The majority of Americans have at least once in life experienced problems with heartburn and we all know how complicated it can be. If you don’t react in time and get it under control it can lead to irritation and damage the esophagus, lungs, vocal cords and throat and even cause pneumonia, ulcers, and breathing problems.
If left untreated for a longer period of time it can make your life unbearable because you’re constantly in pain, after every meal and throughout the night.
Currently, as much as 15 million people in the US alone use heartburn pills to keep the condition under control and manage the symptoms. The most widely used heartburn prescription drugs around the globe are proton pump inhibitors (PPI).
How do these heartburn medications work?
The pharmaceutical companies offer a wide variety of medications for this condition. Some of them are over the counter medications, like tums and pesto-bismol, but there are others which are prescription only, like Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium.
Maybe you’ve already read on the topic but let’s make a quick recap.
Heartburn occurs on account on the stomach acid backing up and reaching your esophagus. What proton pump inhibitors do is reduce the acid production in the stomach and when the stomach juice reaches your esophagus it doesn’t cause so much irritation and pain.
Even though your pharmacists recommend it as a quick fix, these prescription drugs can cause some serious disorders and have a devastating effect on your overall health. Moreover, studies have revealed that as much as 70% of patients don’t even need them.
We’re here to share with you some serious side-effects which can happen as a result of prolonged use of heartburn medication.
1. Kidneys Disease
A team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health conducted an analysis of two sets of data collected from more than 250,000 people, trying to find a connection between PPI use and kidney problems.
They discovered that patients who regularly used PPIs for their condition had a 13% higher chance to develop chronic kidney disease than those who didn’t take the medication.
According to other studies, PPI use increases the risk of chronic kidney disease by 20%-50%. This can then lead to toxic overload, fluid retention and central nervous system damage.
2. Heart Disease
Studies conducted by the Stanford University in California revealed that regular use of PPI for GERD increases the chances of heart attack by 16 percent, and doubles the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
A different study from the Stanford University Medical Center also confirmed that it can lead to cardiovascular disorders.
“The findings show that proton-pump inhibitors may not only lower stomach acid, they may also affect the health of the blood vessel itself,” said study co-author Dr. Nicholas Leeper, a cardiologist and an assistant professor of surgery at the university.
All of this happens because the PPI reduces the levels of nitric oxide, a chemical which our body produces to protect and relax the blood vessels, which can lead to an increased risk of heart attack.
Dr. John Cooke, chair of cardiovascular sciences at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, revealed that PPI users are 16- 21% more likely to suffer a heart attack over a 17-year period than chronic acid reflux suffers who were not taking the medication.
3. Fracture Risk
Even the FDA has warned people about prolonged PPI use and the fact that it can increase the chances for osteoporosis development and bone fractures.
Patients who’ve used PPI for 7 years or more double their chances for an osteoporosis-related fracture.
On the other hand, patients who regularly use PPI for 5 years have an increased risk of hip fractures. It can also affect the wrist and spine and cause injuries to these areas as well.
4. Poor absorption of nutrients
Your body produces the proper amount of stomach acid which you need in order to absorb all the important nutrients. Decreased levels of stomach acid, caused by PPI, can lead to nutritional deficiency, especially B12, magnesium, calcium and iron.
This can lead to:
– Muscle spasms
– Nerve damage
– Psychiatric problems
The FDA has warned patients with acid reflux that anti-heartburn drugs can cause these deficiencies within the first year of use. But even if you take supplements they won’t do you any good if you’re still undergoing therapy.
PPIs have also been linked to pneumonia and Clostridium difficile infection and PPI therapy has led to an increase in hospital mortality in about 90% of patients.
How can you treat and keep acid reflux under control?
PPI therapy is not an appropriate treatment for the majority of patients, says the internal medicine resident at the University of California, Adam Schoenfeld. He recommends his patients to try to lead a healthier life, eat healthier, quit smoking and reduce the alcohol consumption.
PPI reduce the production of stomach acid, which is not good, because the acid is crucial in the absorption of nutrients and eliminates bad bacteria and microbes. According to experts, prolonged use of PPI and similar medications can disrupt this balance and lead to infections and nutritional deficiencies.
The best way to treat acid reflux is with baking soda. Dissolve ½ teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water after your meal and every two hours until your symptoms disappear.
Sodium bicarbonate is already present in your system, produced by the pancreas and kidneys and it’s an excellent acid-neutralizer.
Another thing you should take into consideration is that the heartburn can be caused by a lack of stomach acid and your body’s inability to digest the food you consume, which means that the medications would have an even more damaging effect on your system.
This is usually the case with people over the age of 50. Decreased levels of stomach acid are typically a result of poor diet and candida overgrowth. If this is the case you’ll need to drink 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 8 ounces of water before each meal to relieve the symptoms and stimulate digestion.