Two views: Heartburn


TRADITIONAL: DARSEY MILFORD, pharmacist at Turtle Mountain Pharmacy in Bellevue, Alta.

Heartburn is pain or discomfort that occurs when gastric acid is pushed up into your chest, irritating the lining of the esophagus, the tube connecting your stomach to your mouth. Some symptoms are burping, nausea, burning in the throat, coughing, difficulty swallowing and a bad taste in the mouth.

The first thing I do is get the patient’s medical history, including how often she suffers heartburn, what time of day she feels it and how long it lasts. I also ask whether she has a history of heart problems, because she might mistake a heart condition, such as angina, for heartburn. If there’s any doubt, I err on the side of caution and send the patient to a doctor.

If a patient has infrequent heartburn, I’ll give her an antacid, such as Turns, which contains calcium carbonate to neutralize stomach acid. If her heartburn is triggered by foods, I’ll suggest Zantac or Pepcid AC, which slows the release of stomach acid. I don’t suggest Pepto-Bismol unless the patient also has diarrhea, because it can cause constipation.

If those don’t work, I’ll refer the patient to a doctor, who will prescribe stronger drugs, called proton-pump inhibitors, such as Pantoloc and Prevacid. But there are concerns that their long-term use may restrict the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals.

Pharmacies carry some homeopathic remedies – we’ve had success with the remedies for colds and allergies – but I haven’t found anything that works for heartburn. The traditional medications are still better for this condition.

ALTERNATIVE: DENISE ROCHON, naturopathic doctor in Sechelt, B.C.

As a homeopath, I believe that organs have an inherent ability to heal. The human stomach produces 1.5 to 2.5 litres of gastric acid per day, and with heartburn, the stomach is not managing this acid properly. I try to find out why.

When I treat a patient, I’m interested in how her heartburn is expressed. I ask the patient about physical, mental and emotional factors, including energy levels, mood, temperament, sleep habits, body temperature, eating habits and cravings, lifestyle and allergies. I treat the person as a whole, not just the disease. For example, some patients hold their stress in their stomachs. Relieving their stress eliminates their heartburn.

I will prescribe homeopathic remedies after finding out more about a patient’s digestive system. The remedy nux vomica can work for patients whose heartburn is accompanied by a heaviness and pain in the stomach because of improper eating habits. Metallicum album is good for patients who are rest- less and anxious and suffer burning pain; it’s also a remedy for food poisoning. And pulsatilla is helpful for patients who can’t digest rich and fatty foods well. All the remedies I prescribe are made from natural ingredients.

No matter what the illness, I’m primarily concerned with understanding imbalances in the body and stimulating a patient’s vital life force so her body can heal. Drugs help patients manage their symptoms rather than treating the causes. That’s why many patients find that drugs don’t improve their condition. That’s when they come to see me.