How Safe Is Your Stomach Acid Blocking Medication?
Proton pump inhibitors are some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. Some common brands include Losec, Zoton, Nexium, Pariet and Prevacid. These drugs are given for conditions such as reflux, heartburn, stomach and intestinal ulcers, as well as the treatment of Helicobacter pylori infection of the stomach.
When these drugs are prescribed, most patients end up taking them for the rest of their life. Is this really necessary or safe? Emerging research is showing some frightening consequences of their long term use.
Stomach acid is a good thing. You need adequate levels in order to have a healthy and well functioning digestive system. Very rarely does a person who is prescribed a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) have excessively high stomach acid. They usually don’t have enough acid. The problem is the acid is moving to a place where it shouldn’t be (up into the esophagus), or the protective mucus barrier of the stomach has been compromised, therefore even low levels of acid in the stomach can cause burning and discomfort.
In 2012 the FDA issued a warning that proton pump inhibitors can cause serious magnesium deficiency. You need stomach acid in order to absorb magnesium, calcium and other nutrients. It’s not surprising then that long term use of these drugs also increases the risk of osteoporosis. Common symptoms of magnesium deficiency include cramps in the feet or calves, twitching muscles (commonly eye muscles), anxiety, restlessness, insomnia or poor quality sleep. A magnesium supplement can help to ameliorate all of those symptoms.
These drugs are also linked to a higher risk of dementia, mainly because they reduce absorption of B vitamins, especially B12. As you get older, it becomes more difficult to absorb vitamin B12 from food and even from supplements. Proton pump inhibitors just make the situation worse. Vitamin B12 is extremely important to the health of your brain. As we all get older our brain atrophies (shrinks). If you are B12 deficient it will shrink faster. Another worrying finding is that PPIs are able to cross the blood brain barrier, and may promote the production, or impair the degradation of amyloid plaque, which is a feature of Alzheimer’s disease.
Stomach acid is necessary in order to activate digestive enzymes and enable them to extract the nutrients from your meals. Stomach acid is also a good disinfectant. People who take stomach acid blocking drugs are more prone to getting stomach flu, food poisoning and gastroenteritis. They are also more prone to a condition called SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). This is where bacteria that normally belongs in the mouth or in the large intestine migrate into the small intestine. The problem is, these bugs inflame the lining of the intestines and impair nutrient absorption, plus they can actually steal your nutrients and use them for their own metabolism.
Research out of Canada has found that older people taking proton pump inhibitors are at higher risk of kidney failure. Researchers used medication and hospitalization records from almost 600,000 older individuals in Ontario between 2002 and 2011. Around half of them were taking proton pump inhibitors. The figures showed that kidney failure was more than twice as likely among people taking heartburn medication.
The list of serious side effects from heartburn drugs is long and growing. They increase the risk of dementia, osteoporosis, magnesium deficiency, pneumonia and serious bowel infections caused by Clostridium difficile.
Please don’t discontinue taking any medication unless you have your doctor’s supervision. Esophageal reflux can be a serious condition, therefore requires management by a healthcare professional.
So what can be done to naturally manage the symptoms of acid reflux? Here are my suggestions:
- If you are overweight, it is vital to lose weight, and the best way to do this is with a diet low in sugar and grains, and high in vegetables, protein and natural fats, such as in my syndrome X book.
- Meal sizes should be small, as large meals increase pressure inside the stomach.
- Do not drink with your meals, and confine your fluid intake to between meals.
- Do not eat food during the 3 hours before going to bed. It is wise to drink alkaline beverages during this time such as herbal teas, aloe vera juice or celery, mint, cucumber and carrot juice.
- Elevate the top of your bed by a few inches by placing blocks under the head of the bed or purchase an electric bed with an adjustable slope angle.
- Avoid tight fitting clothes around the middle and do not bend forward after meals.
- If you are constipated, reflux and bloating will be worse. If a healthy diet isn’t enough to help you go to the toilet, Colon Cleanse capsules should help.
- Avoid excessive coffee and alcohol. Some people find that spicy food such as chilli or curry will aggravate symptoms, so trial and error is required.
- A diet low in sugar and deep fried foods will reduce symptoms of heartburn and reflux.
- Consume a diet high in vegetables to reduce the symptoms of heartburn.
- If you are taking long term antacid drugs such as PPIs, it is wise to sip organic apple cider vinegar during your meals to increase acid for the digestive processes. Dilute 1 to 2 tablespoons of the apple cider vinegar in 3 tablespoons of water and sip slowly during your meals. You may also benefit from a digestive enzymes supplement which should help to improve your digestion and reduce abdominal bloating. Taking a probiotic supplement should also help to reduce bloating.
Glutamine is an amino acid that can reduce inflammation in the lining of the stomach and good results can be achieved by taking one teaspoon of pure glutamine powder twice daily in water.
If you get an acute attack of heartburn it is fine to use an antacid preparation for quick relief. Avoid aluminium containing antacids; instead choose potassium or sodium bicarbonate, magnesium carbonate or hydroxide instead.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.
Badiola N, Alcalde V, Pujol A, et al. The proton-pump inhibitor lansoprazole enhances amyloid beta production. PLoS One 2013; 8: e58837.
Leonard J, Marshall JK, Moayyedi P. Systematic review of the risk of enteric infection in patients taking acid suppression. Am J Gastroenterol 2007; 102: 2047-2056.
Lo WK, Chan WW. Proton pump inhibitor use and the risk of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: a meta-analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2013; 11: 483-490.
Park CH, Kim EH, Roh YH, et al. The association between the use of proton pump inhibitors and the risk of hypomagnesemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One 2014; 9: e112558.