The People's Perspective on Medicine

Thyroid Trouble Was Behind Stomach Problems

A reader describes how effective treatment for hypothyroidism reversed low stomach acid and overcame stomach problems and Barrett's esophagus.

Doctors often attribute stomach problems like indigestion or discomfort after eating to excess stomach acid. Usually, they prescribe a PPI such as esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) or omeprazole (Prilosec) to keep the stomach from producing too much acid. But what if the problem is really too little acid? People with low stomach acid (especially women) may suffer severe symptoms of indigestion (Journal of Gastroenterology, Feb. 2013). Physicians don’t have nearly as many prescribing options for this situation. One reader describes how a prescription to balance the thyroid ended up easing digestive difficulties.

Stomach Problems Due to Low Stomach Acid?

Q. I was diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus after years of daily PPI use. My then-gastroenterologist had prescribed it. However, what I thought was excess stomach acid as the cause for my indigestion, ironically, was low stomach acid. I believe this was caused by my hypothyroid condition.

My integrative cardiologist subsequently diagnosed the thyroid problem and prescribed natural desiccated thyroid (NDT). My Barrett’s esophagus cleared up and I no longer need a PPI at all. I control any digestive upsets with diet, HCI, digestive enzymes and a commercial antacid if I really need it.

Link Between Hypothyroidism and Stomach Problems:

A. Thank you for alerting us to the link between hypothyroidism and achlorhydria. This is the medical term for low stomach acid. Although the connection is documented in the medical literature, we suspect that most people are unaware of it (World Journal of Gastroenterology, June 21, 2009). 

Treating Thyroid Trouble with Desiccated Thyroid Gland:

Desiccated thyroid gland can be used to treat hypothyroidism. This dried gland derived from animals supplies both T3 and T4 thyroid hormones. Relatively few doctors like to prescribe it, however, as they perceive it as unpredictable. Your integrative cardiologist clearly feels more comfortable with this approach. You can learn more about the pros and cons of this treatment in our eGuide to Thyroid Hormones.

Overcoming Barrett’s Esophagus:

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the cells lining the esophagus near its entrance to the stomach have changed. Instead of looking and behaving like normal esophageal cells, they resemble cells in the lining of the intestine. Scientists believe that this condition is triggered by chronic exposure to stomach acid, but your experience suggests there may also be other preconditions.

Gastroenterologists worry about Barrett’s esophagus because these abnormal cells occasionally start to multiply and turn into esophageal cancer. That is why they treat Barrett’s with PPIs. They can also use radiofrequency ablation or cryotherapy to eliminate the altered tissue. If you would like to learn more about Barrett’s esophagus and how it is treated, you may wish to listen to our interview with Dr. Nicholas Shaheen of the University of North Carolina. It is Show 1144: New Ways to Heal Your Digestive Tract

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Digestive Disorders
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Digestive Disorders
Citations
  • Iwai W et al, "Gastric hypochlorhydria is associated with an exacerbation of dyspeptic symptoms in female patients." Journal of Gastroenterology, Feb. 2013. DOI: 10.1007/s00535-012-0634-8
  • Daher R et al, "Consequences of dysthyroidism on the digestive tract and viscera." World Journal of Gastroenterology, June 21, 2009. doi: 10.3748/wjg.15.2834
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