Updated: Apr 26, 2019
Whether you call it heartburn, indigestion, or acid reflux—the burning chest discomfort after eating is NO FUN!
It used to be that fast-acting antacids like TUMS or Rolaids were the only over-the-counter medications to quell the fire of heartburn. Now there are newer medicines that stop stomach acid production before the burning ever starts. These medicines are called proton-pump inhibitors—drugs like Nexium, Prevacid, Protonix, and Prilosec. Many are available without a prescription and have become top-selling products.
You might be surprised to learn that Nexium, Protonix, and related drugs are approved for the treatment of heartburn and acid reflux only for as long as 8 weeks. The problem with this recommendation is that when people stop taking the drug, they often feel even worse than before they started. These drugs work by blocking stomach acid production. The body responds by producing more of a hormone called gastrin. When the drug is stopped, gastrin puts stomach acid production into full swing, and the symptoms return with a vengeance.
So people end up taking these medications for weeks, months, or even years. Research is beginning to show that this could be an extremely dangerous thing.
A study published in July of 2017 reported that patients taking proton-pump inhibitors, like Nexium and Protonix, had an increased risk of death. The study looked at nearly 300,000 patients taking these medications and followed them for 5 years. The researchers compared death rates to patients who were taking other types of medications for acid reflux. This study—based on a large number of patients followed for several years—found that those taking proton-pump inhibitors had a 25% increased risk of death compared with patients taking other medications. This equates to 1 death out of 500 people taking Nexium, Protonix, or other proton-pump inhibitors.
The researchers did not look at the cause of death, and there is no way to know if the patients died because of taking proton-pump inhibitors or for some other reason. But the results should raise a red flag. Proton-pump inhibitors, including Nexium, Prevacid, Protonix, and Prilosec, have already been linked with an increased risk of these serious problems:
- Proton-pump inhibitors increase the risk of having a heart attackby about 15% to 20%.
- Anyone over the age of 75 has a 44% increased risk of dementia, compared to those not taking the drugs.
- People taking proton-pump inhibitors have a 20% to 50% increased risk of chronic kidney disease, which can lead to kidney failure.
- Proton-pump inhibitors block the absorption of many vitamins and minerals. They can lead to deficiencies of calcium, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B12. Over time, these nutrient deficiencies can produce anemia, osteoporosis, anxiety, and other chronic conditions.
- Stomach acid is needed to kill bacteria in the gut. Use of proton-pump inhibitors predisposes patients to develop small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which can lead to chronic gastrointestinal distress.
Proton-pump inhibitors provide incredible relief to many patients, but the long-term risks of these medications far outweigh the benefits. There are better and more sustainable solutions for heartburn.
At the Care Group, PC, we help patients get to the root cause of their problems and heal from the inside out. We have comprehensive digestive health protocols that bring true healing. Our top 3 recommendations are summarized in the infographic above. Try these simple tips, and if you are still not feeling well, please give us a call for more personalized care!
Ito T, Jensen RT. Association of long-term proton pump inhibitor therapy with bone fractures and effects on absorption of calcium, vitamin B12, iron, and magnesium. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2010;12(6):448-457.
Lazarus B, Chen Y, Wilson FP, et al. Proton Pump Inhibitor Use and the Risk of Chronic Kidney Disease. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(2):238-246.
Shah NH, LePendu P, Bauer-Mehren A, et al. Proton Pump Inhibitor Usage and the Risk of Myocardial Infarction in the General Population. PLoS One. 2015;10(6):e0124653.
Sharma K, Minagar A, Sun H. Proton Pump Inhibitors and Dementia Incidence. JAMA Neurol. 2016;73(8):1027.
Su T, Lai S, Lee A, He X, Chen S. Meta-analysis: proton pump inhibitors moderately increase the risk of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. J Gastroenterol. 2017
Xie Y, Bowe B, Li T, Xian H, Yan Y, Al-Aly Z. Risk of death among users of Proton Pump Inhibitors: a longitudinal observational cohort study of United States veterans. BMJ Open. 2017;7(6):e015735.
About the Author: Dr. Gerard Guillory, MD is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and has published two books on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In 1985, he opened The Care Group, PC. Today, his clinic is a Primary Care facility that is a hybrid of functional and traditional medicine treating patients with digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, and other conditions. You can learn more about Dr. Guillory here.