Antacid Medications Cause Vitamin B12 Deficiency, Speed Aging

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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The regular use of the commonly prescribed antacid medications, many of which are now available over the counter, result in significant risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Another new study shows that older men low in B12 are at much greater risk for bone fractures. This is not a trivial issue as the net result is to accelerate the aging process.

I liken the use of antacid medication to dumping flame retardant on a forest fire. Yes, there is some short term utility. I don’t know of any park rangers that would suggest managing the ongoing health of the forest with flame retardant. 

Stomach acid is needed for a variety of important health needs. It is the first line of defense against germs a person breathes in and then swallows. I have previously reported that antacid use is associated with a 30% increased risk for bacterial pneumonia, a severe lower respiratory infection that is more common in the winter months. They have also been shown to increase the risk for Clostridium difficile infection of the digestive tract, a very undesirable opportunistic infection that can set digestive health on a downward spiral that is difficult to fix.

Stomach acid is needed to digest protein that is used to build and repair the body. Reducing protein absorption is a steady path to enforced malnutrition and a handicapping of body repair systems, adding to the wear and tear of whatever is going on in a person’s life. One important function of vitamin B12 is to help assemble proteins into body structure. A lack of B12 proportionately reduces the ability to synthesize new proteins needed to repair your body. Some of the amino acids released during digestion are vital for metabolism, thus antacid use is also linked to weight gain.

Antacid use in postmenopausal women is linked to a 47% increase risk of spin fracture, correlating with the study mentioned in the first paragraph on men. B12 is an important cofactor nutrient in assembling protein to become bone. And while fracture risk is one important aspect of bone health, bones are also a key reservoir of adult stem cells that fuel blood, immune, metabolic, and cardiovascular health. This is why healthy bones are a direct predictor of longevity, independent of the fracture issue.

In general, vitamin B12 along with folic acid are crucial to methylation processes that govern how genes express themselves throughout the course of a person’s life. During aging, methylation processes loose their efficiency. Adding to that, inefficiency with an antacid-induced vitamin B12 deficiency will speed the aging process and increase the risk for any disease of aging the person may be susceptible to. 

While the pain and problems associated with heartburn are nothing to sneer at, they need fixing in much more natural ways. At best, drugs are little more than a credit card to buy a person some time and should be used sparingly. Almost every drug in common use today, including statins, blood pressure medication, blood sugar drugs, antidepressants, and bone drugs actually add to inefficient function of the human body when used over time – a rather sad commentary on the state of medicine in the 21st century. Suppressing symptoms and moving numbers around with drugs is far different than actually being healthy.

Obviously, supplementing B12 in the biologically active form (methylcobalamin) is essential for any person taking antacids. And so is eventually fixing the health of their digestive system.

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