Putting Out Fires
Chronic heartburn was the topic of an e-Alert I sent you last month (“Fire Down Below” 12/23/02) in which HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., outlined a treatment he called “ridiculously simple (and cheap).”
Judging by the many responses I received, this was one of the most popular e-Alerts ever – and with good reason. Heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease) are all so common that virtually millions of people are seeking relief.
Today I’m going to share three e-mails from HSI members who wrote to ask for more details about Dr. Spreen’s easy, inexpensive and natural treatment. And of course, who better to answer them than Dr. Spreen himself?
England’s “other” Potter
“Could you get the good Dr. to give a more accurate dosage and times a day that they need to be taken?” asks Norm. “I would like to try his method, but want to take the proper amount (not too little), and know when to take them.”
And to Norm’s questions, Bob adds, “It would be helpful to find a suggestion for acidophilus powder supplement, as well as an explanation of Potter’s Acidosis.”
Dr. Spreen’s reply:
“Acidophilus is available at any decent health food store, as well as on the Internet. However, refrigerated varieties in capsules or powder form are best. They should be measured in billions (with a ‘B’) of cfu (colony-forming units). You take 1/4-1/2 teaspoonful (or equivalent capsules by opening them) right before meals and bedtime, plus anytime that you experience the burning. It’s best to just let the saliva take the substance down the throat, but a few sips of water are okay.
“It’s possible to be sensitive to high doses of acidophilus, but uncommon, and even less so if there’s a chance of levels being low (as in reflux problems). If that occurs you just stop or lower the dose temporarily and then see how much you can build back up to.
“The Potter’s Acidosis is a unique herbal blend from England, and is somewhat difficult to obtain in the U.S. However, HSI has reported on the substance and should be able to lead you to it. (See “and another thing” below.)
“DGL, another useful agent, stands for ‘De-Glycerrhizinated Licorice’, and is made by several producers. A prominent one is Enzymatic Therapy; theirs you suck or chew up about 20 minutes before meals, and can augment the effect of acidophilus.”
To medicate, or not to medicate
I received a long e-mail from an HSI member named Chris who has been diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, an irritation caused by stomach acids regurgitated up into the esophagus. Chris writes:
“My question is: Would Dr. Spreen recommend avoiding Prilosec and following his suggestions for someone who has Barrett’s Esophagus?
“I went to a doctor 2 1/2 years ago because of excessive belching. I was scoped and they found the Barrett’s. I have been taking Prilosec (20 mg twice a day) since being diagnosed with short segment Barrett’s. But I see no difference taking the Prilosec. I still have the excessive belching and never had heartburn – sometimes indigestion if I ate too much at one time.
“My doctor said that if it weren’t for my having Barrett’s he would not recommend that I do anything (that is, he would not recommend that I stay on Prilosec). But since I do have Barrett’s I should stay on Prilosec or Pepcid AC.
Sometimes I take 10 mg of Pepcid AC an hour or so after dinner – just because sometimes I am afraid not to be taking any medicine. I have always hated taking the Prilosec – wondering if I am compromising my stomach for the sake of MAYBE helping my esophagus.”
Dr. Spreen’s reply
“This is a great example, in my opinion (and ONLY in my opinion your doc will have to determine what to actually do) of a both a patient and a doctor “afraid not to be taking any medicine.” You have no symptom, but some big-time burp (not that that’s any fun), and you’re kept on serious drugs secondary to someone’s view through a scope. It seems to me your medical history is being ignored a bit.
“This is a case of YEARS of drugs, specifically designed to lower acid levels, either by absorbing it or blocking its production, and both efforts can alter your body’s defenses in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract environment.
“First, read carefully the warning and side effects of both Prilosec and Pepcid (ask your pharmacist for a copy, and insist on the long form). Just the words you can understand will be enough to get your attention.
“Ask your doc, but I see no reason not to treat a subject with non-toxic substances for a brief trial. GOOD digestive enzymes (I still like Super Enzyme by TwinLab, 2 mid-meal), and L. acidophilus (1/4-1/2 tsp before meals and bedtime) may be enough to affect the belching if there’s nothing around to kill acid, which by definition makes digestion poor! I don’t even see the need for the Potter’s, since it won’t affect the belching and is for other symptoms (which you don’t have). If you ever really need an ‘antacid’ try the acidophilus first.
“You already know that rapid eating causes indigestion, so cut it out! Eat slowly, chew thoroughly, avoid all refined sugars and white flour products, staying instead with whole, natural foods that are chewed enough to be swallowed as soup. With a natural approach I’d be really surprised if you couldn’t beat this.”
Allan Spreen, MD
Scary side effects
I have just a couple of important notes in closing.
If chronic heartburn is diagnosed as Barrett’s esophagus, patients should be aware that this disorder sometimes leads to cancer of the esophagus – a concern that should obviously be addressed as early as possible after diagnosis.
And if you’re wondering exactly what’s wrong with taking those very effective medications for chronic heartburn, here’s Dr. Spreen’s P.S. to Chris: “A few published side effects (not all) of Prilosec: abdominal pain, headache, diarrhea, dizziness, rash, constipation; for Pepcid: same as Prilosec plus seizures, palpitations, depression”
If you or someone you love suffers from chronic heartburn, I strongly recommend you read Dr. Spreen’s original e-Alert on this subject (“Fire Down Below” 12/23/02). His suggested treatment can often put out the fire without having to resort to expensive treatments that ultimately defeat their own purpose.
“What is Barrett’s Esophagus?” Johns Hopkins Pathology