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The Risks of Acid-Blocking Drugs

January 21, 2011

By Dr. Frank Aieta, ND

Drugs intended to treat heartburn, like Nexium or Prilosec, are among the most widely prescribed medicines in the United States and account for more than $13 bil­lion in annual sales.

So, then, are there any risks to these miracle drugs that everyone is taking? Some new research has linked these drugs to an increased risk of developing pneumonia, hip fractures, macular degen­eration, nutrient deficiencies and cancer. It seems that one out of every five pa­tients that I see these days is on these acid-blockers to treat heartburn or acid reflux. These drugs don’t just slightly reduce stomach acid, they actually work to shut down acid production altogether.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical As­sociation (JAMA) involved 150,000 indi­viduals who were followed from 1987 to 2003. That study demonstrated that people who are on proton pump inhibitors (medi­cations that totally shut off stomach acid production) have a significantly higher risk of suffering a hip fracture. The data sug­gested that these hip fractures were caused by poor calcium and other mineral absorp­tion resulting from the stomach-acid sup­pression. Having low stomach acid also increases your risk of developing pneumonia, ac­cording to another study in JAMA, which followed 360,000 individuals. The people on acid blockers were 4.5 times more like­ly to develop pneumonia than people who never used the drugs. Apparently, without acid in the stomach, bad bacteria from the intestines may move into the lungs and lead to infection.

In 2005, researchers noted that acid-blocking drugs significantly increased the risk of age-related macular degeneration, which causes blindness, due to the inabil­ity to absorb essential nutrients for eye health, such as selenium, zinc and vitamin C, among others. In addition patients who have been on the acid blockers for a long time are almost always found to be B-12 deficient, as the body needs to break down the vitamin with stomach acid before it is absorbed in the intestines.

Finally, in an animal study done in 2005, it was shown that mice that were geneti­cally engineered to lack acid production (similar to being on acid blocking drugs) all developed cancerous stomach tumors and died after 12 months, while the normal mice lived much longer, cancer-free lives. So, before you decide to take that acid-blocking drug for your heartburn or acid reflux, visit a naturopathic physician for a safer approach. 

Dr. Frank Aieta is a board-certified and licensed Naturopathic Physician with a private practice in West Hartford. Visit www.draieta.com.  He specializes in the treatment of disease, using natural therapies such as acupunc­ture, homeopathy, spinal manipulation, clinical nutrition, herbal medicine and natural hormone balancing.  For more information please visit www.draieta.com.

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