At 57, Maria thought she was having a heart attack.
Pain radiated through her chest. It was bad enough to wake her up from a dead sleep. She described it as a knife piercing clear through her upper abdomen.
It eventually subsided, and she fell back to sleep. But the next day, after eating a salad with a generous helping of onions, the pain returned.
It turned out that Maria, like about 60% of adults in the U.S., suffered from heartburn.
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And like so many folks, she started taking the drug omeprazole, also known as Prilosec. Prilosec is a common type of drug for heartburn known as a proton-pump inhibitor (PPI).
That is, until her daughter – one of our researchers – lectured her about the dangers of PPIs.
Longtime readers know I hate PPIs. We've written before about the growing pile of evidence that they contribute to heart attack risk and dementia.
And now according to a study in JAMA, taking PPIs also hurts your bones. It happens two ways. First, the reduced stomach acid makes it harder for your body to break down and absorb calcium from your food. Second, the PPI blocks a particular type of proton pump... one in your bones. That pump helps keep your balance of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals steady so your bones can remain strong.
The JAMA paper found that taking PPIs for a year or longer increased the risk of hip fracture by 44%.
That's why we've recommended switching to an H2 blocker or going off of heartburn drugs altogether... unless you have a serious medical condition that requires treatment.
Now we're stressing that even further... You see, both PPIs and H2 blockers cause long-term problems...
A brand-new study from the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that PPIs could increase risk of certain stomach infections. Researchers followed more than a half million people over a period of 14 years.
The study itself showed an association (though not a causation) between people who took PPIs or H2 blockers and two different bacterial infections. People who took a heartburn drug were four times more likely to get a Campylobacter infection...
Even more startling, taking these medications increased the chance of getting C. difficile by 70%. C. difficile is a superbug, meaning it's resistant to most antibiotics. And for folks over 65, it can be deadly... About one in nine people over 65 with C. difficile dies within 30 days.
While the study hasn't proven a direct cause and effect, it makes sense...
You see, PPIs and H2 blockers work by preventing the lining of your stomach from releasing acid. (The difference is in which part of the cell they block.) They include these common drugs...
|Nexium (esomeprazole)||Deprizine (ranitidine)|
|Prevacid (lansoprazole)||Pepcid (famotidine)|
|Prilosec (omeprazole)||Tagamet (cimetidine)|
But here's the thing... we need acid in our stomachs. Acid not only breaks down food, but also kills bacteria to fights off infections. Taking these acid blockers long term means we don't have the defense in place anymore... leaving us more vulnerable to infections like the kind seen in the study.
How to Relieve Heartburn Without Pills
Our problem with these pills is in how often they're overprescribed. Too many folks take them for occasional heartburn or to prevent heartburn – neither of which is an indicated use. You're unnecessarily hurting yourself by taking pills instead of looking for better, healthier solutions.
In Maria's case, she lost about 10 pounds and got rid of her heartburn. She pops an occasional Tums after a heartier meal, but she's off of her Prilosec for good.
Here are some great ways to help keep your heartburn at bay...
1. Chew sugar-free gum. Sugar in gum aggravates your stomach acid, so do what I do and go for a sugar-free variety.
2. Cut back on cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine. These are common triggers for acid reflux.
3. Limit or eliminate spicy foods. This includes things like pepper, garlic, raw onions, oranges, lemons, and grapefruit. Try to keep a list of which foods you eat that cause flare-ups and limit those as much as possible.
4. Change your sleep position. Lying down allows stomach acid to flow up into your esophagus. If you sleep on your back, elevate your head. If you're a side sleeper, sleep on the left. The way your organs are laid out means food eases through your digestive system easier when you sleep on your left.
Avoid the right side or your stomach, as those can make heartburn worse. Sleeping on your right opens the sphincter between your stomach and your esophagus so acid can splash up. For stomach sleepers, the pressure on your stomach pushes the acid up into your esophagus.
5. Lose weight. A study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that even putting on just a few pounds increases your heartburn risk.
If you do need to take one of these medicines for their intended use, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or ulcers in the digestive system, understand the risks and consider taking a probiotic to help keep your gut's immune system working well. Probiotics are a great way to boost your defense against nasty bacteria like C. difficile.
And always take the time to understand what pills you're taking, what they are for, and what the risks are. Write them down and keep that list handy. And if you have concerns, go over them with your doctor before completely stopping a drug.
What We're Reading...
- Prevention covers other (avoidable) causes of heartburn.
- Something different: Try William Faulkner's "medicinal" remedy today.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
January 17, 2017