Sunday, 22 April 2012

Zantac, my Friend, my Foe

So a few days ago I finally decided to give up my Zantac habit. Well, really, I decided to give it up and try to go without it a few times over the past couple of months, but I failed. Horribly. Every time.  The stuff is like crack to me, and they are such cute little tiny pills, aren’t they?

So, what’s the big deal with Zantac? Surely, there are far bigger issues out there, you wonder!?

This is an issue that's been bugging me for some time now. Removing grains from my diet should have fixed this... It seems to have fixed everyone else’s.   I know, waaah, I’m not so-and-so and if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would I?  Maybe.  Are we all wearing parachutes or holding hang gliders?!   

So, what was I doing differently that was preventing me from dropping this silly little drug habit? (Maybe you should just lay off the hot sauce collection, Cindi—but no, don’t say THAT is the problem.  I’d have to throw myself off a cliff if that was the problem.  Without the parachute or glider.  Because a world without hot sauce means the apocalypse has arrived). 

It was finally time to do something about this.  Again.  Only with success this time.  Hopefully.

So I've been reading up about acid reflux--reading articles written by paleo advocates who are also considered to be "in the know" about these kinds of things. (It is pretty dry reading, so I’ll only share the Coles Notes version that applies here).  The suggestion that kept coming up was that while we have been led to believe that reflux and heartburn were being caused by excess acid splashing up the esophagus, the newest studies were actually suggesting something like the opposite of it. Low acid levels cause the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus to malfunction. Lazy sphincter.  (Did I just say sphincter?  Yes, yes I did.  My smarty-pants son has informed me that we have many sphincters through our body, not just the one that I’m imagining right now).

Stomach acid is supposed to put pressure on the sphincter, and as soon as there's pressure, the sphincter closes. You take antacids to block the acid and suddenly there’s too little pressure and the muscle relaxes because it has nothing to do. This feels good to you, because the pressure has gone away.  So every time you feel that pressure, you take another antacid.  And another.  They come in tasty fruit flavours, you know??  If and when the acid levels are allowed to return, the lazy sphincter can't keep it contained anymore because you haven’t been using the muscle or letting it do its job.  So then you have to keep taking acid reducing drugs because without them, you cannot lay down at night.  The acid reflux is immediate.  At some point you’ve visited the doctor and they’ve said, “Here, take this prescription drug instead.  It doesn’t just block acid temporarily, it reduces stomach acid altogether.”  And you think, ok, great, that sounds about right.  So you take it.  For 20+ years, religiously.  Because who would question their doctor? 

Do NOT do this with reflux, folks...
So, what did 20+ years of taking Zantac do to my stomach? How much stomach acid can my body possibly produce when I've lowered it every single night for these 20+ years? And really, what's the problem with taking this drug, anyways? The FDA approved it. I was told it was so safe that I could take it through both my pregnancies. And I did. (Hey, don’t judge, I didn’t know any better—they said I could!)  But new studies are suggesting that a stomach with lower-than-average stomach acid has a higher risk of developing stomach cancer. Yep, c-word.  They also say uncontrolled reflux causes an increase in your risk of esophageal cancer. Oh, another c-word.  Hmmm. Which do I need more--my esophagus or my stomach?? Far as I know, they can’t transplant either, yet.  My daughter wants to be the first in line when they start to do stomach transplants.  She says hers is broken.

So, apparently I had a problem.  15 years ago, after extensive and invasive testing, a doctor flatly told me that I would need to take drugs for the rest of my life for reflux. How stupid is that?  They couldn’t tell me what was causing it, so he wrote a prescription for another drug, also believed safe, to increase motility (I cannot recall what it's called now). And after taking it through my second pregnancy with their insistence that it was safe, they found this drug was causing cardiac arrest in some patients as young as teens. They pulled the drug off the market. Meantime, they called me looking for updates on my daughter's state of health since I took it through my pregnancy. Well, she was born with a very noisy heart murmur that caused them to put her through a flurry of tests at birth and again at about 4 years of age.  To this day, we don’t really know if it’s hereditary or caused by the drug. But my point is, we are told these things are safe, we are comforted by our trust in the FDA. And then they admit they were wrong. There are new studies out there suggesting Tylenol isn't so safe, either. So you need to question every single drug you take, weigh the risks between drugs that are life-saving (like diabetes meds) vs. drugs that are just intended to reduce our discomfort (painkillers and antacids).

The first few times that I tried unsuccessfully to stop taking the Zantac, I just basically got into bed and as soon as the tingling, fluttering sensation started, I panicked and took the pill. The next couple of times, I refused to take the pill so soon after laying down, hoping the feeling would go away in an hour or so, only to be woken up shortly thereafter with a raging burning sensation in my throat that felt as if I'd been screaming at a rock concert. And then took the pill. 

I just so happened to read about taking bitters to restore acid to its proper level, to “heal” the stomach, and fresh ginger was on the list of things to try (along with taking extra doses of friendly bacteria “acidophilus”, which I took religiously).  So I bought a whole bunch of fresh ginger, and had ginger tea before heading off to bed, only to still get the reflux AND have to get up to go to the bathroom repeatedly through the night. Ugh.

Each time, the persistence of the problem scared me away and I would stop trying to break the habit and a week would go by before I'd try again. This habit ran neurotic-deep. I couldn't tell whether the fluttering was actual reflux or just anxiety about getting reflux. So I'd try to wait it out until I had a raging fire in my throat and then I would toss and turn all night because once it starts, it cannot easily be stopped. And the whole time, in my head, I was hearing "stomach cancer or esophagus cancer?" Tick, tick, tick. Stupid neuroses.

So I read some more. I consumed more yogurt with active bacteria. I consumed extra acidophilus tablets. I consumed fermented foods. Did it help? No. In fact, the extra acidophilus and yogurt was causing me to get "food baby" belly. Severe bloating.  The vinegar and acid in the fermented foods was causing heartburn not just at night, but during the daytime as well, something I rarely had any issues with until now.

So maybe I just had a lazy sphincter. (Sorry, makes me giggle every time)   

How in the heck do you exercise the esophageal sphincter?  Mega burps?  Jumping up and down alot?  Good thing we’re talking this sphincter and not THAT sphincter—only a boy can fart the alphabet...).  And don’t say extra hot sauce for exercising this one, either, I did not go around looking for new and inventive ways to create heartburn to give my lazy sphincter a workout...  Actually, I didn’t think of that at the time, so really, I didn’t do that because it didn’t occur to me.)

I did try again. This time without vinegar and fermented foods, without ridiculous amounts of beneficial bacteria.  Maybe I was trying too hard, making it too complicated.  I tend to do that.  I finally just went to bed propped up on a couple of pillows. That's all, I’m not kidding. I’m not old enough to have a Craftmatic bed yet (though I dream of owning one when I’m 90—I have strange aspirations sometimes...)  By around 2 am, my stomach is empty enough that I can remove the pillow and sleep flat out.  Its’ been working, I kid you not.  In a couple of weeks, I might try sleeping without the extra pillows.  I need to give my stomach time to adjust.  Lately, I’ve been getting “food baby” belly every single day, building up over the process of the day.  I look like a piƱata.  It’s quite uncomfortable and ugly, but it doesn’t seem to result in reflux, so I’m waiting this one out.  (Que Anger Management Jack Nicholson singing, “I’m so pretty, oh so pretty...”)

...So, yea, nothing like the ramblings of a crazy neurotic person, right?  That was ten minutes you’ll never get back?  I don’t know why my reflux stopped.  That’s the simple truth.  Maybe it’ll return as soon as I try to lay out flat on my back.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I’m really happy to stop popping that drug.  Geez, I’m running out of drug habits to give up.  This darn paleo thing is making me too healthy to have anything to complain about.  I guess I’ll have to learn to fart the alphabet so I can give that up, too.  Or not.  My family may enjoy that one.

No comments:

Post a Comment