Acid Blockers Also Affect Your Brain

July 10, 2012
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acid blocker—along with making your stomach worse, giving you pneumonia, or causing cancer.

In another article this week, we reviewed research on how sugar can decrease your brain’s ability to process information. But sugar isn’t the only threat to your brain.

Stomach acid drugs—both the regular over-the-counter antacids and the expensive prescription acid blockers—are conventional medicine’s answer to stomach pain and acid reflux (heartburn). The problem is that there is little or no science to support this use, and plenty of reasons to think they make the problem worse, in addition to creating a host of nasty side effects.

Among the most popular acid blockers are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). They’ve been associated with a number of undesirable side effects, including reduced calcium absorption, associated with an increased risk of bone fractures in women; an increased risk of vomiting and diarrhea; an increased risk of pneumonia (because an acid-free stomach lets pathogens into our body), and an increased risk of dementia in elderly African Americans and probably in others.

Science does not yet know for sure what causes acid reflux. But one idea is that it’s caused by a stomach environment that is not acidic enough. The lack of acid in the stomach, where it is meant to be, means that the stomach may fail to signal the pyloric valve at the top of the stomach to close when you are digesting food.

The failure to close may also be linked to an overgrowth of helicobacter bugs which do not like acid and are able to turn down your stomach acid production. Restoring stomach acid with hydrochloric acid supplements both helps the stomach signal the valve to close and also helps control the helicobacter bacteria.

Absurdly, some doctors are now suggesting surgery to seal the malfunctioning valve with sutures.

Stomach pain apart from acid reflux may also be caused—in many or even most cases—by a lack of stomach acid. The lack of acid leads to poor digestion and thence to fermentation of the undigested food in the gut. Fermentation is the only other way the body can break down the food but it causes what can become painful intestinal gas. In that case also, more acid, not less, will help.

It should be obvious that young people, who have strong stomach acid, do not usually suffer from these ills. It is primarily older people who do, and it is well established that stomach acid production declines with age even in the absence of a helicobacter infection.

Why else might your stomach be lacking in acid? One possibility is that you are “salt-phobic.” Your body needs salt to make hydrochloric acid, your stomach’s endogenous acid, and too little salt in your diet might be a potential root cause of too little acid in your stomach. In addition to salt, probiotics and fermented foods also promote gut health and keep bad gut bacteria at bay, although these work below the stomach.

In general, what could be more important for our health than our digestion? Bad digestion is not only painful, often robbing us of sleep and energy. It affects everything: our brain, our body, and our life expectancy. What a tragedy then that conventional medicine has to get something so important so wrong.

If you are currently on a PPI and want to get off, or just want some sensible advice, try an integrative doctor. We list many of them on our site. ANH-USA does not recommend that you make any changes to your prescription drug usage without first consulting a doctor.

12 Responses to “Acid Blockers Also Affect Your Brain”

  1. Cindy Wilcox says:

    People should be very careful with this article. There is truth to the fact that taking acid blockers when you have mild symptoms can make acid reflux worse over time (a long time, I’m talking years). However, there are some people who simply need to take the acid blockers. Acid reflux is nothing to mess around with. My father had esophageal cancer as a result of years of bad heartburn and had to have an esophajectomy. The doctors removed his esophagus and connected his stomach to his throat. Looking at him, you would never know anything was wrong with him but it most definitely affected his quality of life, he has to sleep somewhat sitting up ALWAYS. It is very difficult to really feel rested.

    I’m not buying the idea that it’s our nasty mass food producers in America that are responsible for today’s evil acid reflux. My grandfather on my father’s side of the family died from a brain tumor caused by cancer of the lymph nodes. He had horrible coughing issues all his life like I do and guess what causes my coughing? Acid reflux. My brother has it too. We’ll never know if acid reflux killed my grandfather because no one knew what acid reflux was in those days but I would place money on it!

    If you have moderate to severe acid reflux, do a lot of research and get this taken care of. If it becomes severe, it will cause you serious harm!


    • Laura P says:

      I agree that acid reflux is a problem that needs to be addressed. The question is how best to do that.

      According to this article, and to my own experience with this, acid reflux can be a sign that acid levels are TOO LOW, ironically.

      The way to test this is to take Betaine HCl capsules, or some other supplement that provides stomach acid (hydrochloric acid, also known as HCl) and see if the acid reflux problem gets better.

      (CARFEFUL, you don’t want to swallow HCl directly, but take a supplement like Betaine HCl that dissolves and produces HCl when it dissolves in teh stomach and is protected in a capsule from affecting the esophagus on the way to your stomach.)

      If supplementing with HCl (betaine HCl) after meals prevents acid reflux, which is very well might all on it;’s own,

      Another factor that might affect the pyloric sphincter, keeping it from closing tightly after meals, is the presence of a hiatal hernia. The hiatus is the hole in the diaphragm through which the esophagus goes in order to get to the stomach. The stomach is supposed to be entirely below the diaphragm. Sometimes it happens that the hiatus is too large an opening due to not healing or closing tightlyt enough, and parts of the stomach can get pinched by sticking incorrectly into this opening.
      This causes the stomach to not work correctly, both causing it not to produce enough HCl and may also cause problems with the pyloric valve.

      So another avenue to address is getting the stomach in teh right position, which can be done with simple manipulation and can be addressed without surgery. It does take time and effort , but regular heart burn is a classic sign of hiatal hernia.

      Best to fix the cause, and let the symptoms like heart burn, acid reflux go away on their own. YOu don’t want acid reflux so long it leads to esophageal cancer.!! Very true.


    • Laura P says:

      oops! I did mean the valve at the top, the lower esophageal sphincter. Thank you :)


  2. deborah hoadley says:

    Lack of proper calcium can cause dementia…Prevagen may be helpful…by Quincy Bioscience


  3. James Auerbach, M.D. says:

    The pyloric valve is at the bottom of the stomach, not the top. It is the gastroesophageal (G-E) junction at the top of the stomach that loosens and allows reflux for multiple reasons. It looks like this article should have been more thoroughly researched and proofed. There are no references mentioned either.

    Best wishes,

    Jim Auerbach, M.D.
    Salem, Oregon


  4. Matt says:

    It makes sense that the valve in the stomach releases and lets acid from the stomach escape when there isn’t enough acid in the stomach. Makes me think of the gas tank in a car. The gas tank is much more likely to explode when it is low on fuel, verses a full tank in a very bad accident. Most of us don’t know that one of the causes of Heart Burn is eating desert. Fruit is very good for us, but not at the end of a meal. It digests quickly, and when it is sitting on top of a lot of other food in your stomach it starts to ferment and build up pressure. This extra pressure is what causes the valve to open and release acid. If you are going to eat desert or fruit, you should eat it early in your meal, not at the end.


  5. Anne Haughwout says:

    I think the valve at the top of the stomach is called the esphogeal valve, and the one at the bottom is the pyloric valve. Great article. Didn’t know about the salt aspect to making stomach acid.. makes sense.


  6. Tracey says:

    My son had acid reflux from a baby and was on all manner of drugs, he was so poorly with it,what else can you do but trust your doctors. I tried cranial osteopathy and such like but nothing really help. I then suffered from relax a few months ago as a result from have pneumonia, coughing for so long weakened my valve, a few months of medication seemed to give my body chance to heal, and was then fine. I’m nit sure upping my salt intake would have helped me or my babies. Any suggestions on other remedies would be appreciated as I am now very interested in this subject. Thanks Tracey.


  7. B. Burt says:

    This article is filled with flaming inaccuracies. First, lack of stomach acid is not the problem! That myth has persisted despite anecdotal and research evidence to the contrary. Some thirty years ago, I developed my first ulcer. A naturopath insisted lack of stomach acid was the problem. I took supplemental HCL and enzymes—and promptly threw up. The extra acid greatly aggravated my ulcer and made me deathly ill. Instead, I started taking an acid blocker, and voila! My ulcer disappeared. Over the years, I have dealt with other ulcers, and each time, the symptoms subside when I take an acid blocker. Most recently, I developed a bleeding esophageal ulcer that was extraordinarily painful. Again, this ulcer responded well to omeprazole therapy. I now take a daily prophylactic dose of this medication, and I have not experienced a recurrence of ulcers since.

    Furthermore, in my case, H. pylori bacteria have been completely ruled out as the culprit.

    For me, there is only one absolute constant: My ulcers always flare up when I’m under stress.


  8. Betty R says:

    My husband suffers from too much acid. He was able to ditch the PPIs by using digestive enzymes. One theory says that the stomach will not be able to digest food without digestive enzymes and acid. When the digestive enzymes are missing, the stomach needs more acid to digest food. His doctor scolded him for not taking the PPI, but was suprised when she found no imflammation in his esophagus.


  9. Rebecca Powers says:

    This makes a lot of sense to me!!! I’m sharing this!!!


  10. I have found that eating smaller quantities is very helpful.


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