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Stressed by Acid Reflux?

MCO stress, virus stress, business stress… these have all taken a toll on Michael’s heartburn. Michael has tried to avoid trigger foods such as coffee and alcohol that sets off his symptoms. However, he would still feel the acid and sourish taste coming back up into his mouth after he eats. Then there is that burning sensation in his chest as though it was on fire.

Although Michael has been taking antacids to try and quell his discomfort, these don’t seem to provide relief any longer. Late one evening, Michael started feeling a tightness in his chest. He thought he was having a heart attack. The thought caused him to be even more anxious. His wife had to rush him to hospital where doctors found that it wasn’t a heart attack but a chronic form of heartburn known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Given acid-blocking pills to help relief the symptoms, Michael has come to depend on these otherwise which he would find herself unable to function at all.

Tummy on Fire

Heartburn is known by local terms such as “pedih ulu hati” or a “sour tummy” (Chinese) in Malaysia. Other terms include acid reflux or the medical term GERD. It happens when the acidic contents of the stomach escapes into the esophagus. Stomach acid is as corrosive as acid from a car battery hence the pain as it contacts the thin lining of the esophagus.

Acid reflux can happen for a variety of reasons – aging, weakening of the valves situated on top of the tummy or stress. Researchers found that stress may cause changes in the brain that turn up pain receptors, making you physically more sensitive to slight rises in acid levels. Stress can also cause the depletion of tummy-protective substances called prostaglandins. Factors such as spicy foods, smoking and increased belly weight worsens the reflux as these put additional stress on the tummy valves.

Eighty percent (80%) of chronic heartburn or GERD sufferers are not able to enjoy their food whilst 70% report being unable to sleep well according to a community survey conducted in Canada. GERD is not only a burden to quality of life; it is also a risk factor for developing esophageal and lung cancer amongst Asians.

Treatment Options

Heartburn and GERD are treated with medications that control acid, the most common being a class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Examples include drugs such as pantoprazole, omeprazole and esomeprazole. PPIs are among the top ten most widely used drugs in the world. They are popular choices to help patients deal with their symptoms as PPIs are fast, powerful stomach acid suppressants.

Unknown to many however, the suppression of acid production in the stomach compromises two major processes in the body - digestion and immune defences. Tummy acid is present in the stomach to kill germs that we may consume. When 99% of this acid is suppressed by PPIs, one of our foremost defences becomes compromised. Recent research published in the journal Clinical Drug Investigation 2020, has also highlighted how PPIs may pose an increased risk to viral infections.[i]

In 2016, the Malaysian Ministry of Health issued a directive for healthcare professionals to be extra cautious of the long-term use of PPIs amongst patients due to the risks of adverse reactions. Current guidelines recommend that PPIs be used for only 4 - 6 weeks after which it should be withdrawn or stepped down to less-potent therapy.[ii] In reality however, patients continue their PPIs indefinitely as symptoms tends to recur when PPIs are stopped.

Alternative – Complementary Pine Therapy

If PPI medications should only be used for the shortest time possible, what other options can patients with recurring heartburn turn to reliably?

Research on plant medicines has unveiled the benefits of using a pine conifer green needle extract known as Bioeffective A to help heal troubled tummies. This natural extract from the green needles of pine trees is the result of an extensive botanical research program, which has spanned more than 80 years.

A study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2016, showed that patients who consumed Bioeffective A experienced a 92% improvement in heartburn symptoms, including improvement of symptoms such as gastritis, gas and bowel disorders. Not only that, these patients also experienced a normalisation of stomach functionality besides a reduction in inflammation of the tummy lining.

Unlike drugs, which address the symptoms of the condition, plant extracts possess natural healing properties which works from the root to aid damaged or weakened oesophageal valves, a key defect in patients with heartburn or GERD. The recommended dose for acid reflux or GERD is 320mg three times a day, each dose to be taken about 30 minutes before meals with some warm water.

A New Tummy

No longer wanting to be subject to recurring heartburn or to be reliant on medications forever, Michael decided to try the pine conifer green needle extract vegicaps he got from the pharmacy. His symptoms did not disappear over night. However, over the days and weeks that followed, Michael felt increasingly more comfortable in his tummy especially after meals. He was also managing to sleep better without the taste of the acid rising up when he was lying down. Soon enough, Michael was able to have more of his favourite foods without acid refluxing as before.

[i] Charpiat B, Bleyzac N, Tod M. Proton Pump Inhibitors are Risk Factors for Viral Infections: Even for COVID-19?. Clin Drug Investig. 2020;40(10):897-899 [ii] Talley NJ; American Gastroenterological Association. American Gastroenterological Association medical position statement: evaluation of dyspepsia. Gastroenterology. 2005;129(5):1753–1755

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