Proton Pump Inhibitors Were Not Designed to Treat Heartburn
PPIs, the most powerful class of antacid drugs, were actually designed to treat a very limited range of severe problems, such as bleeding ulcers, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (a rare condition that causes excess stomach acid production), and severe acid reflux, where an endoscopy has confirmed your esophagus is damaged.
PPIs were never intended for people with heartburn, and 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."
If you're taking a PPI drug to treat your heartburn, understand that you're treating a symptom only; you are in no way addressing the underlying cause. And, by doing so, you're exposing yourself to other potentially more dangerous health problems, courtesy of the drug itself.
These drugs were initially released during the first years of my practice in the late '80s. It is important to note that, these drugs could only be obtained with a prescription and were not recommended to use for more than ONE WEEK. Today, they're sold over the counter and frequently used continuously by many!
The recommendation is to use them for a maximum of two weeks at a time, no more than three times per year, but many ignore this and stay on them far longer, which could have serious consequences. For example, reported side effects of PPI drugs include:
- Bone loss
- Hip fractures
- Infection with Clostridium difficile, a harmful intestinal bacteria (this risk is particularly heightened in children)
Hence taking these drugs will actually worsen your condition over time... Reducing stomach acid also diminishes your primary defense mechanism against food-borne pathogens, thereby increasing your risk of food poisoning. PPIs simply do nothing to treat the underlying cause of ulcer pain.
PPIs May Raise Your Risk for Heart Attack
More recent research has also linked PPIs with an increased risk for heart attack, even if you have no prior history of cardiovascular disease. Lead author Nigam H. Shah of Stanford University in California told Reuters Health:
"[G]iven the underlying biology and the effect of these drugs in reducing nitric oxide in the blood vessel walls, the observed association is not super surprising..."
However, he also noted that: "Although the results are compelling, this study does not prove that PPIs cause MI [myocardial infarction]..."
What he's referring to is that nitric oxide (NO) has the effect of relaxing your blood vessels, so by reducing the amount of NO in your blood vessel walls, PPI's may raise your risk of a heart attack.
To assess whether the use of PPIs were associated with a heightened cardiovascular risk among the general population, the team mined clinical data from more than 16 million medical records on 2.9 million patients.
This revealed that patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) who took PPIs had a 16 percent increased risk of heart attack. Moreover, as reported by Scientific American:
"Survival analysis in a prospective cohort found a two-fold increased risk of cardiovascular mortality in PPI users... H2 blockers, which include famotidine (Pepcid AC) and ranitidine (Zantac), were not associated with increased cardiovascular risk...
"Consistent with our pre-clinical findings that PPIs may adversely impact vascular function, our data-mining study supports the association of PPI exposure with risk for MI in the general population," the authors write."