Long-term daily use of heartburn medications like Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix, Zantac, Pepcid, Tagamet and Axid has been shown to decrease absorption of many vital minerals and nutrients, and were never meant to be taken daily for long periods of time. I'm happy this news is finally getting out to the general public, but I'm sad it has taken this long.
You see, medical science has known this fact for years and so has any doctor who has been keeping up with his reading. You are just now hearing about this? Your doctor hasn't said a word about it? It is shameful when modern medicine which is supposed to help us ends up hurting us.
It is inexcusable when medical professionals who are supposed to be taking care of us put us in harms way. So how did we drop the ball on stomach acid and the medicines used to block it? Let me explain.
Your stomach is designed to hold acid, strong acid, all day, everyday. I know this may sound a little odd but it is true. Your stomach is supposed to be filled with an acid strong enough to strip the paint off your car, it's normal. This strong acid is necessary for your stomach to break down your food and make the minerals and nutrients in it available for your intestines to absorb. You and your body are made of what you eat. But, if your food isn't broken down properly then your body won't get the building blocks it needs to keep your body running properly. Having a stomach full of acid doesn't hurt at all. Only when the acid gets into your esophagus do you have the pain we call heartburn or reflux.
Although your stomach is made to happily hold acid all day long, your esophagus is designed to only be able to withstand an occasional splash of acid. Your stomach is lined with a thick coating of a snot-like substance protecting the lining from actually coming into contact with the acid. There is actually a pucker-muscle between your esophagus and your stomach to prevent acid from going into your esophagus too often called your lower esophageal sphincter. As long as this muscle stays closed you don't have reflux symptoms, but if it stays open too much then you can have painful heartburn. Your esophagus also has a snot-like coating but not as thick as your stomach has, so it can't tolerate as much exposure to acid.
Heartburn can almost always be controlled without taking a daily pill. Understanding how heartburn actually happens will make these methods more obvious. Understanding a few basic principles will help us understand what must be done:
Stomach acid is a liquid and must follow the law of gravity.
Anything keeping the sphincter between stomach and esophagus open could cause heartburn.
Anything increasing pressure in the stomach can push acid into the esophagus causing heartburn
We will discuss using these principles to reduce or eliminate your heartburn without a daily pill in Part 2 of this article. But first let's go over why blocking acid production in your stomach every day is a bad thing, how it leads to problems, and some of the problems it can lead to.
Remember the last time your threw up? That nasty, acidic, horrible liquid you sprayed everywhere after drinking one too many whiskey sours only becomes abnormal when it leaves your stomach. When it stays in your stomach it is perfectly normal and fine. Yep, your stomach is full of puke right now; it is full of it every single day, that is normal. Only when this noxious stuff goes backwards, up into your esophagus does it cause pain. As long as it stays put in the stomach everything is fine. You see, this strong acid nastiness is required to break down your food into the basic building blocks your body needs.
The acid-blocking medications listed above keep the acid-producing cells in the stomach lining from secreting acid. If there is less acid in the stomach then less acid refluxes into the esophagus and therefore there is less heartburn. Problem is, if there is not enough acid in your stomach you don't break down your food good enough and many of the vital minerals like calcium, magnesium and others aren't available for your body tissues to use. Without these vital minerals being available, the tissues your body makes aren't adequate and this can lead to disease.
There were articles about this very subject being published 4 years ago in the medical journals (2012) for any MD or NP to read and act on. Somehow it seems most providers didn't get the memo. Back in 2012 research was being publish showing the risk of osteoporosis and dementia increased with long-term use of these acid-blocking medications. So why are so many people just now hearing about this years later? Good question. I've been counseling patients for at least three years to only take these medications as needed and for no longer than 14 days straight before taking a break from them. Hopefully they have been heeding my advice because research continues to show that long-term daily use of these medications are not good for the human body.
Your bones are basically a collagen matrix filled with mineral such as calcium and magnesium, if your stomach isn't breaking down your food then you aren't getting the amount of these minerals your bones need and this can lead to osteoporosis (brittle bones which break easily).
Your brain is the most complex machine in the galaxy, it must have the proper mix of tissues and minerals or it just won't work properly. One of the ways our brain can fail us is dementia, the most dreaded form being Alzheimer's dementia.
Your blood is a complex liquid which feeds and nourishes the tissues of your body. Without the proper minerals it cannot do it's job. Anemia can develop in people taking acid-blocker medications every day for long periods of time.
Your immune system must have certain mineral to protect you from infections. Research has shown that daily long-term use of these acid-blocking medications can increase your risk of developing pneumonia and other infections.
So, like most tools we humans use, acid-blocking drugs can serve a useful purpose with little danger, but can be very dangerous if misused. They should be taken only as needed for short periods of time and then stopped. They are not safe for long-term daily use and your doctor should know this, and should tell you.
In Part 2 of this article I will give you a list of easy, cheap ways you can control heartburn or reflux without having to take a dangerous daily pill.