According to the website Healthline.com, upwards of 30 percent of all Americans suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), a chronic condition which causes heartburn or indigestion several times a week. In addition, millions more people struggle with heartburn on a regular basis, even if they haven’t been officially diagnosed with GERD.
Doctors are quick to prescribe the use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for GERD, and patients who haven’t been diagnosed with the condition, but who still struggle with indigestion, can purchase these medications over the counter (OTC). They can do this despite not having a prescription or being under the care of a health practitioner.
Many of us believe that if a medication is available without a prescription it must be harmless. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Many medications that can be obtained in this way are actually incredibly dangerous, and this includes PPIs.
Several studies have already proved that prolonged use of PPIs is associated with an increased risk of premature death. Now, a study by researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, has figured out why: PPIs cause cardiovascular disease, upper gastrointestinal cancer and chronic kidney disease.
The team’s findings were published online in the May issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
PPIs are silent killers
PPIs, which are sold under a variety of names including Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid, are some of the most commonly used drugs in the United States. In fact, as reported by NewsWise, over 15 million Americans have prescriptions for PPIs, while millions more use them without a prescription.
This means that the latest study’s findings have serious implications for millions of Americans, though most of them have no idea how dangerous these drugs are.
And this study was by no means the first to warn about the use of PPIs. Earlier research has linked long-term use of PPIs to pneumonia, bone fractures, Alzheimer’s disease and other serious conditions.
The researchers in the most recent study reached their conclusions:
For the study, researchers sifted through de-identified medical records in a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Examining medical data acquired from July 2002 to June 2004, the researchers identified 157,625 people — mostly Caucasian men ages 65 and older — who had been newly prescribed PPIs, and 56,842 people who had been newly prescribed another class of acid-suppression drugs known as H2 blockers. They followed the patients — 214,467 in total — for up to 10 years.
The researchers found a 17 percent increased risk of death in the PPI group compared with the H2 blocker group. They calculated 45 excess deaths attributable to long-term PPI use per 1,000 people. Death rates for PPIs were 387 per 1,000 people, and death rates for H2 blockers were 342 per 1,000.
“Taking PPIs over many months or years is not safe, and now we have a clearer picture of the health conditions associated with long-term PPI use,” noted Ziyad Al-Aly, the study’s senior author. “Given the millions of people who take PPIs regularly, this translates into thousands of excess deaths every year.”
Fighting reflux and acid indigestion naturally
Clearly, using a PPI is not a good solution to heartburn and indigestion. But that doesn’t mean that there is no hope for people who suffer with these conditions.
GERD can often be reversed through simple lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, eating smaller portions at each meal, losing weight and staying upright for a few hours after a meal rather than going to bed straight away.
In addition, foods that should be avoided include alcohol, caffeine, citrus fruits, fizzy drinks, chocolate, fried foods, tomato sauce, garlic and onions.