In a healthy stomach, food is exposed to a large amount of acid that breaks it down in order for nutrients to be absorbed. But for this to happen, the stomach must be sufficiently acidic.
Acidity is measured on a pH (potential of hydrogen) scale that goes from 0 to 14. Ratings on the lower end of the scale, from 0 to 6, are acidic. Ratings from 8 to 14 are basic. A neutral rating of 7 indicates is about the normal pH of the body.
The resting pH of the stomach is about 3. But when food hits the stomach, gastric cells release the hormone gastrin, which triggers parietal cells to release hydrochloric acid, lowering stomach pH to less than 2.
This is the kind of highly acidic environment that is necessary to start the digestive process.
When the parietal cells don’t produce enough hydrochloric acid, the pH of the stomach doesn’t drop to its optimal level, and digestion will be inadequate.
In addition, pH that is too high can lead to bacterial overgrowth in the stomach and intestines.
Stomach acid is also necessary for killing bacteria and other microbes in food.
Achlorhydria is a common condition that occurs when stomach pH is unable to go below 4.
The most common reason people suffer from achlorhydria is excessive use of antacid medications such as Prilosec, Nexium, and Zegerid. These medications, called proton pump inhibitors, shut off stomach acid production.
All of these antacid medications were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only for short-term use — less than a few weeks.
There are no studies indicating that long-term use of these medications is safe.
Adverse effects of long-term use include increased risk of bacterial overgrowth in the stomach and intestines, and nutrient deficiencies due to an inability to properly digest food.
I have written extensively about proton pump inhibitors in my book Drugs That Don’t Work and Natural Therapies That Do!
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