Heartburn is one of the most common digestive disorders in the United States.
Left untreated, acid reflux can cause irritation and damage to the oesophagus, lungs, vocal cords and throat as well as cause pneumonia, ulcers, and breathing problems (1).
The condition can quickly become unmanageable as sufferers have trouble going about their daily lives because of chest pain experienced after meals and throughout the night.
It’s estimated that 15 million Americans currently rely on prescription heartburn medication to manage their symptoms.
Proton pump inhibitors, the main medication prescribed for the condition, are currently the most widely prescribed drugs in the world (2).
How Does Heartburn Medication Work?
There are many different types of heart medication on the market. Some, like tums and pesto-bismol are available over-the-counters while others, like Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium can only be taken through a prescription.
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. Prescripion proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce the production of acid in the stomach. This makes any stomach juice that may reach the oesophagus less iritating (3).
Despite what your pharmacist may say, these drugs are not a quick fix. They can have devastating side-effects and multiple studies have shown that 70% of patients taking them don’t actually need them (4).
Here are just a few risks associated with this medication.
1. Kidneys Disease
Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health analyzed two sets of data representing more than 250,000 people in an attempt to find a link between PPI use and kidney problems (5).
It was found that regular users of PPIs were 13% more likely to develop chronic kidney disease than acid reflux sufferers that do not take the medication.
Other studies have found that PPI use makes patients 20%-50% higher risk of chronic kidney disease (6). The condition is known to cause toxic overload, fluid retention and central nervous system damage (7).
2. Heart Disease
Stanford University in California found people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) who took PPIs had a 16 percent risk of heart attack. They were also twice as likely to die from cardiovascular problems (8).
Another study, conducted by the Stanford University Medical Center found that the drug may lead to cardiovascular problems.
“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.
This is due to reduced levels of nitric oxide, a chemical which is produced to protect and relax blood vessels. This can lead to an increased risk of heart attack.
In fact, according to Dr. John Cooke, chair of cardiovascular sciences at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, 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 (9).
3. Fracture Risk
The FDA has issued warnings about the increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures associated to PPI use (10).
PPI use of at least 7 years was shown to make patient two times more likely to suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture.
5 years of regular use was associated with an increase risk of hip fractures. Other affected areas included the wrist and spine (11).
4. Nutrient Malabsorption
Stomach acid is important for your body to absorb vitamin B12 and magnesium. Other nutritional deficiencies caused by the drug include calcium and iron (12).
This can lead to:
- Muscle spasms
- Nerve damage
- Psychiatric problems
The FDA has warned that acid reflux medication can cause these problems within the first year of use. Unfortunately, supplements cannot remedy these deficiencies as long as the drugs are still being taken.
How To Manage Acid Reflux
Adam Schoenfeld, an internal medicine resident at the University of California, San Francisco suggest that PPI prescription is an inappropriate treatment for most patients. Instead, he suggests that sufferers start by changing their diet, stop smoking or reduce their alcohol consumption (15).
Stomach acid plays an important role in breaking down food and absorbing nutrients, and also kills bacteria and microbes.
Long-term maintenance use of acid-suppressing drugs like proton pump inhibitors may disrupt these processes and make people more susceptible to both infections and nutritional deficits, experts say.
You can fix your acid reflux by taking ½ teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water after your meal and every two hours until your symptoms subside.
Heartburn can also be caused by your body producing too little acid and therefore not being able to digest your food properly.
This is especially true for adults over the age of 50. Too little acid is typically caused by poor diet and candida overgrowth. To prevent symptoms, drink 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 8 ounces of water before each meal.