Nexium, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) was the 4th most prescribed medication in 2015.
You can even purchase proton pump inhibitors over-the-counter, and self-treat for heartburn and indigestion. With the popularity of drugs like Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, and many others- it would seem that we are facing an epidemic of excessive stomach acid.
Yet would you believe me if I told you that many of the symptoms associated with GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) can actually be caused by having too little stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) ?
This topic is the subject of a book by Dr. Jonathan Wright, MD and Lane Lenard, PhD., titled Why Stomach Acid Is Good For You, and is required reading for the Nutritional Therapy Practitioner training program. The Nutritional Therapy Association's program emphasizes digestion as a priority in our nutritional foundations of health, so having adequate levels of stomach acid is a major player in correct digestive function.
What are some of the symptoms or conditions that can be associated with hypochlorhydria?
belching and flatulence immediately after meals
Undigested food in stools
Hair loss in women
Multiple food allergies
Iron deficiency (anemia)
Weak, peeling, or cracked fingernails
Various autoimmune diseases
Some of the reasons that we need adequate levels of stomach acid:
to digest protein and help us absorb vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B12
for the stomach to empty correctly- failure to do so results in GERD
to prevent disease by sterilizing the stomach and killing pathogens like bacteria and yeast
to stimulate your pancreas and small intestines to produce digestive enzymes and bile necessary to further breakdown the carbohydrates, proteins and fats you eat.
When you have inadequate levels of stomach acid, you become deficient in protein and minerals, which creates a vicious cycle. You need zinc for adequate levels of hydrochloric acid in your stomach, yet you can't break down and absorb zinc without hydrochloric acid. Many Americans are deficient in zinc, due to many factors that can deplete zinc- including excess sugar consumption, highly processed foods or the SAD (Standard American Diet), birth control pills, alcohol, mercury toxicity (from amalgams and seafood), vegetarian/vegan diet, and stress.
When you become depleted in vitamins and minerals, this sets up the stage for a whole host of various diseases and conditions. A case study published at PubMed.gov reports on a patient with tachycardia and other arrhythmias that had been resistant to the medications prescribed by a series of cardiologists. The patient had been on a PPI for several years preceding his arrhythmias, prescribed for stress-related gastritis. The author did comprehensive blood work and discovered that the patient was deficient in many of the minerals tested, including magnesium, known to be essential for normal cardiac function. After the patient slowly weaned himself off the PPIs and took magnesium and other minerals, the tachycardia resolved without any medication. PPIs were designed for short-term treatment of specific conditions. Long term use of these medications warrants extreme caution and risks of long-term use need to be more clearly communicated to patients who are prescribed these drugs.
Here are a few serious side effects listed under important safety information on the Nexium website:
Kidney problems (acute interstitial nephritis) may happen at any time during treatment with NEXIUM.
NEXIUM may increase your risk of getting severe diarrhea.
Bone fractures if you take multiple daily doses of NEXIUM for a year or longer
Some people who take PPIs, including NEXIUM, develop certain types of lupus or have worsening of the lupus they already have.
Call your doctor right away if you have joint pain or rash on your cheeks or arms that gets worse in the sun
Low vitamin B12 if you have been on NEXIUM for a long time (more than 3 years)
Low magnesium levels if you take NEXIUM (for 3 months or more)
There are steps that you can take to help reverse the vicious cycle of low stomach acid. Eliminating sugar and processed foods is at the top of the list in taking steps to improve your digestion. If your symptoms are not as severe, you may be able to help increase your stomach acid by taking 1-2T. of apple cider vinegar in 4oz. of water prior to meals, or taking digestive bitters. If your symptoms are more severe or chronic, you may need to take a short-term digestive supplement like Betaine with pepsin. Seek out the advice of a health professional who can help you determine the appropriate steps for your personal situation.
If you are under the care of a physician or are taking prescription medications, consult with your doctor before making any changes. A holistic health practitioner like a functional medicine doctor, naturopath, chiropractor or nutritional therapy practitioner can help you work on steps to maximize your digestion and reduce the need for acid suppressing medications. If you are taking a proton pump inhibitor and want to reduce your need for medication, or if you simply want to improve your digestion, I offer a free 20-minute consultation to help you determine if nutritional therapy is right for you. Please see the sources below for further reading on the topic of stomach acid.
Disclaimer: The information contained within this blog and website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to be taken as individual medical or nutritional advice. Individual nutritional recommendations can only be given to clients who have completed a comprehensive initial evaluation. Links on this page or site may provide me with a small compensation from affiliates. I may receive a commission if you decide to make any purchases from these links. I only review or link to products that I personally have used, or would feel comfortable recommending to family or friends.