Most people who experience heartburn or acid reflux just pop a pill to address the problem. However, using this quick fix to treat heartburn, acid reflux, and ulcers could lead to chronic disease and a shorter lifespan.
A recent study found that chronic use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium, and Protonix, is linked to an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and upper gastrointestinal cancer. The risk increases in relation to the duration of use, even at a low dosage. Other studies have linked PPIs to dementia, bone fractures, and pneumonia.
The study reviewed the medical records of more than 200,000 people over 10 years. They discovered that those who took PPIs, whether prescription or over-the-counter, increased their risk of death by almost 20 percent over people who took other types of acid-suppressing drugs. (Unfortunately, they did not compare death rates to people who took no acid-suppressing drugs.)
More than half of those reviewed were found to have no medical need for PPIs. Within this group, PPI-related deaths were more common.
Benefits of optimizing stomach acid levels
Stomach acid is necessary for digesting foods, particularly in breaking down the protein in meats. Many assume that too much stomach acid is to blame for heartburn and acid reflux. However, for most sufferers, the problem is actually too little stomach acid.
When stomach acid is too low, your stomach is unable to digest foods properly. The small intestine wants to protect itself by rejecting improperly or undigested food which will damage its lining and contribute to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. The low pH of the stomach acid prevents the valve to the small intestine from opening resulting in the contents of the stomach shooting back up into the esophagus.
While the food may not be acidic enough to enter the small intestine in a timely manner, it is too acidic for the delicate tissue of the esophagus, which it burns as it travels back up toward the throat. When food spends too much time in the stomach, it putrefies, causing that acid stomach sensation. Some people quit eating meat, not because they want to be vegetarians, but because eating meat makes them feel sick.
Low stomach acid causes more digestive issues throughout the other parts of the digestive tract as well. When undigested food moves into the intestines, it produces inflammation and damages the intestinal lining leading to leaky gut. The intestinal permeability allows undigested foods to leak into the bloodstream while the inflammation prevents micronutrients from passing through. These undigested foods in the bloodstream then create inflammation throughout the whole body.
Another vital role that stomach acid plays in overall health is in killing bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens that may be in your food and prevent them from accessing the digestive tract as well as the bloodstream. This additional layer of protection is compromised when stomach acid is too low.
Sufficient stomach acid also protects against food sensitivities. Undigested food particles activate the gut’s immune system causing it to react to more of the foods you eat. These immune reactions can then cause the system to become overburdened as it responds to more and more foods as a threat, a condition known as loss of oral tolerance.
Symptoms of low stomach acid
- Acid reflux
- Stomach ulcers (low stomach acid raises the risk of an H. pylori infection, which causes stomach ulcers)
- Belching after meals
- Hiccups after eating
- Undigested food in stools
What to do for low stomach acid
Taking betaine hydrochloric acid (HCI) capsules after you begin eating a meal with meat or protein can help to support optimal stomach acid levels. To determine the dosage that’s right for you, keep increasing the number of capsules until you feel warmth in your stomach, then cut back down to the previous dose. You may find that you need to take quite a few capsules at first, but then you should be able to lower your dosage gradually.
If you feel intense gastric burning with even one capsule, this may indicate that you have ulcers and an H. pylori infection that can be treated with nutritional compounds.
You benefit more from managing heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux using functional medicine protocols than risking a shorter lifespan by overusing PPIs. Contact my office to learn more about improving your digestive and overall health.