We have all heard the saying “you are what you eat” but it should be “you are what you are able to absorb.” When I talk with patients, I tell them that one of the most important things in achieving optimal health is proper digestion and absorption. You could eat the most nutritious foods, take the best vitamins on the planet but if you have an impaired ability to digest your food and absorb your nutrients you are no better off than someone that takes no supplements and has a poor diet. Proper digestion is accomplished when a person produces enough stomach acid and digestive enzymes. As we age our digestive function tends to decline and it becomes harder to digest large meals and certain foods. Symptoms of low digestive function include: bloating and belching after meals, a sensation that food is just sitting in the stomach for hours after a meal, heartburn, bad breath, and regurgitation of food even hours after eating. Many times patients will go to their medical doctor with these complaints and the typical treatment is a prescription for an antacid or an acid blocking drug. These drugs can actually make the situation much worse. If I were to ask anyone “why do we make stomach acid?” the most logical answer would be, “to digest our food.” So the million dollar question is “why do so many doctors routinely prescribe drugs that shut down stomach acid?” These drugs are among the most commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals, and I can honestly say that 1 out of every 5 patients that I see is on one of these drugs.
When a patient stays on these medications too long, they can impair their ability to absorb vital minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, chromium, and vitamins such as B12 to just name a few. This can lead to the progression of diseases such as osteoporosis and anemias. Also when patients are on these medications it can cause the intestinal tract to become a prime environment for bad bacteria and yeast to overgrow. This can lead to problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers and eventually stomach or colon cancer. It is well known that ulcers are caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria called h. pylori that attaches to the wall of the stomach and erode the tissue. When a patient is on an antacid or an acid blocking drug they may not even realize that they have an ulcer forming because they won’t feel it due to the lack of stomach acid. Untreated ulcers can actually lead to stomach cancer. You have to be thinking at this point, “What can I do to improve my digestion and avoid being put on one of these harmful drugs?” The first thing that I do with all of my patients is change their diet. I encourage patients to eat small meals that are easier to digest and have them eliminate some of the most allergenic foods first, like wheat, dairy and corn. Next, I encourage them to chew their food thoroughly, and eat slowly [a trick is to have them hold their fork in their non-dominant hand and to put it down in between bites of food.] Another great way to improve digestive function is to supplement with digestive enzymes in a capsule form. I typically have my patients use these along with larger meals or when consuming the more allergenic foods.
Finally, I will recommend that they take acidophilus or normal bacteria in a capsule form to enhance digestion and to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the intestinal tract. Many times these things can greatly improve most of the symptoms that I described above oppose to just masking them with medications.
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