Millions of doses of "acid blocking" proton pump inhibitor drugs are doled out every year, yet most doctors and their patients are completely oblivious to their unintended, adverse effects, which include increased risk for premature death.
Proton pump inhibitors are a type of drug commonly known as acid-blockers, whose primary purpose is to reduce the amount of gastric acid secreted in the stomach wall. Available with or without a prescription, acid-blockers are used to treat common disorders such as indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux, and various ulcers. These types of digestive disturbances are so common, proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, were prescribed at nearly 270 million hospital trips made by adults via ambulance from 2006 to 2010. The standard American diet of sugar-laden, highly-acidic processed foods, and the stress-filled lifestyle that accompanies it, make it easy to swallow the fact that PPIs are among the most highly prescribed drugs on the planet.
Economically, the boost these drugs represent to pharmaceutical companies cannot be overstated. With cumulative sales of more than $10 billion dollars annually, drugs like Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, and others, represent a significant chunk of Big Pharma’s profits. Despite clinical research that shows an act as simple as drinking more water reduces stomach acid more than these drugs, and does so safely with no negative side effects, Big Pharma’s relationship with the corner doctor’s office too often prevents these basic self-help practices from being disseminated.
PPIs work by raising stomach pH above normal range to inhibit secretion of pepsin, a digestive enzyme that can be irritating to stomach lining. While this action may provide temporary feelings of relief, it effectively blocks secretion of normal, healthy enzymes, impairing the body’s digestive function over the long-term. Lack of adequate stomach secretions can also expose us to harmful molds, viruses, and bacteria that may be present in our food.
- Digestive disturbances, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and gas
- Fever or cold symptoms, such as stuffy nose, sneezing, and sore throat
- Skin rashes
- Cognitive impairment
Safe Antacid or Smoking Gun?The majority of people who take acid blockers are doing so because of dietary and lifestyle choices that create an unfavorable condition in the digestive tract. Poor quality food, consumed in rushed conditions, chased down with coffee or soda - what could go wrong? Just pop a purple pill to chase away the inevitable heartburn that follows. When pills are so readily available that help us divorce consequence from causation, these dietary indiscretions can become commonplace, even normalized. Side effects are rushed through in commercials, with the emphasis on “enjoy the foods you love!” presumably, with no downside. But the systemic effects of proton pump inhibitors are finally being recognized, and the action of these drugs is not merely isolated to the stomach. They affect the acid production of every cell in the human body.
Research conducted at Stanford University and Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, uncovered shocking findings in 2016, through research supported by the American Heart Association. What co-author John Cooke, MD, PhD, chair of Cardiovascular Disease Research at Houston Methodist Hospital calls “the smoking gun,” is the fact that PPIs effectively inhibit acid production throughout the body, disrupting normal, healthy metabolic processes of cells. The acid bath that PPIs disrupt in the stomach carries important digestive enzymes. When this enzymatic activity is inhibited in the rest of the body (because the effects of PPIs are not limited to the stomach) cells become unable to break down waste materials. Cooke likens this process to “a garbage disposal that requires acid to work.” Cells rapidly become burdened by these waste products, and the damaging effects of aging are accelerated. This type of cellular damage leaves patients, particularly those taking PPIs for a year or more, susceptible to a host of diseases, and even premature death.
1. Increased risk for kidney diseaseThe evidence that PPIs are damaging to the spleen and kidneys first appeared in case reports of acute interstitial nephritis, inflammation of the tissues between renal tubules that affect how our kidneys regulate and uptake water. This condition, which can lead to kidney failure, was observed to occur suddenly and in significantly higher rates among users of PPIs. Cessation of use of PPIs was also observed to initiate a reversal of symptoms in many cases. Once the alarm was sounded, large observational studies were conducted that found correlations of PPI use with increased incidence of acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, and end-stage renal disease. These risks increase when users consume more than one dose daily of these medications.
2. Increased risk for heart diseaseThere is now a significant body of evidence demonstrating the adverse cardiovascular effects of PPIs. A June 2016 article published in the American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs reviewed available information on PPIs in relation to cardiovascular risks, as well as the mechanisms by which this harm occurs. The study confirms the finding that proton pump inhibitor effects are not isolated to stomach cells. In particular, PPIs were observed to reduce the acidification of lysosomes, cells responsible for the breakdown of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids. PPIs alter basic cellular functions, including those related to blood clotting ability, thereby increasing a risk of major adverse cardiac events.
3. Digestive disordersMost people take PPIs because of digestive system upset, so it may seem oxymoronic to include this condition in the list of reasons not to take PPIs. The most common ailment cited when writing prescriptions for PPIs is gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This condition, which expresses as excess acid in the stomach, is not the only reason for prescribing a PPI. A PPI prescription is written for 50% of all digestive diseases! PPI overuse has been documented in numerous studies, so whether the cause of the digestive complaint is excess acid or other, the “fix” you are given in many cases is a proton pump inhibitor. This creates conditions under which proper diagnosis of the digestive complaint cannot be made, and a domino-effect of symptoms that may or may not be related to the original problem can cloud the picture.
4. Diminished brain functionOne of the most startling correlations between proton pump inhibitors and chronic health problems, are the findings related to cognitive disorders. While it’s not such a novel idea that food affects our mood, there isn’t yet a wide consensus on food’s impact on brain health. A study released in Dec 2015 was prompted by research showing that PPIs increase the brain burden of amyloid-beta, an amino acid that is the main component of the amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer patients. PPIs are also known to create vitamin B12 deficiency, a second factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers amassed sixty volunteers, divided into five test groups, and one control group. Each of the five test groups were given a different PPI: omeprazole, lansoprazole, pantoprazole, rabeprazole, and esomeprazole. All six groups participated in computerized, neuropsychological tests at the beginning of the study, and again, seven days after taking the specific PPIs maximum daily dose. While researchers admit that a larger study is desirable, the evidence was clear:
We found statistically and clinically significant impairment in visual memory, attention, executive function, and working and planning function. All PPIs had a similar negative impact on cognition.Of the PPIs studied, omeprazole had the most significant impact (significant results on 7 of 7 cognition tests), and esomeprazole showed comparatively less (significant results on 3 of 7 tests).
5. Increased risk of deathIt’s clear from the evidence, as well as common sense, that PPIs have a systemic effect on the entire body, not just the small function they are prescribed to adjust. PPIs launch an attack on basic cellular functioning, inhibiting healthy cell metabolism from taking place. When the body’s ability to convert the building blocks of life, namely proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and nucleic acids, into useable fuel is compromised, so is our immune system, and life begins shutting down. An older study that helped pioneer awareness of harm due to PPIs, is a 2013 study called Inhibition of lysosomal enzyme activities by proton pump inhibitors. Researchers observed that many of the adverse effects of PPIs are caused by systemically compromised immunity, a result of PPI inhibition of lysosomal enzymes. Lysosomes are essentially tiny membranes or sacs that carry enzymes essential to cellular metabolic functions. When PPIs inhibit this function, there is an increased incidence of tumors (tumorigenesis) and infectious diseases.
Other precautions when taking or considering a proton pump inhibitor are the potential for drug interactions or contraindications. Stomach acids are often instrumental in the absorption of swallowed medication, and for this reason, PPIs have the potential to negatively impact the effectiveness of any oral drug. Consult your doctor for advice on this and any matter related to medication. Above all, trust in your body’s ability to self-heal when given the right ingredients and opportunity. Dietary change can be the best antidote for digestive disturbances, and simple natural remedies deliver powerful support with no negative side effects. For more information on natural alternatives for acid reflux symptoms read the following articles: