For several years, I’ve been warning folks of the potential pitfalls of taking proton-pump inhibitors like nexium, prilosec, tums, and others, mainly because they cause issues with the absorption of key nutrients. A recent article by Mary Budinger, an award-winning journalist who writes about nutrition and integrative medicine, appeared in the Aug/Sept 2014 issue of AZ/Net News, confirmed my earlier caution and provided a few more. Please ignore the ad showing Larry the cable guy saying “you can eat anything you want ” and just cover it with prilosec- its dangerous advice if you want your tummy (and you) to be healthy. Why? Because your stomach is designed to be acidic-very acidic. Water is neutral, with a pH of 7.0-the lower the pH, the more acidic. Vinegar is ~ 4.0. Stomach acid is, or should be 2.0. This low pH enables your stomach to sanitize food for pathogens, sanitizes our stomach lining so we don’t get a buildup of things like H.pylori bacteria that can lead to ulcers, and helps break down proteins in the foods we eat. If your stomach acid is weak, digestion is not timely. Foods sits in the stomach a lot longer than intended. As Ms. Budinger says, “the stomach becomes a warm, moist, putrid environment. Carbs ferment, proteins putrefy, and fats turn rancid. The resulting gases do what gases do-they float up. They ‘reflux’, meaning they travel upward to the esophagus. Even a little bit of stomach acid will burn the esophageal lining, and that is the pain of heartburn and acid reflux.” People try (sometimes with their doctor’s advice) to stop the heartburn with a drug, but over the long-term, you have big problems. A stomach that was not working in the first place has no chance of correcting itself when drugs keep the stomach from producing acid, which is exactly what is needed. No digestion, no ability to kill pathogens in the food, no ability to sterilize the stomach lining= big trouble. With the inability to digest foods, you cannot put adequate fuel in your gas tank. Poor nutrition leads to flatulence, weak muscles, leg cramps, and depression. Why depression? Most of the body’s feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, is made in the gut. Serotonin is made from the breakdown of amino acids (proteins), and without adequate pH in the stomach, amino acid assimilation is poor. Serotonin plays a big role in appetite, aggression, cognition, mood, sexual behavior, and sleep. No wonder depression sets in.
As Ms. Budinger reports, heartburn/acid reflux/GERD is caused by not too much acid (hydrochloric acid or HCL) but too little. I was surprised to hear this. If there is not enough acid present, the valve to the esophagus won’t close. Acid is in the stomach because it’s supposed to be there. Gastric ulcers most often occur in people whose stomach acid levels are low. Wow! Why the low acid levels? The most common thing is the loss of acid-producing cells. We need minerals for that process, and many of us are deficient in zinc, potassium, and other minerals. If there is a mineral imbalance, we cannot make enough HCL. Stress depletes minerals and, as we age, we make less HCL. Unfortunately there is no easy way to test the pH of the stomach, although acid reflux is usually a good indicator. I’m not sure about using an HCL supplement, so I’ll tell you what works for me. I take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in water, 10 minutes before a meal to help with my stomach acid-I think it really helps. Give it a try.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.