Acid reflux, or severe heartburn, has reached epidemic proportions in the Western world. Today 20 million Americans are taking an acid inhibiting drug to treat the condition. You should know that the risks involved with these drugs almost always outweigh the benefits, and now research has shown a new, potentially fatal risk. This class of drugs, called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), may well raise your risk of having a heart attack.
The brand names of the drugs are Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid. According to renowned health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola, they are severely overprescribed and misused. Despite their drawbacks, PPIs are among the mostly frequently prescribed drugs, with annual sales of approximately $14 billion.
In fact, PPIs were not developed to treat heartburn. They were designed to treat a much narrower range of serious health issues, including bleeding ulcers, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (a rare disease that causes the production of excessive stomach acid), and severe acid reflux, diagnosed only after the administration of endoscopic testing. According to Mitchell Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, “About 60 to 70 percent of people taking these drugs have mild heartburn, and shouldn’t be on them.”
Taking a PPI drug only treats the symptoms, not the underlying cause, and in the process, you are opening yourself up to other, more dangerous problems. The side effects of PPIs include pneumonia, bone loss, hip fractures, infection with Clostridium Difficile,
PPI drugs were originally available only by prescription, and their use was generally limited to no more than a week’s duration. Today, they are sold over the counter, and though manufacturers recommend they be used for two weeks at a time maximum, no more than three cycles per year, in actually many people use them on a continuous basis.
These drugs function by suppressing the production of stomach acid, and in some cases this approach may be valid. However, doctors estimate that about ninety-five percent of heartburn is not caused by too much stomach acid, but by too little. Long term, PPI drugs are not the best approach for most people.
So what does cause acid reflux?
As food passes through the esophagus into the stomach, a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) closes, causing digestive acid from the stomach to move back up the esophageal tube. Overwhelmingly, this dysfunction is not caused by too much acid, but rather by one of two other causes: a hiatal hernia, or an imbalance in a stomach bacteria called helicobacter phylori. Increasingly, health experts are linking heartburn with consumption of simple carbohydrates, and patients are finding relief on a reduced-carbohydrate diet.
Beyond their general ineffectiveness and the side effects detailed above, new research has linked PPIs with a heightened risk of heart attacks, even if you have no history of cardiovascular disease. Lead author Nigam H. Shah of Stanford University explains that these drugs have been found to reduce nitric oxide in the blood vessel walls. Nitric oxide is critical in maintaining heart health.
The Stanford study surveyed more than sixteen million medical records of 2.9 million patients. Results of the study demonstrated patients who took PPIs had a 16 percent increased risk of myocardial infarction. Even more important, survival analysis found double the risk of cardiovascular mortality in patients using PPI drugs. The H2 class of acid blockers, including famotidine (Pepcid AC) and ranitidine (ZantacZ) were not implicated in increased cardiovascular risk.