Raise your hand if you—or someone you know—has taken a heartburn drug.
We suspect there are very few folks out there that didn’t reach for the sky. Because with 1 in 14 Americans—or an estimated 15 million of us—having taken a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) at some point in our life, they’re the third most popular drug in the United States.
PPIs are sold both by prescription and over-the-counter under familiar names that include Prevacid, Nexium and Prilosec. And to say they’re big business for Big Pharma would be putting it lightly. PPIs are raking in an estimated $14 billion in global annual sales.
And that’s a problem.
Oh, it’s not that PPIs don’t work… they do. But it’s HOW they work—and how we use them—that can turn them into a serious danger to your health.
You see PPIs can have all sorts of serious adverse effects on your health. And the longer you use them the more dangers you face.
Many folks taking PPIs—maybe even the majority of them—use them for more than a couple of weeks at a time. In fact, a number of people stay on them for years and some users are on them for life.
But now a new study has uncovered yet another reason to consider trashing these drugs for good. PPIs have been found to fast forward vascular aging, putting users at serious risk for heart disease, vascular dementia and renal failure.
We’ll have some more details on that troubling new study in a moment, but first let’s take a look at what we already knew about PPI dangers.
Heartburn drugs can lead to vitamin & mineral deficiencies
PPIs relieve heartburn by reducing your stomach acid. That probably sounds like a good thing when you’re suffering from the burn and irritation, but it’s this very action that can lead to trouble.
You see stomach acid has a couple of very important jobs to do. It’s there for a reason. Stomach acid digests your food extracting the important vitamins and minerals you need to function and stay healthy.
But when you reduce your stomach acid to basement low levels… and keep it there for weeks, months or even years on end… you can rob your body of the critical nutrients it needs.
People taking PPIs can have trouble absorbing important vitamins, with the B’s being particularly vulnerable to shortfalls. And minerals such as magnesium, iron and calcium can begin to drop too low as well.
Nutritional deficiencies can then lead to other PPI side effects such as weakened bones, fractures and muscle weakness and pain. In fact, in one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association researchers concluded that those taking high-dose PPIs over the long term were 2.65 times more likely to suffer a hip fracture than their peers not taking the heartburn drugs.
But digestion isn’t the only role your stomach acid plays in keeping you healthy. Stomach acid provides a barrier against bacteria that can make you sick.
Heartburn drugs linked to infections, heart attack & kidney disease
PPIs can leave you more vulnerable to…
- food poisoning from bugs such as sickening salmonella,
- dangerous digestive infections such as Clostridium difficile ( diff)
- stomach flu
- and even pneumonia.
PPIs have been associated with heart issues, including an increased likelihood of heart attack down the road according to a data-mining study conducted at Stanford and published in the journal PLOS One.
And although a direct cause-and-effect relationship hadn’t yet been established between proton pump inhibitors and heart disease in 2015 when that study was completed, the research was still ongoing and this latest study sheds more light on that link.
In a large study that included over 250,000 participants, researchers concluded that PPIs appear to significantly raise your risk of kidney disease. And a recent study published in JAMA Neurology found PPIs could send your risk for dementia skyrocketing 44 percent or more.
(For more details on the link between proton pump inhibitors and dementia click here.)
So, in other words, there were already plenty of reasons to get off of PPIs before this latest link to vascular aging was uncovered.
PPIs raise your risk for stroke and heart attack
According to the new study published in the journal Circulation Research, regular use of proton inhibiting drugs speeds up the aging of blood vessels. And that, of course, raises your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Researchers say that this accelerated aging means PPI users are at risk for blood-vessel related diseases including heart disease, renal failure and dementia.
A typical healthy blood vessel has a tough inner coating of endothelial cells that allow blood to easily slip through without sticking. But older, worn down or diseased cells become sticky leading to blockages.
When scientists exposed endothelial cells to a daily dose of the PPI drug Nexium that was “similar to what a patient would receive,” over the long term it led to the kind of damage that’s seen in older cells.
In addition, the PPI inhibited acidity which essentially reducing the cell’s ability to take out the garbage. The accumulating cellular garbage was like hitting the fast-forward button on aging, causing the cells to get old before their time.
According to the lead researcher on the study, this may be the key to why PPI use has been associated with increased risks of heart, kidney and dementia issues.
Getting off of heartburn drugs can be difficult to do
PPIs don’t do a thing to cure heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). They simply shut down your body’s natural acid production for a period of time.
It’s obvious that there are some major risks that come with taking PPI medications, and the truth is most folks likely don’t need to be on them. The drugs were never intended for long term use and, in fact, there’s evidence that up to 70 percent of PPI drug usage isn’t appropriate.
But it turns out getting off of them may be easier said than done.
Many folks who try to stop their heartburn meds experience what is known as a “rebound effect.” It simply means that once the drugs are removed the amount of stomach acid your body is making surges and your heartburn symptoms return and are often worse than they were before you started the drug.
You can help combat the returning heartburn by making some dietary changes. Try eliminating common heartburn triggers including…
- carbonated beverages,
- spicy foods,
- and citrus.
Avoid eating very large meals and try to eat your last meal 3 to 4 hours before lying down to sleep. If you smoke quit and try not to wear tight clothing that can put pressure on your digestive organs slowing things down.
Low stomach acid could be the cause of your heartburn pain
Surprisingly, many folks who experience heartburn actually are suffering from low stomach acid. You see, as you age your body stops producing as many digestive enzymes. As a result your stomach fails to break down the food you eat sufficiently and some of that food can begin to find its way back up your esophagus triggering that uncomfortable burning feeling.
How do most folks react? By popping a PPI or other heartburn drug which, of course, just makes the situation worse.
Instead try taking a digestive enzyme supplement right after eating. Look for one that’s full spectrum which means it can help break down and digest carbs, fat and proteins.
The label should have all three enzyme categories…
- Proteolytic (for proteins)
- Lipolytic (for fast)
- Amylolytic (for carbohydrates)
And it should also contain hydrochloride (or HCl) which is a plant-derived replacement for hydrochloric acid.
If someone you care about is currently on a PPI heartburn medication please share this important information with them.
“Proton Pump Inhibitors Accelerate Endothelial Senescence ,” Circulation Research, May 2016
Common Antacid Linked to Accelerated Vascular Aging
Clues to How Popular Heartburn Drug Might Harm Arteries
C difficile Infection Linked to Proton Pump Inhibitors
“Discontinuation of Proton Pump Inhibitor Therapy and the Role of Esophageal Testing,” Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2013 Nov; 9(11): 747–764.
“Proton Pump Inhibitor Usage and the Risk of Myocardial Infarction in the General Population,” PLOS One, Published: June 10, 2015http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0124653
“Some heartburn drugs may boost risk of heart attack, study finds”
“Proton Pump Inhibitors and the Risk of Adverse Cardiac Events,” PLOS One, Published: December 27, 2013
Acid Blockers Linked to Pneumonia Risk
Study: PPI heartburn medication may hurt arteries, putting heart at risk
“Proton Pump Inhibitor Use and the Risk of Chronic Kidney Disease,” JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(2):
“Popular Acid Reflux Drugs Are Linked To Kidney Disease Risk”
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