According to the American College of Gastroenterology close to 40% of all Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month, and nearly 50% of pregnant women suffer with it in `their third trimester.
Other estimates we’ve seen put the number of Americans who experience heartburn on a DAILY basis at between 7% and 10%. No wonder the use of various drugs to treat heartburn have more than doubled in the last decade. Unfortunately, recent research turns up one problem after another that those drugs cause.
The worst offenders, as far as we can tell, among the various heartburn drugs, are the ones known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). That class of drugs includes esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec) and pantoprazole (Protonix). That class of drugs is the 3rd-best selling class of drugs in the U.S.
Recent studies found that PPI drugs are linked to an increased risk for another heart attack in patients who have already had a heart attack… the risk in patients taking PPIs within 30 days of discharge after the first heart attack was increased by 30%.
Another study found a link between PPIs and higher risk of intestinal infections caused by a dangerous bacterium known as C. difficile. The risk of this type of an infection in hospital patients taking MILD acid-suppressing drugs known as H2RA drugs — such as Pepcid, Tagamet or Zantac—was increased by 53%! And the risk of such infections in patients taking the stronger PPI type drugs was increased by 74%!
Research has also found a link for increased risk of fractures in postmenopausal women using PPIs. A study that followed 130,000 postmenopausal women (age 50 to 79) with no history of hip fracture for more than 7 years, found that those regularly taking PPIs experienced:
47% increased risk of spine fractures
26% increased risk for forearm & wrist fractures
25% increased risk of total fractures
Researchers said the possible cause for the increased risk of fractures may be that suppressing stomach acid over sustained periods may impair the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Another irony is that every natural health expert we’ve found that has written about heartburn has said that most heartburn cases (up to 95% of them in fact) are caused by too LITTLE stomach acid, not too much. So consider that in analyzing all of this.
All of the dangers from the acid-reducing drugs can include some that are life threatening, so this is not a small problem. So what can anyone suffering heartburn problems do?
Some “home remedies” cited as often helping include taking a walk, which reduces the amount of time stomach acid stays in contact with the esophagus. However, the relief from walking is said to last only as long as the walking did. Another suggestion is to chew gum. People who chewed gum for an hour after eating had relief for about 4 hours. Drinking a small amount of milk every 1 to 2 hours helped wash acid back down into the stomach.
Other tips include reducing the amount of soda one drinks, avoiding coffee, or if even small amounts of coffee are a problem, switching to a darker roast. Research suggests darker roasted coffee beans may have higher levels of a compound that hinders stomach-acid production. Another thing to avoid is eating dinner too close to bedtime. It’s suggested you eat your last meal of the day at least 4 hours before you go to bed.
A finding of one recent study that was surprising to many people we’re sure was that drinking a glass of water may be more effective than acid-inhibiting drugs in its effect on gastric pH. Study participants were given either water, antacid, ranitidine (Zantac), omeprazole (Prilosec, Zegerid), esomeprazole (Nexium), or raberprazole (Asiphex). Their gastric pH was recorded for 6 hours after each drug was taken. Those results showed that water increased gastric pH by more than 4 after just one minute. In contrast, antacid took 2 minutes, and most of the other drugs took more than two HOURS. The researchers said “water and antacid immediately increased gastric pH, while the PPIs showed a delayed but prolonged effect compared to ranitidine.
Some natural substances (besides water) suggested for heartburn include:
Betaine HCL — to increase stomach acid, which makes sense for the estimated 95% of cases caused by too little such acid!
Digestive Enzymes — aimed at improving digestive problems that are often a part of causing the problem.
A quality Probiotic, to help restore the balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract.
Hopefully this information may help some people to avoid the need and the risks of acid reducing drugs.