The Worst Way To Deal With Heartburn

Bloating, heartburn, gas—these are some of the unpleasant side effects of too much holiday feasting. But those who regularly struggle with acid reflux might reach for something a little stronger than a chalky antacid: They might opt to take daily acid blockers.

Acid blockers, more specifically proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), protect the stomach lining by, as the name suggests, reducing stomach acid production.

Suzy Cohen, RPh, author of Drug Muggers, explains: "PPIs can block acid production pretty much 24/7 in an effort to temporarily curb heartburn, coughing, difficulty swallowing, and other painful symptoms associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, or reflux), ulcers, and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome."

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Names of this type of drug include Esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec and Zegarid, a rapid-release form), pantoprazole (Protonix), and rabeprazole (Aciphex).

Unfortunately, this class of drug may be doing damage to your gut microbiome, with some serious repercussions, according to research from the Mayo Clinic.

The study found that people who took PPIs regularly had less gut bacteria diversity and that this led to increased risk for pneumonia and Clostridium difficile (also known as C. diff) infections.

"Evidence has been mounting for years that long-term use of proton pump inhibitors poses increased risks for a variety of associated complications, but we have never really understood why," said John DiBaise, MD, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist who was senior author of the study.

"What this study does for the first time is demonstrate a plausible explanation for these associated conditions."

He says that a lack of good bacteria opens up the possibility for harmful bacteria to multiply, increasing the risk for infection.

The individuals in this study were more likely to have vitamin deficiencies and bone fractures. This isn't surprising because, as Cohen points out, these drugs may have serious ramifications on your nutrient uptake. 

"Acid blockers suppress acid-alkaline balance and thereby alter pH (acidity) throughout the gut, so the absorption of every single nutrient is suppressed," she says.

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Outside of this study, Cohen says that evidence shows that PPIs are associated with a whole host of other issues, as well.

She says, "When you suppress the natural acid that your body uses to break down food, medication, and supplements, you could develop more serious problems, such as food allergies, heart arrhythmias, tingling in fingers and toes, depression, dizziness, and headache."

Because of these repercussions, only people with peptic or duodenal ulcers should use these drugs, according to Cohen. Most acid reflux issues can be resolved with lifestyle adjustments. Instead of medicating, try eating smaller portions, wearing loose clothing, elevating the head of your bed or avoiding lying down two hours after eating, and avoiding trigger foods.

If you absolutely must take PPIs, be sure your stomach is ready for these pills by drinking cranberry juice.

"The juice offsets the drug mugging effect of acid blockers. Without the juice, it appears that you are more susceptible to the drug mugging of B vitamins, particularly B12 (methylcobalamin)," says Cohen.

She recommends you avoid alcohol, St. John's wort, spicy food, garlic, onions, fast food, greasy food, sugar, feverfew, coffee, and nicotine, as these can either worsen your condition or have negative interactions with the PPI.

From Rodale Wellness
Photo By ShutterStock

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