No surprise here, for readers of this blog that have been following the news about the dangers of taking heartburn medication. Not only are ranitidine-based drugs like Zantac linked to cancer, they have also been shown to cause harm to the stomach’s gut lining, causing the condition referred to by natural health practitioners as leaky gut disorder.
An increasing body of evidence is piling up on proton-pump inhibitors, a class of drugs that lower the amount of stomach acid secretion.
According to the British news website, Daily Mail, a study of 300,000 people who took PPI drugs for months or years on end experienced a 65% increased risk of developing digestive disturbances such as diarrhea.
Taken for acute heartburn or indigestion after a very heavy, fatty meal, PPI drugs can work quite effectively. However, they weren’t necessarily intended to be taken on a chronic basis. Taking PPI drugs such as omeprazole and lansoprazole, could even explain a recent surge in diagnoses of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), suggests the Daily Mail report.
Research shows that taking antacids and stomach-acid blockers long-term may decrease the ability of the digestive juices in the stomach to break down food; this creates the Catch-22 situation of heartburn drugs. In other words, the long-term use creates the problem they were intended to solve.
The most common reasons heartburn occurs is overeating and the overconsumption of acidic foods and drinks, such as soda, coffee, and meat.
A long-term complication of heartburn drugs is that they kill off the friendly bacteria in the gut. So-called ‘gut health’ is linked to immune function, mood regulation, energy levels, inflammation, and, of course, digestion. People with chronic metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes have been shown to lack enough beneficial bacteria.
And it’s not only a lack of good bacteria that’s the problem with long-term PPI use. If you take heartburn or antacid remedies frequently, it can cause a buildup of harmful bacteria in the small intestine.
Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria. The overwhelming majority of them should reside in your colon (large intestine), not the small intestine. A buildup of bacteria in the small intestine may cause a condition known as SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Symptoms of SIBO include bloating, cramps and other digestive disturbances. The Daily Mail references a study by Harvard in 2013 that associates frequent PPI usage with a seven times higher risk of developing SIBO.
A doctor interviewed in the Daily Meal feature suggests that people with a history of PPI use who experience digestive disturbances ask their doctors for a hydrogen breath test and a sample of bacteria taken from the small bowel for diagnosis.
Otherwise, says the doctor, a catch-all diagnosis of “irritable bowel syndrome” is given rather than the more appropriate SIBO. If a patient is diagnosed with SIBO, more targeted and effective treatment is possible.
The doctor interviewed in the article recommends taking antibiotics and avoiding eating foods that cause bloating, which includes legumes (beans) and fruit. However, not all health experts would agree with these recommendations. For starters, taking an antibiotic, although it can eliminate small intestinal bacteria, would also kill beneficial bacteria. Furthermore, legumes and fruit are nutrient-dense foods.
An alternative to taking antibiotics is taking a symbiotic probiotic/prebiotic fiber. Prebiotic fiber supplements (or foods) act as fertilizer for beneficial gut bacteria.
If you suffer from heartburn, eat smaller meals, don’t eat late at night, go for short walks after meals, and take over-the-counter stomach-acid neutralizers (example: Gaviscon) instead of stomach acid blockers such as PPI drugs. that work to neutralise acid rather than stop its production, can also help, as can simply going for a short walk after meals.
If you want to discover the root cause of your heartburn and take natural remedies, seek the advice of a functional medicine doctor.