Annapolis Integrative Medicine
1819 Bay Ridge Avenue
Annapolis, MD 21403
Stomach Acid Friend or Foe?
Stomach acid seems like an enemy to be beaten back at all costs, especially given all the advertising on television for both prescription and over-the-counter acid blockers (one Pepcid AC will get you right back to the buffet) .
It is, in fact, critically important to the maintenance of health and proper digestion that the stomach be an acidic environment.
Acid blockers (technically called proton pump inhibitors) such as Prevacid, Protonix, and Nexium, and H2 blockers like Zantac, Tagamet, and Pepcid) can actually cause real problems in the long term. Not only do they interfere with proper nutrient absorption, they can also increase the long term risk of osteoporosis, pneumonia, and Vitamin B12 deficiency, as well as protein deficiency. They are not to be taken casually or for the long term unless really needed.
Digestion is the process through which food is broken down so our bodies can absorb and utilize it. Once food is in our mouths digestion has started. A signal goes to our brain- “food is here” and the process starts. The brain stimulates the stomach to release a hormone called gastrin which signals the stomachs parietal cells to produce hydrochloric acid. This acid splits a protein called pepsinogen into pepsin which breaks down proteins into amino acids that can be used by the body.
This process can go wrong in many different ways, but what happens when the stomach acid is not correctly regulated?
One important problem is overproduction of stomach acid. This may not be as common as people think, but when it happens can have serious consequences. More common is when the lower esophageal sphincter (a valve between the stomach and esophagus) is leaky and stomach acid irritates and burns the esophagus. This is a real problem and can lead to cancer if not dealt with.
Less commonly recognized is the issue of too little stomach acid, called achlorhydria or hypochlorhydria. As the body ages the stomach may produce too little stomach acid. When this happens, food is not properly digested, exposing the small intestine to proteins and other food particles they are not meant to be exposed to. This can often result in food allergies, bloating, gassiness, and abdominal pain, setting off a vicious cycle which can result in multiple health issues.
A simple test called the Heidelberg pH diagnostic system can safely and quickly determine whether the issue is too much or too little stomach acid. This allows a customized treatment plan to address each persons needs. All this requires is swallowing a tiny pill (completely safe) which transmits signals to monitor allowing the physician to know what the pH is at any point in the process.
The ability to determine whether acid is being over or under-produced is invaluable in treating people with gastrointestinal problems. Believe it or not, the answer to many peoples chronic digestion issues is not acid blockers, but adding a bit of acid to the regimen.