Acid-Blocking Medications Aren’t Meant For Long-Term Use!

While I may have written about this more than once in the past, I feel like it’s a topic that continues to need revisiting.  A recent New York Times article (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/25/combating-acid-reflux-may-bring-host-of-ills/) highlights the many reasons why proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s), such as Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid, can cause more harm than good when used beyond the recommended window of 8 to 12 weeks.  While it seems to come as a surprise to the doctors who are handing out these medications like candy, our stomachs are supposed to make hydrochloric acid!  This is essential for initiating the digestive cascade that leads to the proper assimilation of nutrients.  As the article points out, blocking stomach acid production for an extended period of time can lead to a host of nutritional deficiencies, including iron, vitamin B12, and magnesium.  A decrease in stomach acid also takes away the protective barrier meant to protect us from harmful bacteria, setting up an environment that’s more prone to infection with Clostridium and other pathogenic bacteria.

I personally have seen countless patients in my practice who have been taking one PPI or another for years, and don’t even know why!  In many cases, I’ve seen young women who have persistent iron deficiency anemias, only to find out they have been on acid blocking medication for several years.  However, getting these patients to discontinue the offending medications proves to be extremely challenging, as the body increases the amount of acid-producing cells while on the meds.  Thus, the rebound production of acid is overwhelming, leading to more heartburn than the patient may have ever experienced before even starting the medication!

Fortunately, there are herbs and nutrients that can help to minimize the irritation that can occur when trying to wean off PPI medications.  Once you make the decision with your doctor to discontinue these medications, seek out a qualified naturopathic physician who can help to ease the transition.  Even if you were having legitimate symptoms before these medications were prescribed, it’s likely that diet and lifestyle changes will make a huge difference, without having to depend on a medication that is likely to be more risky than beneficial.