3 Health Risks of Taking This “Daily Medication” Every Day
Millions of Americans take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to reduce their stomach acid production and alleviate the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These drugs are effective for the short-term, but many people are reliant upon PPIs for years, well beyond their intended use. If you are among these people, think about the possible consequences below, and then consider reducing your dependency upon these medications.
The Intended Use of PPIs
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) has become a common condition today, characterized by uncomfortable heartburn due to the stomach’s excessive secretion of digestion-promoting acid. GERD may become a painful daily experience and has the potential to lead to esophageal cancer over time if left untreated. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) decrease the production of stomach acid, but as such, they are only treating the symptoms of GERD, as opposed to addressing the underlying problem of acid reflux. Recommendations vary, and some physicians may feel otherwise, but PPIs are typically only intended for up to 8 weeks of use at most. Short-term side effects are fairly rare, but may include nausea and headaches. However, with many people on this type of medication indefinitely, the long-term side effects are beginning to come into focus.
1. Increased Risk of Bacterial Infection
Stomach acid not only helps to digest food, but is also a strong line of defense against invading bacteria. Thus, PPIs may have the unintended side effect of enabling bacterial growth. The greatest risk of infection is the spreading of bacteria from the esophagus into the trachea—known as pulmonary aspiration—where it can enter the respiratory system, potentially causing pneumonia, among other conditions. In particular, the potential for Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) bacteria to enter the respiratory system is alarming, as dangerous “supergerm” strains of this bacteria have been identified.
2. Difficulty Absorbing Nutrients
One of the primary risks of long-term PPI use is the body’s inability to properly absorb nutrients over a prolonged period of time. PPIs may affect the body’s absorption of calcium, and may even accelerate the loss of calcium, potentially leading to osteoporosis and bone fractures. The absorption of vitamin B-12 is also limited by PPI medication, as the body uses stomach acid to isolate the vitamin from protein in food. Over prolonged periods of time, poor vitamin B-12 levels may produce a number of side effects, possibly including dementia. Blood health may be negatively impacted as well, as nutrient absorption may diminish the body’s red blood cell count and create anemia, leading to fatigue, dizziness, and chest pain.
3. Poor Bowel Health
As one might expect, regulating the stomach’s production of acid over a long period of time may have unintended effects upon the digestive system and bowel health. Among the possible outcomes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is more likely, causing pain, cramping, and bowel irregularity. Overpopulation of bacteria can also occur in the lower parts of the gastrointestinal tract, with the wrong types of bacteria popping up in the wrong places, such as in the small intestines.
Natural Remedies and Tips
Now that you are aware of some of the dangerous long-term side effects of PPIs, the good news is that there are a number of ways in which you can naturally treat acid reflux. For starters, if you do not have chronic acid reflux problems, simple antacids are the better method for treating infrequent heartburn. People suffering from the chronic form of the disease may take several measures to naturally treat acid reflux, including adjusting their diet and eating habits, modifying their sleeping routine, and losing weight, among other lifestyle changes. Talk to your physician regarding the dangers of long-term PPI use, and consider weaning yourself off this medication as early as possible.
Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the health care field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.