Digestive Disorders – GERD, Heartburn, Gastritis, Ulcers

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There’s only one major disease and that is malnutrition.  All ailments and afflictions to which we may succumb are directly traceable to this major disease of “malnutrition”

~ D W.  Cavanaugh, M.D., Cornell University 


There are many different digestive disorders and drugstores are lined with literally hundreds of different remedies to try to block the symptoms of digestive distress which in the short term may provide some relief but in the long-term causes even more problems. 

Without a healthy gastrointestinal tract, disease from malnutrition and putrefaction is inevitable and looking at the root cause of the digestive distress and restoring proper digestive function is critical in disease prevention and recovery from any illness. 

Digestion and a Healthy Gastrointestinal Tract  

In order to survive, each cell of the body must receive proper nourishment from a balanced diet that includes the right proportions of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, water, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Before these foods can be used as nourishment for the cells and tissues they must first pass through the digestive system or alimentary canal which includes the long journey from mouth to rectum. 

During this journey foods are broken down into their most basic components such as amino acids, monosaccharides and fatty acids in order to be absorbed through the small intestine, and then to the liver and finally to the cells. If at any point during this journey, the foods are not efficiently digested or absorbed for anyone of a multitude of reasons; malnutrition results and the disease process begins. 

Organs of the Gastrointestinal Tract 

The gastrointestinal tract or alimentary canal is a continuous, coiled, hollow, muscular tube that winds through the body cavity and is open both ends.  Its organs include the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine and large intestine.  Technically speaking, the food material within this tube is outside the body, because it only has contact with cells lining the intestinal tract and is open to the external environment at both ends. An analogy would be, washing dishes with rubber gloves on; technically your hands are in the water, but they are not actually in contact with the water and therefore dry.  

The barrier the rubber gloves provide don’t allow contact with the outside world (water) is similar to the barrier between the outside world (contents of the gastrointestinal tract) and the bloodstream.  If for any reason there is a breech within the intestinal lining, large undigested food molecules can pass through into the bloodstream due to an abnormal amount of gut permeability.  This excessive gut permeability is called “leaky gut syndrome” which will be discussed in the pages to follow however first we must address the many steps of digestion that begin at the mouth and end at the anus. 

Digestion is the chemical breakdown of large food molecules into smaller molecules that can be used by cells. The breakdown occurs when certain specific enzymes are mixed with the food.  The digestive processes are controlled by both neural and hormonal mechanisms. 

The gastrointestinal tract along with the nervous system is the first to form in the embryonic stage and therefore the most important systems in the body not only to begin life but also to maintain optimal health throughout the lifespan. 

Functions of the Gastrointestinal Tract:  

•   Ingestion of food 

•   Movement of food through the long journey by way of muscular contractions called Peristalsis 

•  Digestion – to breakdown food into usable components.  

There are two different processes of digestion: 

1. Mechanical – chewing and mixing food 

2. Chemical – food is mixed with digestive enzymes and enzymes break chemical bonds   resulting in smaller compounds that are now able to be absorbed into the bloodstream. 

•  Absorption – the transport of the basic food components through the intestinal cells (enterocytes) lining the small intestine and into the blood. 

•   Defecation-to eliminate the waste material (feces) from unused portions of food residue that has accumulated in the large intestine (colon). 

Digestive Disorders 

Regardless of the cause our inability to digest foods causes signs and symptoms within the digestive system which we subsequently and erroneously merely diagnose as diseases rather than looking at them as symptoms that the digestive system is giving of an imbalance or inability to execute its function. Rather than just managing the symptoms of disease we would do well advised to try to restore proper function with the use of foods, herbs, supplements and beneficial bacteria. 

Irritations or inflammation of the various sections of the gastrointestinal tract are identified as gastritis (stomach), colitis (colon), ileitis (ileum or small intestines), hepatitis (liver), and cholecystitis (gall bladder). Again each and every one of these are symptoms of dysfunction which can be reversed if it’s addressed in time. 

Hypochlorhydria or Low Stomach Acid 

How can one tell if he has low stomach acid?  One may experience burning pain and regurgitation discomfort in the upper abdomen and lower chest area. Additionally, one may feel gas in this area and burp excessively. After meals, one may feel that the food seems to remain in the stomach and has difficulty progressing through the intestines. After a period of time the foods that have not been digested in the stomach start putrefying, create gas and the resulting pressure is eventually released up through the cardio esophageal sphincter where the partially acidified food is regurgitated up the esophagus resulting in its classic symptoms of heartburn. 

Rather than using antacids, acid blocking agents and proton pump inhibitors to inhibit acid production for merely symptomatic relief, our goal would be to restore proper digestion by being calm when you eat and thereby increasing parasympathetic nervous activity which helps the body rest and digest, increase HCl production by parietal cells, increase pepsin production, support liver, bile, pancreatic and villi enzymatic production. 

HCl deficiencies can lead to putrefaction, autointoxication, and undigested proteins leading to an inability to provide the substrates necessary for building and repairing of body tissues and causing the following symptoms: 

  • Excess fluid retention (Edema) in hands and feet
  • Nausea and dizziness from low blood sugar
  • Anemic conditions (low hemoglobin levels, lack of oxygen)
  • Catch colds, flu’s and infections easily- Lowered resistance because of lack of antibodies and white blood cells
  • Muscle catabolism (wasting)
  • Premature aging
  • Low hormone levels
  • Hair is dull, loose and falling out (cysteine)
  • Depression of vitamin A levels (lack of transport protein)
  • Decline in liver enzyme activity (liver uses amino acids for phase 2 detoxification conjugation pathways (glycine, taurine, cysteine, methionine)
  • Muscular incoordination
  • Retarded spermatogenesis
  • Extreme weakness, fatigue
  • Cataracts
  • Acid-Alkaline balance deviations
  • Hormone deficiencies (thyroxine, adrenaline, insulin)
  • Poor wound healing (glutamine, proline, lysine)
  • Mind, mood and memory problems – due to deficiencies in tryptophan-serotonin/melatonin; phemyalanine/ tyrosine and subsequent catecholamines norepinephrine epinephrine and dopamine.


An ulcer is an irritation due to gastric juice penetrating the mucous lining of the stomach or duodenum. It is believed that ulcers are caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which, can thrive in the acid environment of the stomach. The presence of the bacteria on portions of the stomach lining prevents it from secreting mucous, making it susceptible to the digestive action of pepsin and thus forming an ulceration in the tissue the stomach wall.

Many of today’s drugs often prescribed for a variety of digestive complaints work by preventing histamine’s ability to bind to the H 2 receptors on the parietal cells and thus reducing stomach acid production. These drugs are known as H2-blockers and include drugs, such as: cimetidine (Tagamet), ranitidine (Zantac), famotidine (Pepcid). 

Unfortunately, the consequences of these supposed benign stomach remedies are the inhibition of proper protein digestion.  If dietary proteins are not digested properly, putrefaction occurs and we cannot liberate the amino acid precursors for healthy brain function. Take for example amino acids such as phenylalanine or tyrosine which are necessary for the production of catecholamines such as norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine or dietary proteins precursors such as; tryptophan that are necessary for serotonin and melatonin production.  The use of these stomach acid blocking agents inevitably result in a deficiency of these nutrient precursors which can lead to many different types of nervous system disorders such as; depression, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, poor concentration and more. 

As mentioned, it is the gastric cells that secrete hydrochloric acid and the chief cells of the stomach secrete the inactive enzyme called pepsinogen. It is the activity of hydrochloric acid and the reduction in pH of the stomach contents which facilitates the inactive enzyme pepsinogens conversion to the active form of pepsin which then begins to denature proteins.  The chains of proteins strands are referred to as poly (many)-peptides and smaller chains are called oligo-(several) peptides chains of amino acids.  

A visual picture would be to imagine a long string of pearls of various lengths.  The goal of protein digestion is to cut a long string of pearls into shorter pieces until eventually they are broken down into single pearls and no longer attached to each other.  These single pearls would be the equivalent of single amino acids that are now small enough to be absorbed through the cells of the gastrointestinal lining. 

Diarrhea and Vomiting

Another very important function of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is as a sensory organ. By rejecting foods through objectionable taste, vomiting, and diarrhea or any combination of these symptoms, the sensing capacity of the GIT can protect the body. The surface of the GIT has a complex system of nerves and other cells of the immune system. The surface of the GIT, or mucosa, is part of a complex sensing system called the MALT (Mucosa Associated Lymphatic Tissue). The immune sensors in MALT trigger responses such as nausea, vomiting, pain, and swelling. Vomiting and diarrheas are abrupt defensive responses to MALT-sensing foods with a strong allergic or toxic component. This kind of food intolerance is responsible for many digestive problems. The gastrointestinal tract is “hard-wired” to the brain via hormonal, neurotransmitter-mediator chemical communication. 

The gastrointestinal tract is a muscular tube that contracts in a controlled rhythm to move food through the different sections (peristalsis). Strength and timing variations in the contractions can cause cramping (very strong contractions) and diarrhea (contractions are very frequent).When the contractions are slow and irregular, constipation may occur. 

Motility Disorder 

“Motility disorderis the general term used to describe problems with peristalsis.  In all but a few cases, a food allergy is the primary cause of gastrointestinal tract problems. Chronic diseases have their origin in food allergies. The dysfunction, discomfort, and disease associated with GIT are the result of local immune responses to food selections or combinations of foods. 


Abdominal pain appears in different patterns and with varying intensities. Cramping occurs because of muscle spasms of the abdominal organs. Severe cramping pain, often called colic,usually occurs from problems with food intakes that exhibit strong allergic response in the patient. Abdominal cramping near the navel is typically from the small intestine, and near the sides, top, and bottom of the lower abdomen, the pain is associated with the colon.


Flatulence is a common digestive problem. It can be a symptom of disease or may be related to an inappropriate diet and it is important to identify the cause.

The Dangers of Acid Blocking Drugs  

 Lack of stomach acid is called hypochlorhydria and it is becoming a common problem. It is the direct result of the long term use of antacids, poor food combining practices, stress and eating over processed foods without any enzymes.

Our natural production of stomach acid is necessary to digest and convert food to the millions of biochemical pathways. Stomach acid activates digestive enzymes not only in the stomach but in your small intestines. Absorption of minerals and vitamins like calcium, magnesium and B12 initially start in the stomach, but much more action goes on in the small intestines. Once we suppress stomach acid with an acid blocker, not only do we block active enzymes, we can cause a dangerous overgrowth of bad bacteria and microbes in the small intestines leading to threatening infections, abdominal pain and diarrhea. It is common knowledge the acid blockers block calcium and therefore cause bone density issues. 

Indigestion is often viewed by doctors as a minor disorder; MD’s often treat the symptoms of the gut, without regard to how it affects another system considering all our systems are intimately connected and all functions are linked. 

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are used widely in the management of acid-related disorders and, for the majority of patients, oral therapy is effective. PPI drugs have enabled improved treatment of various acid-peptic disorders, including gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcer disease, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug¬induced gastropathy. 

 Types of Proton Pump Inhibitors

  • Omeprazole (Prilosec)
  • Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
  • Rabeprazole (Aciphex)
  • Pantoprazole (Protonix)
  • Esomeprazole (Nexium) 

 They were considered safe but there are some concerns about the possibility of an association with cancer, infection, and gastric atrophy; current concerns about long-term therapy are centered mainly on a possible association with fundic gland polyps and between Helicobacter pylori and gastric atrophic changes.

The following is a short list of some of the negative effects of acid blocking agents: 

  • Vitamin B12 absorption- Proton pump inhibitors reduce the absorption of vitamin B12 probably by inhibiting intragastric proteolysis and, thus, its release from food required prior to binding to R-proteins and gastric intrinsic factor. 
  •  According to World J Gastroenterol. 2010. Safety of the long-term use of proton pump inhibitors. Long-term use of PPIs may lead to vitamin B12 deficiency, more likely in the elderly, or in persons with Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome who are on high doses of PPI for prolonged periods of time. 
  •  Proton-pump inhibitors that block stomach acid production increase the risk of an increasingly common infectious form of diarrhea.  
  •  Frequently prescribed anti-heartburn drugs called H2 antagonists that include Zantac double the risk of the bacterial diarrhea. PPIs and H2 antagonists reduce gastric acid, allowing for bacteria to multiply in the digestive system. Clostridium is the third-most common type of infectious diarrhea in patients aged 75 and older. 
  • Popular heartburn drugs, including proton pump inhibitors and histamine-2 receptor antagonists, may raise the risk of pneumonia, according to Dr. Sang Min Park of the department of family medicine at Seoul National University Hospital in Korea. 
  • Hip fracture risk increased with proton pump inhibitors long-term use of proton pump inhibitors increases the risk of hip fractures in adults over 50. 

For all these reasons it is wise to air on the side of caution when considering these acid blocking agents rather than dealing with the root cause of the digestive disorder itself. 

Over­all, it’s more impor­tant to focus on the root cause and what are the under­ly­ing mech­a­nisms that are caus­ing the condition rather than just treat­ing it symp­to­mati­cally.  Each person is encour­aged to seek out a qual­i­fied nutri­tion­ist or other qualified healthcare practitioner in order to assess exactly which nutri­ents, herbs, home­o­pathics and nat­ural reme­dies; in which com­bi­na­tion; in what pro­por­tion are right for the par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual and are intended at treat­ing the root cause rather than just a symptom.