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Taking Medication for Heartburn? You May be Harming Your Health

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Heartburn medication is used to control acid production in the stomach. A new study reveals that this medication is not only overused, but may also have unforeseen and dangerous health consequences.

Did you know that anti-acid medication may be causing you more harm than good? Although about 20 million Americans take an antacid medication to treat heartburn, recent studies have found that antiacids could be causing serious health risks in each person taking the medication. What is causing all of the unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects? It could be because many medications used to treat heartburn actually were never meant for that use.

According to a 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the original use for PPIs (commonly used today to treat heartburn) was to treat severe conditions, such as a condition that causes the overproduction of stomach acid, severe acid reflux, and bleeding ulcers. But because the medication lowers stomach acid levels and prevents any burning in the esophagus, many physicians started to prescribe the medication for everyday heartburn.

However, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health director, this was a mistake. He claims that about 70 percent of individuals taking PPI heartburn medication should not be taking it and may be causing themselves more trouble than they are curing.

The Health Dangers of PPI Medication

A study published in PLOS ONE in 2015 found that when individuals take PPI medications for an extended period, it increases their risk of developing a heart attack. This study was conducted based on previous research that indicated that PPI medication could have health risks for individuals who have already had a heart attack.

However, the results that it could increase heart attack risk for all users was not expected. The study authors state that a side effect of the medication- its ability to reduce nitric oxide in the blood vessel walls- increases heart attack risk. Nitric oxide naturally protects and relaxes the blood vessel walls, and reducing the chemical could be what increases heart attack risk. This data was revealed as the study authors searched through over 16 million clinical records going back to 1994. The data stated that individuals who used PPI medication regularly were about 16 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack at some point than someone who was not on the medication.

Even more worrisome, the PPI patients were twice as likely to die from heart-related issues than their non-medicated peers. The study authors stated that more research is necessary before recommending that all patients stop taking PPI medication, but that could be a risky move for the 60 to 70 percent of individuals who are on PPI medication needlessly. If heartburn is a concern, there are ways to treat the cause rather than simply mask the symptoms as PPI medication does. The researchers noted that an older form of heartburn medication, H2 blockers, did not increase the risk of heart attack or other heart problems.

According to the researchers, if individuals only take PPI medication for a few weeks at a time, the nitric oxide would have time to return to normal levels once heartburn stops. However, there are many people who take PPI medication for several months or years at a time. It is these people who are at the highest risk for developing heart-related problems.

One other theory that the study researchers suggested could be that individuals who take PPIs may be confusing heart pain caused by reduced blood flow with heartburn. This would mean that the PPIs are not causing the heart attack, but simply revealing an existing problem and misdiagnosis. Regardless of the cause, the study authors recommend that heartburn patients take H2 blockers if they need to use heartburn medication for more than two weeks at a time.

What Else is Dangerous About PPIs?

In addition to possibly raising the risk of heart attack and other heart problems by weakening the walls of blood vessels, PPI medication is not a treatment. It is simply a symptom reducer. This means that even though the heartburn is temporarily gone, it is not healed and may return once the medication is stopped. This is why many individuals are on PPI medication far longer than the recommended time of two weeks.

Side Effects of PPI Medication

Other known side effects to PPI medication include:

  • Bone loss
  • Fractures
  • Pneumonia
  • Bone loss
  • Hip fractures
  • An increase in heartburn symptoms when medication is stopped
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Increased risk for infections
  • Reduced vitamin absorption

What Can Help Heartburn?

If PPI medications are not safe to take long-term, are individuals with heartburn doomed to suffer from the pain for the rest of their lives? Of course not! There are many natural alternatives to PPI medication that can ease symptoms of heartburn, and it all starts with understanding what causes heartburn in the first place.

The Cause of Heartburn

Heartburn is mild to moderate acid reflux. Symptoms include a mild to moderate burning behind the breastbone or into the throat, depending on the severity of the case. Heartburn can be temporary, or it can be a symptom of something more serious- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Normally, a valve in the esophagus closes off the stomach and prevents acid from traveling back up toward the throat. When the valve malfunctions, you get heartburn because some of the stomach acids are present in the esophagus. Usually, your stomach is not producing too much acid (just like the San Francisco Department of Public Health director noted above).

In some extreme cases, the stomach does produce too much acid. But in about 70 percent of cases, heartburn is actually caused by inflammation of the stomach lining, which can be caused by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. In this case, reduction of the stomach acid only encourages the bacteria to grow, which can make symptoms of heartburn worse. One treatment is to eliminate the bacteria, but other natural treatments may be more effective.

How to Stop Heartburn Naturally

Helicobacter Pylori is caused by an imbalance of microbes in the stomach. A typical American diet encourages the growth of these bacteria, just like many other harmful bacteria and yeast. To stop the growth of this unwanted bacteria, you simply have to give your stomach what it needs to restore the right balance of good bacteria in the stomach.


Probiotics are the first-line defense for preventing the overgrowth of unwanted bacteria in the stomach and intestines. Probiotics prevent inflammation and may provide enough benefit in mild cases of heartburn to act as the only remedy for heartburn (other than eating a healthy diet). An over-the-counter probiotic supplement can be helpful, but eating fermented foods regularly is even more effective. Try adding brine pickles, unpasteurized beer, cheese made from raw milk, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, fermented vinegar, and other fermented foods to your diet a few times a week.


A healthy diet in other ways will help reduce heartburn simply by reducing inflammation and allowing the body to heal itself. Try to practice a whole foods diet eating mostly unprocessed foods consisting mainly of vegetables, fruit, protein, and healthy fats such as coconut oil and olive oil. Exercise can help work to reduce excess inflammation. Try to exercise at least 3 times a week at moderate to maximum intensity for about 30 minutes a day. You may be able to exercise for less time if you increase the intensity.


A few supplements help both with reducing symptoms of heartburn and treating high blood pressure at the same time. As the study authors noted, some of the increased risks for a heart attack could be because some individuals attribute the early signs of heart problems to heartburn, even though it indicates a more serious problem such as the narrowing of blood vessels from plaque build-up. If you are suffering from what you think is heartburn, the following combinations of supplements can be helpful:

Licorice: This herb helps protect the stomach and prevent the excessive buildup of stomach acid. Use licorice without Glycyrrhizin for the safest results.

Peppermint: Peppermint encourages digestion and helps prevent ulcers from forming. However, if taken in too large doses, peppermint can make temporary heartburn worse. Cranberry: The University of Harvard Health states that cranberry is attributed to a reduction in some forms of bacteria in the intestines and stomach- including H. pylori.

B vitamins: B vitamins are extremely beneficial for both reducing blood pressure, healing damage to blood vessels, and preventing heartburn. Vitamin B12 levels tend to be low in individuals with heartburn, and vitamin B6, B9, B12, and B2 have all been shown to help reduce stroke risk and reduce blood pressure.

Vitamin E and C: A study from 2012 published by John Hopkins University state that increasing vitamin C and E intake can help reduce blood pressure. 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily was able to significantly reduce blood pressure in numerous studies.

What if I’m Already on PPI Medication?

If you are already on PPI medication and have been on it for more than a few weeks, stopping it suddenly may have unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects. Talk with your doctor about potential risks and tell your doctor that you want to stop using the medication. Your doctor may recommend gradually reducing the dose or switching to an H2 blocking for a while to minimize risk.

At the same time, make sure you practice the heartburn reducing and blood pressure-lowering steps outlined above. This will make your doctor far more likely to approve your desire to wean off the medication.

Even if you were one of the 60 to 70 percent of people who didn’t really need PPI medication at first, being on the medication for extended periods increases stomach acid production to make up for the effects of the medication. Even if you had mild heartburn to begin with, stopping PPI medication at once could have painful and potentially harmful consequences.

Don’t try to rush the weaning process but go slowly. Eventually, you will be back to normal again.

Heartburn Doesn’t Have to Kill You

PPI medications have many serious and potentially deadly side effects that no one wants. For most people, switching to natural heartburn treatments rather than medication can help resolve heartburn pain once and for all. A few individuals actually do need the help of medications like PPI and H2 blockers, but most people can make simple lifestyle changes that will make a huge difference in heartburn pain. As with most health conditions, it starts with eating right, exercising, and making sure you are taking in the right nutrients through food and supplements. A healthy lifestyle prevents heartburn from coming back.





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