Updated: Sep 1, 2018
I have an extreme pet peeve about how acid reflux/GERD is handled by western medicine. Rather than rant about it, I thought I'd give you all some useful information :).
As it turns out, something like 90% of the people who get heartburn, acid reflux or have been diagnosed with GERD have too little (not too much) stomach acid. There are conditions that result in excessive stomach acid, but they are not common. The burning sensation from heartburn is typically caused, not by excessive acid, but by acid that's in the wrong place. The problem occurs when the contents of the stomach, called chyme, gets up into the esophagus. While the stomach is designed to tolerate a highly acidic environment, the esophagus is not.
Now, you might be wondering how stuff from the stomach gets up into the esophagus. Well, one thing that can happen is that, without sufficient stomach acid, food tends to stay in the stomach for longer than it should. It then starts to ferment and putrefy. This produces gas. The pressure from this gas pushes against the LES (lower esophageal sphincter, the valve between the esophagus and the stomach) and causes it to open, releasing stomach contents in the esophagus. This gas can also cause belching and feelings of bloating or excessive fullness.
If too little stomach acid is the root cause of heartburn, then why do antacids and acid-blocking medications relieve symptoms? Well, it's because they cause the chyme to become less acidic. They neutralize acid just as they're designed to do. When this less acidic chyme hits the esophagus, it doesn't burn. Remember, the esophagus can't deal with any level of acidity.
So, hopefully, you're asking yourself: if heartburn is caused by too little stomach acid, then wouldn't taking an acid neutralizer or suppressor be the exact opposite of what a person should do? The answer is yes, it would be :).
If someone's heartburn is caused by too little stomach acid, they should be doing things to increase their stomach acid, not decrease it. There are a number of things that can be done. For mild cases of low acid, drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with some water right before a meal can help. For more extreme cases, there are stomach acid supplements available through your friendly neighborhood NTP (e.g. me) :).
The process of digestion requires strong stomach acid. Without it, digestion simply doesn't work right. Stomach acid is what triggers the release of digestive enzymes that break down proteins. Digestion and absorption of important minerals can't occur without strong stomach acid. Taking an acid-blocker messes with all of this and can lead to long-term health issues.
So, do the doctors who prescribe acid-blockers know this? Most of them probably don't. They're told by the drug reps that these drugs will help their patients so they prescribe them. Do the drug companies know that their drugs may not be the right treatment or may do harm? Perhaps they do, perhaps they don't. Either way, the drug companies are making huge amounts of money selling these drugs. If a person knew they could just drink vinegar or take a cheap acid supplement, they'd lose revenue. That would be bad for shareholders. This could segue into a rant about pharmaceuticals, but I'll save that for another blog post.
Now, I personally haven't had acid reflux or GERD so I can't speak from personal experience wrt these conditions. However, I did have other symptoms of low stomach acid. Since I started with supplements, these symptoms are gone. There are also lots of people whose acid reflux was helped or eliminated with supplemental acid. I know several personally.
Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor. Don't stop taking any prescribed medications without consulting with your doctor. However, if you are dealing with these issues and taking medication for them, it might be worth seeing if there's a better way.