— by Jeff Jurmain, MA
A new study says that drugs used to quell heartburn should not be used too liberally. Released last week, the study says that these common medications can trigger serious side effects and all adults should exercise some caution with them.
Heartburn, known medically as acid reflux or dyspepsia, is a very common digestive complaint in people. It occurs when acid from the stomach leaks back up into the esophagus after or during a meal. Common drugs used to treat it are called “proton pump inhibitors” or simply “PPIs”. Most are sold over-the-counter, which can give a person a false sense of security. How strong could they be, if you don’t have to have a prescription?
The medications can be helpful, there is no doubt, but they can also raise the specter of major health problems. Researchers report in the “Archives of Internal Medicine” that the drugs raise the risk of bone fractures in post-menopausal women and also bacterial infections in all sorts of people. These are side effects that are likely not considered by the average pharmacy shopper.
These drugs have annual sales of $14.0 billion in the U.S., based on an estimated 113 million prescriptions. Clearly, they are used frequently and regularly. While all drugs have side effects, doctors and patients together must understand when risks outweigh benefits. This could be the case, considering there are good alternative remedies for heartburn out there. (More on that in a moment.)
The report investigated five studies, one of which followed more than 160,000 women (50 to 79) for eight years. It found that women who took the drugs are at a greater risk for fractures, especially in the wrist and spine. Another study discovered, in a group of 100,000 people who had been in the hospital, a 74% rise in infections among those who use a PPI daily. The infection is by “C. difficile,” a common and potentially fatal trigger of stomach illness.
Researchers believe these drugs are being overused. In the interests of safety and choice, here are some natural remedies that may treat your heartburn symptoms: Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL); betaine hydrochloride; bladderwrack; aloe vera; fresh garlic; slippery elm; marshmallow; and a multivitamin chock full specifically of antioxidants. Check with your doctor before trying these remedies. Also, anxiety and stress will worsen symptoms, so experts suggest considering aromatherapy, gentle exercise, listening to music, massage, relaxation techniques, or even hypnotherapy.