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Heartburn: Prescription Drugs or Natural Treatment?

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Heartburn is often treated through prescription drugs. In fact, it is estimated that more than 100 million Americans resort to drugs such as Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, and Zegerid in the treatment of heartburn. And of course there are scores of people who take OTC remedies.

Unfortunately, these prescription and OTC drugs come with a negative impact upon bone health, according to research out of the Forsyth Institute (see the reference here: Forsyth Study). Researchers there say that the risk of sudden bone breaks increases by a whopping 34% for those who use Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for heartburn.

PPI drugs work by suppressing acids in the body. That may be well and good for reducing the symptoms of heartburn, but those very acids are needed to ensure the proper regulation of calcium in the body. Mess with calcium in the body, and you’re messing with the health of your bones. So why don’t the FDA and drug makers make this news better known? PPIs do carry warnings about increased risk of fractures.
OTC versions carry the same risks, as the dosages tend to be the same as with the prescription versions. In the case of Prilosec, the OTC version actually has a higher dosage: 20.6 mg of PPIs as opposed to 10 mg with the prescription version.

However, there is a loophole in the warnings that consumers should be aware of. The FDA has ruled that fracture warnings do not need to be included in OTC packaging as long as the packaging states that the medication should not be taken for longer than 14 days. (This article cites the FDA announcement. The FDA announcement itself can be seen here: FDA Announcement.) The problem is that many consumers use these medications for much longer than that short period of time.

The risk is even greater if you are over the age of 50. So if you want to avoid these negative side effects, what are some natural alternatives?

Diet

Diet is an obvious means for avoiding heartburn. It is important to learn which foods trigger your own heartburn. The following list includes foods that are often culprits in heartburn:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatos
  • Raw onions
  • Chillies
  • Dairy products
  • Beef
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Greasy foods
  • Alchohol
  • Soda
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate

Of course, not all of the above foods are necessarily bad for you; try eliminating one food type at a time, and monitor the state of your heartburn.

On the positive side, here is a list of foods that can be helpful in avoiding or lessening heartburn:

  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Honey
  • Garlic
  • Water
  • Baking soda (mixed into a glass of warm water)

You may want to consider the effect of food combinations as well. According to this theory, some foods do not mix well, and it is best to combine foods in specific ways. An interesting book I’ve read on this topic is The Gracie Diet by Rorion Gracie. Gracie is a member of the world-famous Gracie family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but you don’t have to be a martial artist to profit from this book–it applies to anyone. Foods are classified into groups, and so for instance, artichokes can be combined with carrots, but they should not be eaten at the same meal with red apples.

The Gracie Diet
Learn a practical system for combining foods that will change your life! Written by a martial arts champion, this book is for anyone who wishes to improve their health through food.

Exercise

Exercise in general is helpful because of the positive impact upon the digestive system. Maintaining your proper weight will help to alleviate the problems of heartburn.

There is a popular set of Qigong exercises from China entitled 8 Pieces of Brocade (Qigong is a type of exercise designed to enhance one’s energy, often with emphasis on breathing patterns). One of the movements in this set is specifically targeted at heartburn. The movement is #5 and is entitled “Sway the Head and Swing the Tail to Get Rid of the Heart Fire.” Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s version is very easy to follow–there is a DVD (recommended) as well as an accompanying book.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), heartburn can be caused by eating improper food, breathing poor air quality, and not getting enough quality sleep. This particular exercise is thought to move the bad digestive energy to the lungs, where the bad energy can be removed by proper breathing exercises. Because I don’t suffer from heartburn (other than once every 2-3 years), I can’t personally vouch that this exercise will cure heartburn, but I can say from personal experience that performing the whole set will improve your energy and overall health. Why not give it a try?

Eight Pieces of Brocade Qigong
Eight Pieces of Brocade: Improve your health in 10 to 20 minutes per day through this classical qigong set.

As with all things we discuss in this blog, you should always consult with your personal physician. If you’re concerned about the negative side effects caused by PPIs, however, it may be well-worth trying some of these natural remedies that have been mentioned in this article.

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