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New FDA Warning: Risk of Infections with Stomach Acid Blocker Drugs

Billions of dollars a year are spent on medications designed to get rid of stomach acid. Or more accurately stated, to stop the uncomfortable symptoms of stomach acid backing up into the esophagus where it doesn’t belong. These symptoms include burning, cramping, bloating, nausea, coughing, sore throat and even back pain. They are typically referred to as acid reflux, GERD or heartburn. The most commonly used drugs to minimize these symptoms are the PPIs (proton-pump inhibitors), and I’ve included a list below.

PPIs do “turn-off” the production of stomach acid. However, many side effects have already been identified as a result of suppressing a natural process like stomach acid secretion over a longer period of time. One of the most insidious side effects is one that may make it difficult to get off of these drugs once started. Because the drugs turn off stomach acid, they can cause a rebound effect of too much stomach acid secreted when the drugs are stopped. Our bodies do have their own wisdom! And when a natural process like acid secretion is artificially suppressed, our body, through a survival feedback mechanism, will increase its production of the hormone gastrin, whose job is to increase acid secretion. It’s easy to see then that stopping the drug can cause a sudden increase of acid secretion and perhaps worse symptoms then when the drug was started. That’s why it’s very important to slowly decrease the medication over time rather than abruptly stopping it.

Other side effects of longer term use are related to stopping a natural and necessary process. Stomach acid is needed for digestion- that’s why it is produced. It’s especially necessary for digestion of proteins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc and other trace minerals. By inhibiting the absorption of calcium, long term use of these drugs has been associated with osteoporosis, or bone loss, and hip fractures. The very important vitamin B12 also requires an acidic environment in order to be absorbed.

The latest FDA warning is associated with another risk associated with turning off the body’s natural process of stomach acid secretion. Practitioners like me who work with people to create optimal health, have identified this side effect for years but finally the FDA has caught on. Stomach acid production is required to maintain a healthy GI tract. It can protect us from invading microorganisms that cause infection by killing them. That includes disease-causing bacteria, parasites, and fungal infections including an overgrowth of candida albicans.

The FDA reviewed 28 observational studies and found the rate of infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile (C Diff) is almost 3 times higher among people taking PPIs. What is C Diff? It’s associated with severe diarrhea and is very difficult to treat and can be life-threatening. It used to be exclusively associated with infections acquired in hospitals. Now, it’s commonly found in the community. And people can be infected by it just by swallowing it and it can be spread by poor hand-washing. Taking a PPI drug can increase the risk of acquiring this infection because it removes the body’s natural defense of stomach acid, which could kill it on contact.

Commonly used PPIs:

  • Aciphex (rabeprazole)
  • Dexilant (dexlansoprazole)
  • Nexium (esomeprazole)
  • Prilosec (omeprazole)
  • Protonix (pantoprazole)
  • Prevacid (lansoprazole)
  • Omeprazole generic which is over the counter
  • Zegerid (omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate), over the counter
The good news: for most people dietary changes can minimize and even eliminate the symptoms of acid reflux. The most common dietary causes are overeating, being overweight, and food and drink such as coffee, caffeine, carbonation, tomatoes and citrus fruits, alcohol, especially red wine, garlic and onion. Stress can amplify these symptoms.There are some natural supplements, if needed, that can reduce or eliminate symptoms as well- without causing stomach acid production to be turned off. Are you ready to try something different? Let’s get started.