful sensation in the throat, stomach or chest. Other symptoms can include, belching, a persistent sore throat or a sour taste in your mouth. So many people have experienced heartburn that it has come to be accepted that this is just a normal discomfort one must pay in order to enjoy certain foods. Sadly, the overwhelming thought is "this is just how my body works." But, just because something is COMMON, does not mean it is NORMAL.

Acid indigestion is probably the most misdiagnosed & understood condition in health care. To help you understand a bit more, I'd like to walk you through a mini physiology course.

Digestion begins first in your mouth. The process of chewing your food is meant to break it down into small pieces so that you're able to access the nutrients needed to fuel your body. Once you swallow & food reaches your stomach, via the esophagus, your stomach stores the food & mixes it with digestive juices & enzymes in an effort to break the food down into even smaller parts. Stomach acid has to be strong stuff since it is meant to burn through flesh. After all that's what a double cheeseburger is....animal flesh. In order to effectively break down your food, the PH of your stomach needs to be in the range of 2-3 (highly acidic). This is basic physiology.

Now imagine that you are engaging in the 2nd scenario (racing to see a client) I created above & you begin to experience heartburn. Conventional wisdom tell us that stress & indigestion go hand in hand; too much stress causes our stomachs to produce more stomach acid which leads to heartburn & ulcers. Yet, ANY physiology textbook will tell you that when the body is in a stress handling situation your Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight) is fully engaged. What does this mean exactly? Well, when you're eating that pizza in your car on your way to see a client & you get stuck in a massive pileup on Rte. 3 North. You glance at the clock & realize there is no way you're going to make this meeting & you begin to feel anxious & angry. At this point, if not earlier in the day, your sympathetic nervous system becomes activated. When in this stress handling situation, the body will divert ALL available energy AWAY from the GI tract. Think about it...if you were being chased by a bear in the woods, does it really make any sense for your body to increase the digestion of your lunch or does it make more sense for it to put all it's energy into getting your legs to move fast & escape? When you eat food in a stress handling situation, the food sits in your stomach & it waits. What is it waiting for you ask? Well, it's waiting for the Parasympathetic Nervous system to become engaged. It's responsible for Rest & Digest.

So, if stress isn't causing this heartburn/indigestion what is? In most cases, it's a LACK of stomach acid..............................yes, I said a LACK of stomach acid. Without enough acid, your food sits in your stomach & rots. The stomach is a nice warm, moist place & what happens to food when it's in that environment? rots. With rotting comes the organic gases & acids of fermentation & putrefaction  which is not supposed to happen in your stomach. THIS leads to burning of the stomach & lower esophagus & hence, heartburn.

Next month, I will delve into how acid blockers seriously hinder your health & how you can maximize your own stomach acid & get rid of heartburn.