Monthly Archives: July 2013

Treating heartburn with a ‘more is less’ approach


Nova Scotian pharmacist says stomach acid may be the cure, not the problem

     That antacid you’re taking for heartburn might provide you with short-term relief but it’s likely going to mean more suffering down the road, says a Nova Scotian pharmacist who focuses on pharmaceutical compounding and nutraceuticals.


Graham MacKenzie, owner of Stone’s Pharmasave in Baddeck, says it’s a popular misconception that gastroesophageal reflux disease – commonly known as heartburn – is caused by an excess of acid in the stomach that overflows into the esophagus. Rather, the opposite may be true, meaning  that the real cure for heartburn is more stomach acid, not less.


“People are often shocked when I explain what may be the cause of their heartburn and how it should be treated,” says MacKenzie. “We’ve been led to believe that it’s caused by an excess of stomach acid. But that’s a bit like thinking bleeding is caused by excess blood. You bleed because you have an opening in your circulatory system. It’s the same with heartburn: you feel pain because stomach acid is entering an opening in your lower esophagus. That may be due to not having enough stomach acid to keep your lower esophagus sphincter closed and, as a result, the acid you do have is able to get into your esophagus and give you heartburn.”


While antacids might offer temporary relief, MacKenzie says they’re only exacerbating the situation by not treating the root cause. In fact, prolonged antacid use can lead to increases in inflammation, poor digestion and increased fat tissue. Instead, he recommends nutraceuticals that increase stomach acid and encourage the lower esophageal sphincter to naturally close.


MacKenzie’s approach to heartburn treatment is one supported by a wide range of research, as well as naturopathic doctors and naturopaths. Among them is Dr. Natasha Turner, North America’s leading naturopathic doctor, best-selling author and founder of the Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique in Toronto. She echoes MacKenzie’s recommendations, especially in older Canadians.


“Unfortunately, people with reduced acid levels frequently suffer from what they assume are symptoms of elevated stomach acid, including heartburn, bloating, nausea and frequent burping,” says Dr. Turner. “As a result, they reach for over-the-counter acid-reducing remedies, which can actually encourage greater imbalance and increase the risk of developing peptic or duodenal ulcers and even pancreatic or gastric cancer. Believe it or not, excess acidity in the stomach is much less common and, in my experience, is usually not the cause of the digestive discomfort.”


Dr. Turner recommends heartburn sufferers consider all options for treating low acidity, including the testing of hydrochloric acid levels. Natural solutions can often effectively reduce the symptoms of heartburn, indigestion or reflux without the risk of further decreasing stomach acid. However, it’s important to do so only after consulting with a health professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist, who can also prescribe the appropriate treatment.


Among the options to consider are several suggested by Dr. Andrea Maxim, a naturopathic doctor based in Hamilton, Ontario. She recommends Betaine HCl capsules with each meal to increase the acid content in the stomach and retrain the stomach to secrete acid at the right time.  This helps to initiate digestion and protect the gastro-intestinal tract against foreign pathogens.


“When we tell people that we are treating their reflux the exact opposite way they were treating it, it can cause confusion,” says Dr. Maxim. “If they come off of their medications cold turkey, they will often get rebound heartburn. Treatment involves slow removal of the medications with support of Betaine HCl, pepsin, some digestive enzymes and probiotics. In the end, they will be successfully off of their acid lowering medications and digesting their food completely offering long lasting health.”


Regardless of the path taken to overcoming heartburn, MacKenzie always recommends consulting your doctor or pharmacist before discontinuing your current treatment or medication.


“The most important part of the treatment is the first one: talking to us,” he says. “That will allow us to fully understand your needs and make an informed decision. Then we can work together to provide a cure for your heartburn that will actually benefit you in the long run.”


About Stone’s Pharmasave

Stone’s Drug Store has been serving the community of Baddeck, Nova Scotia for over 60 years. In 2001, it was purchased by Graham MacKenzie, who renovated the pharmacy both inside and out. Today, Stone’s Pharmasave includes Cape Breton’s only compounding lab, a private counselling room and nursing home dispensing facilities. Its team of six pharmacists, a certified dispenser, four pharmacy technicians 15 store employees also provide several services not found in other Nova Scotian drugstores, including hormone replacement therapy and specialized pain management therapy. More information about Stone’s Pharmasave, including health news updates and Graham’s blog, can be found at


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Why is it becoming easier to gain weight?


There is no point giving statistics anymore on the incidence of obesity, the effects of obesity, the millions of dollars spent to eliminate obesity, or the cost obesity has on everyone.  These statistics are merely valuable for trivia at best and really don’t result in anyone becoming fearful for their lives and going off to lose weight.  The fact is that each generation finds it easier to put on weight than the last.  It is common to tell someone they are overweight simply because they eat more than they burn off;  that someone is overweight because they are lazy.  Hmmmm….logic would lead us to believe then that laziness is a relatively new human trait that progressively becomes worse with each generation, leading to more overweight people.

Of course this type of thinking only results in people incorrectly thinking that their weight problem happened 100% because of their fault.  True, weight loss occurs in humans when we change what and how much we eat and increase our activity level – it is pretty difficult to disprove that.  If you live a healthier lifestyle you should lose weight and keep a healthy weight.  But why is it easier now to put pounds back on when we lose our focus for just a few days?  Is this what happened say, 2000 years ago? 10,000 years ago?  Were we all sitting around the TV watching weight loss programs back then scratching our heads as to how we got so big?  Obesity is not new to us, but the prevalence of it has never been higher.  It becomes clear that it is nothing short of cruel to make a person believe that all of us would be the same weight if we all ate the same and exercised the same and that the reason they are overweight is negligence on their behalf.

So what is the difference today compared to back then?

ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS  One thing that we are constantly exposed to from conception onward in this part of the world  are insults in the environment that have adverse effects on our hormones.  Thyroid, estrogens and androgens.  One of the biggest increases in this category is from bisphenol A (BPA).  This chemical is found everywhere in our daily lives.  From the lining of metal cans, to your plastic containers containing your drinking water, the plastic tea bag holding your healthy dose of herbal tea, food storage containers (that you microwave), even the air you are breathing – all contain this chemical.  It has been proven that exposure to BPA causes obesity.  It is a potent imitator of estrogen in the body and alters glucose and lipid metabolism.

FOOD SENSITIVITIES  Certainly one thing around today that wasn’t around thousands of years ago is the type of food available.  It was postulated in the first half of the last century that food sensitivity was responsible for obesity.  We now know the exact mechanism that happens when we eat an inflammatory food and how it results in fat cells increasing in both size and number.  Genetically modified food that the body was not evolved to recognize is one source.  The reliance we have in this part of the world on this type of food is staggering.  Because of the dominance in the market with this type of thinking from a handful of companies, we consume more and more of this kind of food.  To ad insult to injury, the same foods we are allergic to cause an addiction to the same food and cravings occur for the food that increases  weight.  Not many of us have an addiction to say kale, or carrots.  We do though often have addictions to carbs, which when ingested create substances in the body that are related to opiods.  This includes wheat gluten and milk protein (also a relatively new introduction to humans) as well as refined sugar.

REFINED SUGAR  Another new addition to our diets as humans is this much hated and loved set of molecules.  Consuming these causes a spike in insulin levels to deal with the sugar load in your blood.  Hopefully this spike will drop the blood sugar level quickly.  Unfortunately the resulting dive in blood sugar and the overcompensation of insulin dumped into the blood causes a low sugar level in the blood that you are chasing all day.  You eat more sugar, you get more insulin, your sugar drops… do you see a pattern.  This helps to contribute to insulin sensitivity.  It is like a wave on the ocean that you can’t stop.  Fructose is one of these sugars.  Although this sugar doesn’t result in the up and down levels in the blood just described, it does get metabolized into lipids and results in abdominal weight gain.

STRESS  Anyone out there with no stress in their lives, please stand up.  Now that we are all sitting down, you are at least comforted by the fact that you are not alone.  You have bills, you have relationships, you have deaths of loved ones, you have job issues, you have traffic, you have kids, you have stress.  True, stress has always been there with humans, it’s just the constant nature of stress we deal with that is different.  So is the type of stress.  Cavemen and women had stress when they left the cave to get food and not get eaten themselves.  They weren’t late for work, checking their visa bills on their iPhone at 2:00 AM, breaking down on the freeway taking their kids to soccer, or paying for their college education.  Stress increases cortisol, and constant stress keeps cortisol elevated more than it should, cortisol stores your fat.

Other things we have the ability to chose but are so prevalent in our world are trans fatty acids, lack of dietary fiber, artificial sweeteners, lack of breast feeding, high caloric diets, lack of frequent small meals, grazing, late bedtimes, lack of sleep, prevalence of acid lowering drugs that prevent digestion from fully occurring, lack of exercise, all contribute to weight gain.

It’s not totally your fault you crept up a few pounds year by year, it’s not your fault it takes more work to lose weight than your friend of the same age, but it is still up to you to decide if you want to remain overweight or not.  We know how to lose weight, it’s just harder for some more than others.  Your genes are different than your friend’s.  It means they have blonde hair and you have brown, is can also mean you lose weight with more effort than them.  But you can still do it.

Take Care









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