Dr. Michael Betz
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Dr. Michael Betz

GERD and Its Treatment

Most physicians treat the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux by placing patients on acid-inhibiting medicine. In many cases, physicians are acquiescing to the requests of their patients who read about medications or watch drug advertisements on television. The Boston Globe Magazine described the marketing of Prilosec, one prescription heartburn drug, as follows:

Prilosec…became the world's best-selling prescription drug-- and the number one medication prescribed for seniors-- taking in $6 billion a year. Prilosec is so good . . . that doctors jokingly call it 'purple crack.' It's an expensive habit, about $4 for each daily pill, or $1,500 a year.

The success of Prilosec and other prescription antacids may seem like a great advance until one ponders the cost and the lifetime dependency on this symptom-suppressing therapy.

The treatment helps insure its continued use. Neutralizing stomach acid, if pursued over time, is a serious mistake with long-term consequences. Taking antacid reinforces the need for more antacid, since it only deals with the symptom. The short term 'fix' insures that the problem persists.

Is it possible to escape from this vicious cycle? Allan Spreen, M.D. devised a simple, cheap and effective treatment for chronic heartburn that liberates one from dependence on such a medication. He writes:

Using readily available acidophilus and digestive enzymes stop over 2/3 of all cases. The more difficult cases that may include overt ulcers require a more aggressive approach, but omitting really serious GI illness, the results are nearly always very positive . . .. A powder form of acidophilus supplements protects the esophagus without killing acid while killing the pain almost immediately. You must keep it handy and take it often until you solve the problem, which involves tightening the sphincter. This GE muscle can be tightened by using the English herb, Potter's Acidosis or by improving the environment of the stomach, which then tightens the junction on its own. [from e-Alert "Sweet Relief" (11/11/04), HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D at http://www.hsibaltimore.com A wealth of other articles can be found here. They also publish a free HSI e-Alert newsletter].

The solution, along with acidophilus protection, is to add both acid and digestive enzymes at the same time. Proper digestion allows for a higher concentration of acid while tightening the GE junction and protecting the esophagus. Spreen suggests using digestive enzymes at mid-meal when food is in the stomach.

Side effects of Prilosec include abdominal pain, headache, diarrhea, dizziness, rash, and constipation. For Pepcid, the effects are the same as Prilosec plus seizures, palpitations and depression. Suppressing acid in the stomach causes a four-fold increase in the risk of pneumonia by weakening the sphincter muscle, allowing acid to irritate the membranes leading into the lungs and possible infection.