Increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by 50%? Kidney disease by up to 50%? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the science suggests.

For years, I have warned about the dangers taking acid-blocking drugs—conventional medicine’s completely wrongheaded approach to stomach pain and acid reflux.

What causes acid reflux? It isn't acid. The acid is supposed to be there. Producing it is the stomach's normal function. What causes escape of the acid from the stomach into the esophagus and throat is pressure: pressure chronically exerted against the valve between the stomach and esophagus.

Ironically, too little stomach acid may be a factor in causing acid reflux. That's because the stomach is programmed to get to a certain ph, and if it doesn't get there, it keeps producing more weak gastric juice, and the extra volume increases the pressure in the stomach.  And the high pressure exerted against the valve over time causes reflux.

Despite the evidence for this, conventional medicine gives us proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to treat stomach pain and acid reflux, which work by eliminating acid production—thus making the problem even worse.

Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. Recent studies have revealed a frightening spectrum of side effects caused by acid blockers:

  • large study published in JAMA Neurology found PPIs to be linked with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The study found that regular use of PPIs increased the risk for dementia by as much as 52% compared with nonusers.
  • Two new studies have linked acid blockers with chronic kidney disease. The increase in risk is cited as 20–50%.
  • Another study found that PPIs may raise the risk of heart attack by 15–20%. Other studies have shown that PPIs damage the lining of blood vessels and thus promote cardiovascular events.

The link with pneumonia and other infectious diseases was established years ago. This may be because acid is a barrier to infectious organisms getting inside your body.

Because stomach acid helps digest protein (and think of all the things your body does with protein) too little stomach acid can compromise protein digestion and nutrition overall. And, it can lead to nutrient deficiencies, since it is harder for the body to extract minerals and vitamins from food without stomach acid. An example is calcium, and reduced calcium absorption is a likely reason why PPI-takers are more susceptible to osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Stomach acid also protects your body from infection because the acid acts as a sterilizer. It's your stomach acid that protects you from bad germs in your food and water. Do you want to lose that protection? At what peril?

It can also be hard to stop taking PPIs once started. When patients stop taking them, fermentation can cause pain. It may also be hard to re-establish the ability to produce acid.

Given these dangers, why do doctors continue to suggest these drugs to their patients? As always, it is instructive to follow the money. Blockbuster drugs in this class such as Prevacid, Prilosec, and Nexium bring in billions of dollars each year and are some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the US. Nexium alone brings in about $6 billion a year. With so much money at stake, drug companies presumably do not want people to learn the truth, and drug companies hold a lot of sway with doctors.

The good news is that the problem can be managed without using these dangerous drugs. Mastic gum, deglycerated licorice (DGL) and orange peel extract are three natural remedies that are safe and effective. And, they can be combined, if necessary. It's a heck of a lot safer and better than taking acid-blockers.

Of course, lifestyle factors are paramount. If you need to lose weight, lose it. That will often help a lot. If you consume coffee and alcohol, stop both because they both make acid reflux worse. If you smoke, you obviously have to stop; you're killing yourself.

And another major and common factor is just plain over-eating. If you overfill the stomach, it's going to increase the pressure within the stomach and the pressure exerted against the esophageal valve. You just can't eat until you are full, as in stuffed. If you do that habitually, you probably will wind up with acid reflux. We just have to learn to stop eating before we feel stuffed.

Restoring stomach acid with hydrochloric acid supplements is another useful option, but I recommend talking to a doctor first before doing that, preferably one who is well-versed in complementary methods.

Acid-blockers are a big multi-billion dollar a year business, but I say it's all wrong. I would NEVER take them. I'm holding on to my stomach acid. That's because I need it.  Likewise, you need yours.