One of the most common health complaints people present with is commonly known as heartburn, which we would typically describe as Acid Reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). While there are several possible causes, what remains fairly consistent is the treatment offered. By prescription or over the counter, the most common treatment for heartburn involves the use of medications that either neutralize acid, such as Tums, or that block acid production, as in Nexium® or Prilosec.
Stomach Acid is Needed for Digestion!
The issue with these medications, however, is something everyone taking them should be aware of. Reducing stomach acid does reduce the symptoms of heartburn, but it causes problems with digestion, particularly with Calcium, minerals, and protein. This is why Tums contains so much Calcium on its label; it was originally added to try and offset the loss in absorption, but it effectively does nothing.
The same effect on Calcium is also true with Nexium® or Prilosec, as they reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach, which in turn reduces your ability to absorb Calcium. The same is true of protein, another crucial building block of bone that requires strong stomach acid to properly digest.
Epidemic Calcium Deficiency
Why is this relevant? The United States currently suffers from Calcium deficiency in its diet, which is why you commonly see things such as non-dairy milks claiming they have such high Calcium content; they are fortified because of the government’s effort to increase our Calcium intake.
However, those taking acid blockers or neutralizers are in danger of Calcium and protein deficiency regardless of the fortification program. This is particularly dangerous because the group that uses Tums, Nexium®, etc. the most is actually the elder population (50+). This is also the population with the highest rate of osteoporosis or frail bones, and when you put the two problems together, it shouldn’t be hard to see why they are related.
So What Should I Do?
The take home message here is to be careful in taking over the counter acid blockers or reducers. Despite being freely available for purchase, they should be used with the consult of a properly trained physician. Supplementation of select vitamins and minerals such as Calcium (for example, Calcium Citrate), Magnesium, Zinc, and other chelated minerals that can be absorbed even without stomach acid can also reduce bone loss. Tums should never be combined with a high protein meal as it interferes with digestion.
Lastly, don’t forget about exercise and sunshine. Proper exposure to the sun helps produce Vitamin D, a potent hormone necessary for bone formation and just about every other body function. Weight bearing exercise that places demand on your bones also increases bone density (sorry, no pool exercises!)
Take charge of your health today—it’s a decision you’ll thank yourself about for the rest of your life!