Land of the Free, Home of the Prilosec...
The 4th of July, like most holidays, is a time of indulgence. Burgers and beers abound and people start popping Tums like Tic Tacs. I'm not so concerned about the people who have the occasional holiday indigestion, but the problem in 'Murica is that indigestion, like obesity, is on the rise and up to 25% of people are now regular proton pump inhibitor (the main drug class used to treat reflux, like Prilosec or omeprazole) pill poppers.
The two most common symptoms of indigestion (otherwise known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) are heartburn and regurgitation of reflux into the back of the throat. The latter symptom is referred to as 'silent reflux' because rather than burning, it causes a sensation like something is stuck in the throat leading to frequent throat clearing, mucus in the throat, coughing and occasionally hoarseness.
In general, high fat intake (particularly from meat, poultry, egg yolks and dairy) and alcohol are associated with indigestion symptoms because they relax the sphincter at the top of the stomach, allowing regurgitation of acid. Fiber filled foods, on the other hand, offer a protective effect. Think fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It's still unclear from studies if increased produce consumption lowers the reflux risk or if the risk is only lower by virtue of increased produce consumption crowding out the acid inducing foods. It's likely a combination of the two.
So why is this a problem if I can just take the magic proton pump inhibitor pills?
Well, a few reasons.
1. Chronic acid reflux leads to esophagitis (inflammation of the lining of the food tube) which leads to the development of pre-cancerous cells of the esophageal lining (otherwise known as Barrett's esophagus). This in turn can lead to cancer of the esophagus. In fact, rates of this type of cancer have increased 6-fold in the U.S. over the last 3 decades, indicating that dietary factors are to blame.
2. Taking proton pump inhibitors regularly can increase risk of electrolyte deficiencies, bone fractures, c. diff (clostridium difficile) infection, pneumonia, food poisoning and other gastrointestinal disturbances.
3. The antacid medication industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, so if the pharmaceutical companies had it their way, you would keep downing burgers and beers. A study of 3,000 people showed that those who consumed non-vegetarian foods (including eggs) had twice the odds of acid induced esophageal inflammation. A number of other studies showed that acid reflux related to red meat consumption was more likely to cause cancer of the esophagus, whereas acid reflux related to chicken consumption was more likely to cause cancer at the top of the stomach. Consumption of plant-based protein sources, such as nuts, beans and seeds was associated with a significantly decreased risk of cancer. Point here being that you can avoid giving the pharmaceutical industry your hard earned money and significantly reduce your risk of indigestion (and thereby cancer) by consuming more whole plant-based foods and less meat, poultry, dairy and alcohol.
So, get to the root of the problem and eat more plants!