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The Dangers of Heartburn Drugs

Heartburn Drugs: The Treatment may be worse than the Disease

You would think that a simple thing such as suppressing the amount of stomach acid to reduce heartburn or gastric reflex would be a harmless act that a prescription drug can safely perform. Twenty years after these drugs were put on the market we are discovering the dangers of reducing the amount of acid produced by your stomach.

If you have been taking one the following prescription drugs, Losec, Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Pariet or any generic equivalent such as omeprazole you were told to take this pill daily or in some cases twice a day for the rest of your life. Although they may prevent some of your heartburn symptoms they actually cause early onset osteoporosis (bone deterioration), a multitude of bacterial infections such as C.difficile and pneumonia and many types of food poisoning.

Research from the Canadian Institute for Health found that one in five Canadians over 65 are taking one of the above drugs and we have no idea how many are taking Zantac because it is sold without a prescription. We do know that world-wide these drugs account for 26 billion dollars in sales each year.


As we age our bones deteriorate just like the rest of the parts of our bodies. However when you take any of the above mentioned drugs known as proton-pump inhibitors and histamine-2 receptor antagonists they reduce the ability of your stomach to produce acid which is the beginning of the digestive process to break down calcium, magnesium, Vitamin K and boron, ingredients essential for bone health. They also interfere with the absorption of calcium supplements and even the drugs that are used to treat osteoporosis such as fosamax and actonel. The fact that these drugs are prescribed for life almost guarantees that over the long term they will accelerate the process of bone deterioration. Long term studies show that people who take these drugs have a 32% higher incidence of hip fractures than those who do not use acid-suppressing medication.

Clostridium difficile

If you were in a hospital or recently discharged from a hospital with a number of prescriptions, it is highly likely that the prescribing physician added one of the heartburn drugs to the list. In their convoluted logic the physician assumes that one or all of the new drugs may cause stomach upset so they add the heartburn drug to alleviate the symptom. In Canada these drugs are prescribed to between 40 and 70 per cent of all hospital patients.

Your stomach acid has two very important functions. Firstly it is part of the digestive process and starts the breakdown of your food. Secondly the high PH of 4.5 is acidic enough to kill almost any bacteria that enter your stomach. Unfortunately when you reduce the amount of stomach acid produced, you become much more vulnerable to bacterial infections and hence the huge increase in C.difficle infestation in hospitals all over North America.


A study published in February of this year in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by Dr. Eom a medical researcher at the Seoul National University Hospital in South Korea estimated that one in every 200 hospital patients that takes one of these drugs develops pneumonia. Furthermore, the type of pneumonia acquired in hospitals is so resistant that it is likely to have caused a great many deaths.

When the Canadian Institute for Health Information looked at 35 different studies about the relationship between proton pump inhibitors and pneumonia they found that people taking these drugs have a 27 per cent higher risk of acquiring pneumonia than those people who did not take the drugs.

According to the study, 19.7 cases of pneumonia occur in every 1000 hospital patients not receiving acid-suppressing drugs. That increases to 27 cases per 1000 patients who are taking the drugs, about a 30 per cent increase.

Once again we are looking at the same mechanism of action. Without enough acid in your stomach to control the colonies of bacteria they will be allowed to grow and propagate and cause infection. When your stomach secretes its normal amount of acid this high level protects you from most infections.

Heart Attacks

Your body can indicate about 30 different symptoms to you such as pain, inflammation, nausea, stomach upset and heartburn but they can be symptoms of hundreds of thousands of different diseases. Very often heartburn and heart attacks can be confused because the sensation is in the same area. Many heart attack symptoms include nausea, vomiting and even heartburn so when people take acid-suppressing drugs every day they may be reducing the ability of your body to show heart attack symptoms. For some unknown reason people who take these drugs have a higher incidence of heart attacks than those who do not. It could be that the symptoms are being suppressed and they do not get treatment in time to prevent the attack.

Kidney Disease

Because of the way your body excretes this drug, people on these meds have a 27 per cent higher incidence of kidney disease. Furthermore if they are Type 2 diabetic or taking blood thinning medications such as Coumadin or Plavix they have a 48 per cent higher risk of kidney disease.

Very often when I write an article like this people want to know what natural supplement they can take in place of the dangerous prescription drug. My answer to this is that you must not think pharmaceuticals or supplements, you must think prevention. Many people could give up these medications if they were willing to eat more digestible, less spicy foods. A change in lifestyle that includes more exercise, weight loss and possibly quitting smoking and reduced alcohol consumption may also be the answer.

Unfortunately when you are under extreme stress, your stomach will secrete acid and when this acid hits the lining of your stomach you will experience severe excruciating heartburn. Once again controlling the stress with exercise, meditation and a more moderate lifestyle may take away the need to use these drugs.

The most commonly used product in the health store is the broad spectrum digestive enzyme supplement which breaks down food early in the process and thereby allows the body to produce less acid naturally because digestion is taking place early. The problem is that they sometimes work too well and you continue with the bad diet.

Always think lifestyle change first rather than patching up the problem with pharmaceuticals or supplements, but if your symptoms persist and you must use something at least the supplements in the health food store are safer when used in the long term.


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