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Are Acid Blocking Drugs Safe

Updated: May 10, 2023

Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one of the most common disorders of the digestive tract. The two most typical symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation of stomach contents up into the back of the throat.

But it’s not just burning pain and a sour taste in your mouth. It causes millions of doctor visits every year, millions of hospitalizations. GERD is common; its burdens are enormous. It relapses frequently and can cause bleeding and strictures, not to mention a deadly cancer.

Adenocarcinoma (Cancer of the esophagus). In the last three decades, the incidence has increased six-fold–an increase greater than that of melanoma, breast, or prostate cancer. And that’s because acid reflux is on the rise.

Common Treatments

The mainstay of treatment is the proton pump inhibitor drugs, which deliver huge profits for pharmaceutical companies.

Americans spend four billion dollars on Nexium alone, three billion on Prevacid, two billion on Protonix, one billion on Aciphex. We also use baking soda and other over the counter based antacids in enormous quantities.

Here is the problem

Are they effective

They work better than a placebo (sugar pills) , but not by much—helping 31% of sufferers, compared to 26% helped by placebo. In other words, 5% better than nothing. However as with many prescription drugs, PPI's have been extremely lucrative for the pharmaceutical industry raking in billions a year so marketing budgets are huge.

Are there side effects

The current list of potential side effects of chronic PPI use include

  • Nutrient deficiencies

  • Increase the risk for pneumonia

  • Food poisoning

  • Bone fractures

  • Increase in all cause mortality (the longer you take the medication, the greater your risk of dying prematurely)

The latest concern is a link to Dementia and Alzheimer's.

In terms of dementia, a key event in the development of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of a sticky protein called amyloid beta. And if you just stick Alzheimer’s-like cells in a petri dish, and drip on increasing levels of the drug Prevacid, the cells start churning out more amyloid beta. And the same thing with Prilosec or Losec, Protonix, and Nexium.

What we do know is that there’s an almost cultish faith in [stomach] acid suppression as some kind of medical panacea, which has led to progressive escalation of dosage and potency of these drugs, all the while mounting evidence suggests these drugs may cause a variety of adverse effects and are overprescribed. Evidence suggests that 50% the people on the drugs shouldn’t even be on them.

A Functional Medicine Solution

A Functional Medicine Practitioners approach, is to get to the root cause of the symptoms. The causes of GERD can be complex.

High Fat Diets Increase risk In general, high fat intake is associated with increased risk, whereas high-fiber foods appear to be protective, because studies on have shown that when we eat fatty foods, the sphincter at the top of the stomach that’s supposed to keep the food and acid down is relaxed in the presence of fat, and so more acid can creep up into the esophagus.

Diets High In Red Meat Increase Risk Red meat was more associated with cancer in the esophagus, but poultry was more associated with cancer at the top of the stomach. In fact researchers found that high meat diets had twice the odds of reflux-induced esophageal inflammation.

Whereas “meat alternatives” such as beans and nuts were associated with a significantly decreased risk of cancer. This is consistent with previous data suggesting a protective effect of plant protein sources, as well as fruits, vegetables and antioxidants, in produce form, not pill form.

Those eating the most antioxidant-rich foods had half the odds of esophageal cancer, whereas practically no reduction in risk among those who used vitamin supplements, such as Vitamin C or E pills.

The most protective produce may be red-orange vegetables, dark green leafies, berry juice, apples, and citrus.

But it may not just be the plants. Eating healthy foods crowds out less healthy foods, so it may be a combination of both.

If you or a loved one battle with acid reflux and want to find real solutions then secure your Functional Medicine Assessment, 60min consult and personal Care plan with Functional Medicine Practitioner Jenny Hague

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