Not the Bad Guy: The Importance of Stomach Acid

Stomach Acid

In 2012, Americans spent about $6 billion on the popular acid-reflux drug Nexium. A few years on, dozens of new drugs are designed to keep stomach acid at bay; we’re talking about some serious spending. But is it worth it? Sure, those over-the-counter chewable tablets before dinner and that daily prescribed pill may seem like they’re controlling your reflux, but the truth is that stomach acid is good for you.

That’s right: stomach acid isn’t the bad guy. It’s important to your health, and taking drugs that are designed to reduce stomach acid levels—as an estimated 15 million Americans do—likely causes more harm than good. Many experts consider acid-reducing and blocking drugs as mere temporary fixes that only mask the issue rather than getting to the root of the problem.

Here are five reasons why it may be a good idea to talk with your doctor about weaning yourself off acid reflux drugs. Likewise, if you purchase related medications yourself, you may want to think twice for the following reasons.

Stomach Acid

#1. Stomach acid fights foodborne pathogens.

Think of stomach acid as your gut’s way of thwarting foodborne pathogens, which can lead to food poisoning. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get sick from food poisoning every year, and it’s often traced to mishandled or improperly cooked food. That’s where stomach acid comes in. It neutralizes these nasty pathogens and therefore improves resistance to them while ensuring bad bacteria don’t take over. By keeping stomach acids low, you throw off this natural process, and your overall health is compromised.

#2. Stomach acid helps you obtain proper nutrients.

A large role of stomach acid is to break down food once it enters the stomach. When broken down the right way, essential proteins and minerals interact with the body in ways that ensure proper absorption of the nutrients you need for optimal function. When stomach acid levels are severely diminished, you no longer benefit from this efficient breakdown. You may experience deficiencies of vitamins like B12 and D because you don’t have enough stomach acid.

#3. Stomach acid can keep your memory sharp.

According to research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, vitamin B12—which isn’t properly absorbed when stomach acid is kept low—is instrumental for brain health and well-being. Who found that acid-reducing drugs were considered to be “significantly associated” with a vitamin B12 deficiency. This vitamin is essential for fighting everything from memory loss to depression.

#4. Stomach acid helps prevent gastritis and gas build-up.

Contrary to the popular belief that stomach acid drugs prevent gastritis, the opposite is true: taking drugs that block stomach acid has been known to cause gastritis (i.e., stomach irritation). Furthermore, without proper stomach acid levels, harmful bacteria can enter your intestines and cause you to experience a great deal of delayed gas build-up.

#5. Stomach acid reduces reflux, heartburn, and indigestion.

Another common myth is that stomach acid is the enemy because it causes heartburn and other similar problems. In reality, too little stomach acid—not too much—is wreaking havoc on your body’s natural mechanisms and causing these aggravating issues.

Fixing the problem

Remember, by suppressing stomach acid levels; you’re allowing bad bacteria to gain control, diminishing vitamin and mineral absorption and irritating your stomach. Is it any wonder that continuing to do this is only fueling a digestive problem rather than fixing it?

Experts suggest a range of options that can help you get to the root of your acid reflux issues without turning to acid-blocking drugs.

First, be sure to keep your weight in check. Excess weight can put pressure on your abdomen and result in that uncomfortable acid sensation. Meanwhile, elevating the head of your bed around six to eight inches can help stop acid from moving back into your esophagus as you sleep.

Be sure to also rule out other health concerns before jumping on the antacid bandwagon; gallstones, heart disease, and even esophageal cancer may be causing your symptoms as with any health concerns you may have, make sure to speak to a medical professional to fully assess the situation and take a course of action that fully addresses your needs.