Did Your Doctor Tell You That You Make “Too Much Stomach Acid?”

The body digests and does everything else.  In other words, digestion is absolutely critical to good health.  Period.  And this process hinges on stomach acid.

Without proper digestion, you open up a large Pandora’s box of problems because stomach acid has many different roles.  With this in mind, you can begin to see how both emotional stress as well as medications that block acid production (like Aciphex, Nexium, Prilosec) could ruin your health.

First, though, I do need to clarify that this class of drugs has its place.  If you’ve got a bleeding ulcer it’s not the time to discuss changing your diet and chewing your food better.  It’s time to protect the lining of the stomach from the acid so that it does not break open and spill your blood inside your abdominal cavity.  This can be fatal.  For everyone else, however, blocking stomach acid is a bad thing.

Ironically, very few people make too much stomach acid.  This is especially true as we age, where the region of the stomach begins to wear away with age, leaving up to 1/3 of seniors with achlorhydria (NO stomach acid production).  Thus, one would think that a senior citizen would be a very unlikely candidate for any type of drug that blocks acid production.

Just so you can get a better idea of what stomach acid does, here is a short list:

  1. Digestion of proteins
  2. Turns on other digestive enxymes (they are produced in an inactive state)
  3. Sterilizes everything so no bacteria or funguses make it past the stomach
  4. Helps to absorb certain critical nutrients like vitamin B12
  5. Turns on certain anti-cancer compounds in foods (like indole-3-carbinol in broccoli)
  6. Turns the stomach contents acidic.  This is critically important.  The pH of the stomach contents have to be more acidic than 5 ish in order for the pancreas to release secretin to neutralize the stomach contents.  If this does not happen (as with drugs) the rest of the GI tract has to deal with acid contents that are too strong for it, leading to long term damage.

This list is longer, but you get this idea.  It’s important.

As I mentioned, the average senior absolutely does not make enough stomach acid.  Certainly not enough to warrant medications that shut down acid production.  And yet, we still write those prescriptions.  Sometimes out of mere habit.

This practice is especially common when seniors end up in the hospital, and this practice has been increasing over the past few years.  But, given how much stomach acid does for our health, is this a good idea?

The answer turns out to be a no.

In this particular study, researchers looked at a group of seniors discharged from the hospital to see if being given a prescription for proton pump inhibitors had an effect on his or her likelihood of dying within a year.  Here’s what they found:

  1. Use of acid blocking drugs increased the risk of dying within a year by 51%.
  2. For those prescribed high-dose drugs, the risk skyrocketed to 259%.

The bottom line is that it is highly likely that shutting down acid production as you get older is a bad idea that will adversely affect your health and longevity.  Instead, consider a digestive enzyme, chewing your food slowly or a tablespoonful or two of apple cider vinegar to help your body do what it is supposed to do.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.