Hippocrates said “All health starts in the gut” and yet in today’s world millions
are struggling with their gut health and popping antacids like candy. Is this you?
If so, please keep reading.
Do you struggle with heartburn and indigestion? If you do, you are not alone, in fact antacids were the #3 most frequently sold over-the-counter drug in the US in 2018, generating revenues of $3.2 billion! That is a lot of money being spent to resolve this very common issue, but is it really helping you in the long run? I have so many clients come to me that have been popping antacids like candy for months, even years, until I help them ditch them for good!
Are you aware the label says that they shouldn’t be used for more than 2 weeks at the maximum dose without consulting your doctor? It’s in the fine print, which often doesn’t get read.
Let me share why antacids are not a long term solution, and what has really caused the problem, so you can address that instead. Antacids do exactly what their name suggests, they stop the body from producing stomach acid! However, your body NEEDS stomach acid to properly digest your meals. Stomach acid also helps fend off bacteria and pathogens such as H.Pylori and parasites, but when your stomach acid levels are low, it cannot properly digest your meal or protect you from pathogens.
When stomach acid levels are low, your meals will take longer to be broken down, if they get fully broken down at all, which means you aren’t getting the nutrients you should from your meals, and this can leave you feeling low in energy and unsatiated. This can often result in you eating again sooner than should be necessary, taking in more calories than needed. Meanwhile, the food you ate during your last meal is still trying to work it’s way through your digestive system, but it’s taking too long, so it starts to ferment, which can cause bloating and gas and it really isn’t pleasant inside your digestive tract at this point!
With a healthy digestive system and good levels of stomach acid your meals should be fully digested in about 2 – 3 hours (eating a steak can take longer). On average, this is how long it will take a healthy digestive system to digest various foods:
Liquid: 1 – 30 minutes
Fruit: 30 – 60 minutes
Starch: 60 minutes
Light protein (eggs, fish): 1 – 2 hours
Heavy protein: 2 – 3+ hours
Vegetables 2 – 3+ hours
(These time frames are also impacted by how much you chew each mouthful, the size of your meal and whether the food is raw or cooked).
When we stop our body producing stomach acid, we prevent this entire process from happening properly. When our body can’t break down our food properly, it will either store some undigested food in our fat closets, or we end up with diarrhea or constipation as the body struggles to complete the process fully.
Before I get to what you can do instead, I want to share with you why your heartburn isn’t actually caused by too much stomach acid, instead it is caused by STRESS. With functional medicine the purpose is to always get to the root cause by asking “why?”. So why are you feeling heartburn or indigestion? It is because stomach acid is getting into your esophagus, but why is that?
It is because your lower esophageal sphincter, a little flap at the top of your stomach cavity that is supposed to be a “one-way’ gate, allowing your food that you’ve just chewed up and swallowed to get into your stomach cavity and then it is supposed to seal up nice and tight again so that nothing gets back out. However, chronic stress causes that sphincter to get loose and weaken, so that it no longer seals up nice and tight after letting food pass through which means stomach acid can sneak up into the esophagus, making us “think” we have too much stomach acid.
The reality is that if we’re living in a state of chronic stress or “fight or flight” then we know digestion is turned off, as it is only turned on when we get out of that state and into our “rest and digest” state. When digestion is turned off, stomach acid and digestive enzymes are not being produced by the body, as they are not needed, in fight or flight, it’s much more important to receive cortisol and adrenaline so we can get to safety than it is to produce stomach acid and digestive enzymes. The body can’t do everything at once, especially in a state of fight or flight, because it has to produce so much energy to ensure you can get to safety and to do this it actually shuts down other systems that use energy, such as the immune system and digestive system.
So we know that under high stress we aren’t producing stomach acid, and we know that high stress causes the lower esophageal sphincter to become loose, and let what little stomach acid you do have escape and give you heartburn. Then you pop some antacids, to prevent any further stomach acid from being produced even if you get into your ‘rest and digest’ state. Now you’ve just slowed down your entire digestive system, preventing it from doing its job effectively and efficiently. This isn’t taught in medical schools, doctors aren’t taught about lifestyle factors affecting your health such as stress, sleep, nutrition, hydration, just like I haven’t been taught about surgery. We all have our areas of expertise and one of mine is digestive health! I speak about this topic often and I see all the “ah-ha” reactions on the faces in the audience. Now that it’s been explained to you, I hope what I’m sharing makes sense.
So what can you do?
Learn how to turn on your digestive system BEFORE every meal
Support your digestive system while you eat
Reduce the stress levels in your life
Avoid common trigger foods
Time Your Meals Properly
1. Turn On Digestion Before Every Meal
There are few quick steps you can take to ensure digestion is turned on before you start eating your meal:
Drink 8oz of lemon water, or an Apple Cider Vinegar cocktail about 10 – 15 minutes before starting to eat:
Lemon water = 8oz of water + juice of ½ lemon. This has many benefits including helping your body to start producing digestive enzymes and stomach acid, as well as flushing out toxins, another of my favorite topics to speak about. To learn more, you can read my previous article “Are Your Trashcans Overflowing?”.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Cocktail:
8oz of water + 1 tbsp of ACV + a slice of fresh ginger and a pinch of cayenne pepper and the juice of ½ lemon or lime. This is a great way to turn on digestion as the ginger and cayenne pepper create heat in your digestive tract which is like a furnace and the more heat, the more efficient it is.
Use digestive enzymes for harder to digest meals
Take these 15 – 20 minutes before eating in order to provide the enzymes needed to break down your meal. There are also some specific ones you can get to support digesting gluten & dairy, if you know you struggle to digest those particular foods.
This is a simple but effective technique at “tricking” your brain into switching on your “rest & digest state”. It takes less than 5 minutes and can be done anywhere as you always have your breath with you! You simply inhale for a count of 5, hold for a count of 5, and then exhale for a count of 7. Do this 10 times. By the 10th time your brain is thinking hmmm, I thought I was stressed out, but I’m breathing like a “safe” person, I must be safe and it will switch off “fight or flight” and switch on “rest and digest”.
The reason this works so well is because the exhale is longer than the inhale. Think about it, if you’re running away from a lion, you will be huffing and puffing, with short, rapid breaths. So when your exhale is longer than your inhale, it signals that you are safe! Also this technique helps release stressful thoughts as you are so focused on all that counting, your brain can’t think of anything else!
2. Support Your Digestive System While You Eat
Many people think their digestive system starts in their stomach, but in reality it starts with the eyes seeing food and then the nose smelling the food as that will trigger the brain to start producing salivary enzymes to start breaking the food down. Usually, once we put the food in our mouth, because we are always in a rush, we tend to chew each mouthful 3 – 5 times and swallow. This puts great strain on the rest of our digestive system!
Our teeth and jaw are extremely powerful and as such we need to use them more to support digestion. When we consciously slow down and chew each mouthful at least 20 times, we not only get more flavor from the food, we also reduce the stress on the rest of the digestive system, as the teeth have done much more of the work breaking down the food.
If you know your digestive system is unhappy or weakend, then you also want to choose foods to eat that are easy to digest. You can assess this by putting foods through the “fork test”. If you push the back of the fork into the food, and food oozes up between the prongs, it passes the test and is easy on digestion, if it doesn’t, then don’t eat that food as it will take much more effort for your body to digest that food and break it down.
Some examples of foods that
Pass the “fork test”
Don’t pass the “fork test”
spinach or other leafy greens
3. Reduce The Stress Levels In Your Life
There are many things you can do to lower your stress. Here is a list, which is by no means exhaustive, it’s just some of the things I’ve done myself and you can choose ones that resonate with you and bring you joy:
Get out in nature for a walk or to just sit and be still
Take a bath
Call a girlfriend just to catch up and laugh
Watch a funny movie or show
EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) otherwise known as “Tapping”
Take a social media vacation ‒ leave the phone behind for a while! (The constant ping of alerts can set off your nervous system and put you in the stress state!)
Improve your diet to give you more energy, improve your digestion to lower the stress on your body of breaking down your food
Get someone else to come to clean your house or watch the kids, to give you a much needed break.
4. Avoid Common Trigger Foods
Coffee / caffeine (herbal, black and green teas are generally okay).
Alcohol (especially acidic wines)
Tomatoes sauces / ketchup
Dairy / cheeses
5. Time Your Meals Properly
Meals should be 3.5 – 4 hours apart to allow for digestion to completely finish before the next meal is put into the body! Allow digestion to completely finish before going to bed at night. Do not eat and then go lie down as that makes it even more likely stomach acid will get into the esophagus when you go horizontal with a full belly!
During my Health Kickstart + Detox course I teach all of this and more to my clients, and I love that in just 21 days clients that previously struggled with heartburn and digestion no longer struggle. Even better than that, if it should happen again, they know exactly what to do in order to alleviate it on their own!
Written by: Melissa Deally, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
First seen on Brainz Magazine February 2022
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.