Instead of saying the same things I always say about the work I do, I thought I’d give you an example of how integrative medicine really works, so you can see how it could benefit you or those you love.
Heartburn and reflux are extremely common symptoms. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, it’s estimated that more than 15 million American suffer with heartburn and/or reflux symptoms every day. That’s a lot of folks!
If you were to go to a mainstream western medical provider with the complaint of heartburn, there’s a very high chance that your treatment would consistent of one thing: a prescription for a medication from a class of drugs called proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs). Commonly prescribed PPIs include, omeprazole (Prilosec), esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), rabeprazole (AcipHex), and pantoprazole (Protonix). Many of these are also available over-the-counter.
I know this because that 15 million people with heartburn statistic you read above is generated by the number of people taking one of these medications every day.
If you’re lucky, this conversation might also include advice to eliminate a few common irritating foods, such as coffee, tea, and soda, and you might be instructed to elevate the head of your bed while you sleep.
And, that’s it. You’re out the door and on your way to starting a drug that’s extremely difficult to discontinue down the road. I won’t go into all the physiology here, because that could be an hour lecture on its own. I will tell you this, PPIs change the physiology of the gut and when you want to stop taking these drugs, the rebound heartburn is usually worse than what you had when you started out in the first place.
*Please note that I’m talking about mild to moderate cases here. More severe cases could require further testing and exploration to be certain nothing more serious is going on.
Integrative Medicine Approach
Avoid PPIs if at all possible. (If heartburn has been going on for a while, there is a risk to the tissues of the esophagus. Very rarely we might give a PPI for 2 weeks to calm things down, which was actually the original intention of this drug).
Other medications for the gut such as famotidine/ranitidine or plain old antacids like Tums can be helpful for in the moment times to avoid misery while we sort out what’s really going on. These would also be used sparingly and are easier to stop taking.
Consider complete stool analysis to find the true cause of the symptom. It might be that the person doesn’t have enough stomach acid to break down fats and proteins and not that they have too much
There might also be inflammation, an imbalance in good and bad bacteria, or a lack of digestive enzymes to break down carbohydrates.
A stool analysis takes out the guessing game and gets down to the physiological facts.
We can then recommend the exact supplements and herbs needed to heal the issue for good.
Consider food allergy and food sensitivity testing. If we can find out the exact foods causing symptoms, then why not do it?
Food elimination diets can feel very oppressive and can be hard to follow. Once you see it on paper, it’s much easier to avoid the foods that could be causing your symptoms.
Add demulcent herbs like marshmallow root, licorice root, or slippery elm. I often give these herbs as powders to be taken several times a day. They soothe and heal the gut lining since it’s probably quite irritated at this point.
Take a hard look at the person’s stress level. When you’re stressed, you can live in fight-or-flight mode a good part of the time (read this full article here to learn more about this). This causes a slowing of digestion which means that food might sit in your stomach longer than usual creating the heartburn symptom.
Addressing stress is often the most powerful treatment for all digestive issues. In integrative medicine, we take time to talk in detail about this and determine the best strategy for overcoming stress. Suggestions might include quiet time/meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), removal of the stressful situations from the person’s life, if possible, counseling, etc.
We can do all the testing in the world and spend hundreds of dollars on supplements, but if the problem is stress, we will only make a small impact on resolving heartburn for good.
So, there you go. That’s an example of what a consultation might look like with me. For every symptom, there’s a scientific look at physiology as well as a compassionate look at lifestyle and life circumstances.
I hope that helps you understand how integrative medicine might be a better option for people than simply being prescribed a medication to make the symptom seem like it’s gone.
If you want that professional to be me, click here to schedule and be sure to share this article with others in your life who might need a more integrative approach to what they’re experiencing.