There are times when it seems like every other patient coming into my office is on some type of acid blocker drug to treat their ulcer or heartburn. Most have the mistaken belief that they make too much stomach acid. Consider this: stress lowers stomach acid production and stomach acid production drops as we get older. With these two factors alone, do you think there is anyone who makes too MUCH stomach acid these days?
The easy answer is no. However, if someone has a bleeding ulcer, blocking the acid production will likely save his or her life. Every other case is likely to do much more harm than good. The list of problems associated with acid blocking drugs is quite long. This should come as no surprise given that stomach acid is absolutely essential for a large number of critical processes in the human body (digestion, activation of other enzymes, sterilization of bacteria, activation of the pancreas, absorption of certain nutrients, activation of anti-cancer compounds, etc…).
The list includes:
- Supression in preganancy may lead to asthma in the child
- Acid suppression may increase the risk of esophageal cancer
- Promotion of bone loss
- Promote small bowel bacterial overgrowth due to the survival of bacteria that should’ve been destroyed
The recommendation for acid blocker drugs in many times goes beyond symptom relief and more into the mistaken belief that acid blocking drugs will prevent the progression to Barrett’s esophagus and then to esophageal cancer. As you can see from the study above, the opposite is true. These drugs may actually increase the risk for the condition many doctors are trying to prevent.
This particular article adds weight to this, suggesting that prediabetes is as great of a risk factor, if not greater, for the development of Barrett’s esophagus than is reflux. In some cases quadrupling the risk. This means that the approach to managing any type of gastric issue, whether reflux, ulcer or gastritis needs to involve the whole spectrum of lifestyle changes to head the patient away from diabetes. Shocking to hear me say this, but true.
The other thing to consider is that, most often, patients with heartburn actually make too LITTLE stomach acid. Supporting digestion, using probiotics and improving the diet can go av very long way towards getting rid of reflux for good.