After 20 to 30 years of smoking, research shows that people have a 50 percent higher risk of dying than non-smokers.
Now, a major new study in the British Medical Journal1 showed that people taking PPI acid blockers for two years also had a similar fifty percent higher risk of dying. Making prolonged use of acid blockers a deadly problem. Potentially as deadly as smoking for 20 to 30 years. Fortunately, it is also preventable. But this will require a paradigm shift in how we address heartburn and indigestion.
Multiple studies have shown that acid blockers called PPIs are associated with a dramatic increased risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis), dementia, and a host of other problems. There is a reason why most animals have evolved to create stomach acid that can dissolve their own stomach. It is because this acid is critical for proper digestion and nutrition. Without it, people can be malnourished even if they are obese.
So it should come as no surprise that there is a high price to pay for turning off stomach acid long-term.
What The New Study on Heartburn Showed
This large study of over 349,000 people was led by Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, director of clinical epidemiology at the VA St. Louis Healthcare System. They compared prescription and over-the-counter acid blockers called PPIs to much safer and gentler acid blockers such as Tagamet and Zantac, as well as to people taking no acid blockers. What they found was stunning.2,3
Although there is no significant increased risk in taking these medications for a month or less, which is how they are meant to be used, people taking them for one to two years had a dramatic 25–50 percent increased risk of dying.
The Heartburn ProblemResearch has shown that acid blockers are highly addictive. After six weeks of use, people get a rebound acid hyper secretion when they try to stop these medications. Put simply, they have a "Niagara Falls" of acid flow. Because of this, many people dangerously stay on the acid blockers long-term.
The Heartburn Solution
It is important to realize that our understanding of heartburn has been faulty. It is not caused by too much stomach acid, and in fact most people with indigestion have inadequate stomach acid. This results in acid reflux when food is incompletely digested after an hour, and the stomach hits the "return to sender" button. Turning off the stomach acid keeps the reflux from causing heartburn, but aggravates the problem. Which is poor digestion.
The solution is actually fairly simple. It is important to realize that indigestion comes not from too much stomach acid, but from poor digestion. Digestion can be improved simply by using plant-based digestive enzymes with meals, along with nutritional supplements such as DGL licorice (Called Advanced DGL) that enhances the stomach's protective lining. After six weeks of this, the person can switch from their acid blocker to Tagamet. This does not completely turn off stomach acid, so you do not get the rebound acid hyper secretion that makes PPIs addictive. After a month, they can then stop the Tagamet and stay on the natural digestion support as needed.
That way they can be off medications and be free of heartburn pain, while having healthy digestion and improved health. Meanwhile, occasional indigestion can then be treated with chewable antacids. Research has raised a concern about taking plain calcium, and therefore it is recommended that the calcium be combined with magnesium and vitamin D and K to avoid calcium depositing in the arteries. This can be found in combination and products such as Immediate Heartburn Relief.
Fortunately, with proper nutritional support it is likely that the problems caused by long-term PPI use can be reversed. Interesting that another large recent BMJ study showed that NSAIDs cause approximately 50,000 preventable US deaths a year. The medical approach has been to try to decrease this by giving PPIs along with the NSAIDs. This is a very deadly mistake.
Let's look at a quick running of the numbers. In the graph at the end of the study, it showed that after seven years about 18 percent of the people had died using safer acid blockers such as Tagamet, as opposed to 27 percent in the PPI group. This translates to 180,000 deaths per million versus 270,000 deaths. With millions of people using acid blockers, this translates to over 90,000 excess and preventable deaths over the seven year period for each million people using them long-term.
An alternative? Numerous studies show that natural alternatives are as or more effective than NSAIDs for arthritis, but result in "side benefits" instead of side effects. They have also been found to be safe on the stomach and not increase ulcers as the NSAIDs do. Natural treatments for indigestion are also highly effective. So using these natural options could easily prevent over 65,000 US deaths yearly.
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Jacob E Teitelbaum, MD
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, is a board certified internist and Medical Director of the national Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers and Chronicity. He is author of the popular free iPhone application "Cures A-Z," and author of the best-selling books
- The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia
- From Fatigued to Fantastic!
- Pain Free 1-2-3
- Three Steps to Happiness: Healing Through Joy
- The Complete Guide to Beating Sugar Addiction
- Beat Sugar Addiction Now! Cookbook
- Real Cause, Real Cure: The 9 root causes of the most common health problems and how to solve them
Dr. Teitelbaum knows CFS/fibromyalgia as an insider — he contracted CFS when he was in medical school and had to drop out for a year to recover. In the ensuing 25 years, he has dedicated his career to finding effective treatments.