An almost country-wide study has uncovered a link between antacid use and the risk of developing allergies, which could even contribute to passing on allergies to the next generation.
It’s a finding that has been suspected by the medical field for some time, but research released in Nature Journal on Wednesday (AEST) cemented the observations.
The study examined the health insurance records of 97 per cent of Austrians – eight million people – over the course of four years, from 2009.
The results revealed two key findings: Those who used prescription antacids were twice as likely to need anti-allergy medication in the coming years; and this was more prevalent among women and older people.
It also further strengthened the previously reported link between antacid use among pregnant women, and the development of asthma in their children.
Antacids are used to treat conditions like gastric ulcers and acid reflux (and resulting heartburn). The former is thought to affect about one in 10 people at any given time, and the latter about two in 10.
The medications referred to in the study are proton pump inhibitors, which work to reduce the amount of stomach acid produced over a long period of time, as opposed to more common, non-prescription antacids that are freely available in supermarkets.
The study was led by immunologist Professor Erika Jensen-Jarolim, of the University of Vienna, and concluded the overall results indicated a need to balance the benefits of antacid against potential health risks.
As little as six doses of antacids taken annually were enough to have an impact on a person’s likelihood of needing anti-allergy medication in the next few years.
There was a demonstrated increase in higher doses and a higher likelihood – capped at six doses a day.
Cause and effect
While the body’s immune system can normally cope with molecules it encounters from food and the environment, some people can develop a hypersensitivity, which manifests as an allergy, such as asthma or a food allergy.
It’s still not 100 per cent certain how hypersensitivity develops, but most thought patterns point to a change in lifestyle.
As referenced in the study’s media release, this is where the effect of antacids on the body’s immune system can come into play.
The stomach’s acid levels help to break down proteins from food, so they can be digested and move into the intestines.
When antacids are taken, this can unbalance or shift the levels, impacting on food digestion and allowing larger fragments of protein to enter the intestines, which is where they can act as proto-allergens on the immune system.