When proton pump inhibiters (PPIs) first came out they were thought of as a miracle cure for those suffering with gastroesphogeal reflux disease (GERD), dyspepsia, and a host of conditions exacerbated by the over-production of gastric acid.
And by inhibiting its secretion, PPIs certainly got the job done. Fast-forward a few years and, not surprisingly, the PPI picture isn’t all that rosy. In fact, those “purple pills” may be triggering more problems than they purport to cure. Even the Food and Drug Administration has (at last) chimed in, issuing warnings about PPIs, suggesting they should be used as briefly as possible.
If you’ve been taking PPIs for a while, have unintentionally become dependent, or are even thinking about taking them for more than four weeks, I urge you to step away from the purple pills and try to find out what’s really going on. Instead of masking the problem, and creating new ones, I recommend treating the problem holistically, without PPIs (unless it’s an emergency). Here’s why:
1. PPIs Aren’t Good for Your Gut
Your gut is home to a wide variety of bacteria. When they’re in balance, happily co-existing, your gut and digestion work like a well-oiled machine and immunity stays strong.Throw the balance off and the bad bacteria gain the upper hand, slowing healthy gut function to a crawl.
So what throws the bacterial balance off? Things like stress, too little sleep, too much sugar, antibiotic use and yes, you guessed it, proton pump inhibiters.
According to a Mayo Clinic study last year, researchers found that regular PPI users have less microbial diversity, which puts them at higher risk for infections like pneumonia, in addition to vitamin deficiencies and bone fractures. Not great news for any regular user and even worse for elderly patients.
2. PPIs Create Vitamin Deficiencies That Can Hurt Hearts
While no vitamin deficiency is a good one, what’s particularly unsettling about PPIs is that virtually nobody on PPIs—and few of the doc’s prescribing them—are aware that PPIs increase the risk of vitamin B12 and magnesium deficiency, the latter of which can compromise cardiovascular health, and can even cause life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias.
Making matters worse, PPIs can also interact with certain medications and increase heart attack risk, according to public safety advocates Public Citizen. With this in mind, one really has to ask, it is worth the risk?
3. Risk of Dependence
Whether or not you needed them to begin with, you might develop dependency and find them hard to stop, because when you do, you get what’s called a rebound effect: your body creates more acid (hypersecretion)—and now you really might get reflux from excess acid.
This can be seen after as little as four weeks of use and often leads to symptoms such as heartburn, acid regurgitation, or dyspepsia that makes most folks start popping their pills again. That is why you must always taper off PPIs slowly, preferably under a physician’s care. Currently, this serious adverse effect is not found on any PPI labels.
4. Less Cure
Less gastric acid—more problems? No doubt GERD, dyspepsia, ulcers, and so on can be miserable, not to mention painful, but PPIs, by tamping down acid production, bring their own set of debilitating side effects.
Among them being cough; headache, dizziness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea—all in addition to the concerns raised by the Mayo Clinic study.
Deciding if the pharmaceutical “cure” is worse than the gastric “disease” is obviously up to the individual. But if I were struggling with gastric issues? I wouldn’t go near Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium, Aciphex, and so on. I’d opt instead for a holistic solution (which sometimes can even include adding hydrochloric acid) and a real shot at actually solving the problem rather than masking it.
The Be Well Solution
Assuming you are not in a critical or emergency situation, I strongly suggest making the lifestyle changes necessary to start healing and repairing your digestion—so you never need to hit the drugstore again for an over-the-counter or prescription proton pump inhibitor. While there are many ways to attack the problem, to get started, I often encourage my patients to try a few of the following techniques:
- Try a cleanse diet, which eliminates the common foods that fuel the burn.
- Eat mindfully and slowly.
- Lighten your mealtime load, particularly in the evening.
- Don’t smoke … ever.
- Let go of wine and liquor.
- Sleep on a slope, with your head and shoulders elevated.
- Supplement with herbal anti-microbials and probiotics to rebalance and heal the gut.
- Try my Beat the Burn Plan to help soothe and protect your digestive tract.
- Reduce stress, with a regular meditation practice.
For more tips and ideas on how to soothe gastric challenges, check out 9 Ways to Halt Heartburn.
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