Heartburn is a familiar problem for many of us. Unfortunately, the go-to treatment which many people receive from their doctors is creating many more problems as it attempts to solve the one.
What does heartburn medication do?
Proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) are commonly prescribed drugs for ulcers, GERD, and acid reflux. PPI’s block an enzyme responsible for triggering stomach acid production, causing less stomach acid to be produced. Common brand names include (1):
It’s estimated that about 64.6 million prescriptions are written for these acid reflux medications every year in the United States alone (2). This is a staggering number, especially when you’ve taken into account the drawbacks of PPI use for acid reflux: First of all, they act as a “band-aid” solution, which masks the underlying cause of indigestion. Relying on heartburn medication will only prolong diagnosis of the root problem. Secondly, research has clearly shown that PPI’s have serious health risks.
What are the health risks of heartburn medications?
PPI medications could lead to gastric cancer. A 2009 review studied populations in Denmark over 13 years and found a potential link between the use of heartburn medication (including both PPI’s and H2 blockers) and occurrence of gastrointestinal neoplasia. (11) Unfortunately, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
In 2015, a team of researchers at Stanford University reviewed thousands of clinical studies and found a clear association between PPI use and heart attacks (but no connection between another type of acid reflux drug, H2 blockers) The dangerous link was true even for people who were not previously diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition (3).
Then in 2016, a study of over 244,000 participants showed an increased risk of stroke from using PPI’s. The larger the dose, the greater the risk of stroke. (7)
In addition to serious cardiovascular threats, PPI’s have been linked to bone fractures and kidney disease. A 2014 study published in Current treatment options in gastroenterology scientific journal and a 2011 scientific review published in Ann Farm Med both revealed that using PPI’s can increase the risk of broken bones. (4, 5) A 2016 study revealed that PPI use is associated with an increased risk of kidney disease. (8)
The research is very clear: proton pump inhibitors are not safe for long-term use; in attempts to mitigate heartburn pain, much greater health risks are introduced. Many people are already at risk of cardiovascular conditions, loss of bone density, or osteoporosis and shouldn’t be creating even further risk.
What are the natural alternatives?
Thankfully, there are a wide variety of natural ways to prevent and treat acid reflux:
- Eating a Mediterranean diet has been found to lower risk of heartburn. Compared to the standard American diet, this involves cutting intake of red meats, sweets, and fried foods and replacing them with fish, olive oil, and fresh fruits and vegetables. (6)
- One 2008 study found that supplementing with melatonin was more effective at diminishing acid reflux than PPI’s and led to more long-term relief. (9)
- Another 2008 study showed that bromelain enzymes from pineapples can serve as digestive aids (along with acid reflux, this can also provide relief for those suffering from lactose intolerance). (10)
- Many people find success treating heartburn with acid reflux (read more here)
- Make long-term healthy changes to your diet. Try not to eat too late in the day, drink plenty of water regularly, and avoid junk like fried and processed foods.
(6) Dis Esophagus. 2015 Jul 14.
(9) Altern Ther Health Med. 2008 Jul-Aug;14(4):54-8.
(10) Altern Med Rev. 2008 Dec;13(4):307-14.
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