November 24, 2010

Is your heartburn putting you at risk for pneumonia?

If you're like most Americans, you're going to enjoy a wonderful meal with your family tomorrow. Unfortunately, that Thanksgiving meal could give you heartburn, indigestion, or gas. If this is the only time you suffer, it's nothing to worry about. But if these problems are chronic, new research suggests you might be at a greater risk for pneumonia or some other serious infection.

The digestive problem isn't what will put you at risk, though. It's the drugs you take to treat the heartburn that will do it.

Antacids are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs. And new research suggests they can cause a significant spike in your risk for gastrointestinal infections. One subclass, proton pump inhibitors, raises your risk of pneumonia. But they also raise your risk of serious gut infections, such as C. difficile. This tough organism is resistant to standard antibiotic therapy.

But that's not all. Antacids also may cause a subtle long-term problem - osteoporosis.

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Why are these drugs causing so many health problems? You need acid to absorb minerals, including calcium. When you take an antacid, or another drug that wipes out your ability to make acid, you have eliminated the first step in mineral absorption. This problem gets far worse in those over the age of 50. That's when acid production begins to decline naturally. It's also when bone lose begins to occur to declining hormones.

Many people who have upset stomachs actually lack enough acid to digest their food. If you're lucky enough to live near an alternative doctor who has a Heidelberg stomach acid measuring machine, he can confirm the problem. Low stomach acid causes food to ferment, causing gas. Betaine hydrochloride is readily available. Start by taking one with meals. You may increase the dose. But if you feel acid, you may have taken one or more too many. Swedish bitters also might help. They can help your stomach make more acid naturally.

Digestive enzymes are another possible remedy. Advanced Bionutritionals offers Integrative Digestive Formula. There are lots of others on the market. If you really have too much acid, you might soothe your stomach with ginger, curcumin, DGL (a licorice extract), and/or comfrey supplements.

I've also known people to cure their stomach problems with mastic gum (2,000 mg at night). Mastic Gum (available at 877-341-2703) is especially useful for the nasty stomach germ H. pylori. Take it along with apple cider vinegar — 1 tablespoon in a glass of water twice a day about 30 minutes before meals. If you need further assistance, don't hesitate to arrange a phone consult with me.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Ref: New York Times, August 11, 2010.

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