(NaturalNews) Though pharmaceutical companies would like you to believe that stomach acid is just a nuisance that needs to be neutralized, stomach acid actually plays a very essential part in our digestive process. If stomach acid didn't have any use, it wouldn't exist in healthy individuals. To this point, people with health issues are much more likely to have low levels of stomach acid than healthy individuals. To be sure, having proper levels of stomach acid is completely normal for human beings. In fact, without proper levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, our body can't absorb nutrients nearly as well.
So why do millions of people take antacids and acid-blocking drugs, thereby neutralizing and eliminating their stomach acid? Simply put, the way of Western Medicine is often to treat symptoms rather than the root issue. Pharmaceutical companies are especially fond of this strategy, because symptom-suppressing drugs are always going to be needed if the root issue is not cured.
Stomach Acid and Iron Absorption
So how much do antacids and acid-blocking drugs hurt our ability to absorb nutrients? It turns out, quite a bit. One study examined people with chronic iron deficiency and found that nearly 90 percent of the 40 people had sub-par stomach acid secretion. Tagamet, a popular acid-blocking drug, has been found to decrease iron absorption by 28 percent if taken at the average dose. If higher doses of Tagamet are taken, the decrease in iron absorption jumps to 42 percent for a slightly higher dose and 65 percent for the highest dose tested.
Swedish researchers similarly found that an antacid drug similar to Maalox decreased iron absorption by 38 percent and 31 percent depending on the type of iron consumed. Perhaps most revealing though was a South African study which found that giving hydrochloric acid to patients with low stomach acid levels in an attempt to improve their digestion increased iron absorption by over 400 percent. Even more impressive is that, when researchers gave hydrochloric acid to ulcer patients, their calcium absorption increased 500 percent! If that isn't a red flag for reducing stomach acid content with drugs, nothing is.
Stomach Acid and Vitamin B12 Absorption
Iron and calcium aren't the only nutrients affected by low stomach acid. Vitamin B12 also needs proper stomach acid levels for optimal absorption. One piece of research found that, in subjects with very low stomach acid, more than half of them also had low levels of vitamin B12. More to the point, another study found that healthy people taking Prilosec had their B12 absorption cut by 72 percent and 88 percent depending on the dose. Either way, those percentages should be high enough to question the intake of acid-reducing drugs.
Stomach Acid and Folate Absorption
Folate has also been shown to be absorbed better with proper levels of acid in the stomach. When patients with no stomach acid were given supplemental hydrochloric acid, their folate absorption rose by 54 percent. Folate absorption decreased in one study by about 16 percent when patients had taken the acid-blockers Tagamet and Zantac. While still significant, it isn't to the effect that zinc absorption is affected by acid-suppressing drugs. Zinc absorption has been shown to be downshifted by 50 percent when Tagamet or Pepcid are taken.
Stomach acid is an easy target for pharmaceutical companies to pick on. When the body isn't functioning correctly in the first place, it can damage the esophagus and even the stomach lining when things in the body have really gone astray. However, any damage caused by stomach acid is usually due to other health issues rather than stomach acid itself. Stomach acid naturally occurs in healthy individuals and has actually been shown to be a vital part of the human digestive system. Acid-blocking and -neutralizing drugs disrupt stomach acid's ability to help the body digest nutrients, which can lead to harmful deficiencies.
About the author: Ben Hirshberg is a 21 year old student, author, and entrepreneur who studies the art of living well. Born and bred in Seattle, WA, Ben likes to read, cook, run, travel, and throw convivial parties. Ben has PFT, FNS, and YES certifications through WITS and NASM and is in the process of becoming a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and achieving board certification in Holistic Nutrition by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals. He also writes regular columns for Paleo Magazine and is hoping to release several books in 2014.
You can get his book A Simple Guide to Mindful and Intuitive Eating for FREE at www.BenHirshberg.com