Doctors are quick to prescribe proton pump inhibitors for patients with acid reflux disease. But proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can create dangerous side effects. A better approach for acid reflux patients may be to make diet and lifestyle changes, as well as use natural remedies to avoid PPI complications.
Western diet strikes again
It’s likely that diet is the reason why the number of people in Western countries seeing their doctors about acid reflux, also know as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), has increased four-fold. The number of proton pump inhibitor prescriptions has risen in tandem. The prescriptions continue to increase, even though it’s evident that PPIs may be doing more harm than good.
PPI side effects
Doctors prescribing PPIs do so even when they know humans need acid in their gut to survive. When PPIs change gastric pH levels they inhibit the absorption of essential nutrients, including magnesium, calcium and vitamin B12. Inhibited calcium absorption can lead to hip fractures. Inhibiting vitamin B12 and iron absorption can lead to diarrhea and even pneumonia.
PPIs are also known to make acid reflux symptoms even worse by blocking the production of acid in the stomach. The body responds by cranking out even more acid. Should a GERD or LPR patient quit taking PPIs, their symptoms are amplified.
A commentary published in the November, 2009 issue of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Survery warned doctors to be cautious when prescribing PPIs. It also noted that stomach acid is not the only contributor to reflux diseases and that PPIs are not always an effective treatment.
Natural PPI alternatives
In a column published in July by Mark Bittman of the New York Times, he describes years of eating Tums and trying numerous treatments for his chronic heartburn, including Prevacid, an oft-prescribed PPI. But giving up dairy products finally did the trick. Now he says he can “devour linguine puttanesca (with anchovies) and go to bed and hour later.”
The Otolaryngology article suggests alternatives to balance the digestive system such as eating probiotic foods like kefir, fermented fruits and vegetables, raw milk, yogurt, kombucha, and probiotic supplements. It also suggests eliminating GERD and LPR symptoms by cutting carbohydrates and increasing other foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts, and grass-fed meats.
Lifestyle changes better than drugs
It’s important to keep in mind that PPIs don’t cure reflux, they only temporarily relieve the symptoms. They also let people avoid making more difficult lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or avoiding heartburn foods.
To avoid PPI side effects, first and foremost, lose weight. When you’re overweight, the excess fat presses against your stomach and forces acids up into the esophagus.
Watching what you eat will also help you lose weight, as well as help you avoid reflux symptoms. Stay away from heartburn foods such as peppermint, caffeine, sodas, chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, onions and high fat foods. Eat more fiber to keep your digestive system healthy. Eat slower, and eat less—more often—as much as five or six small meals a day. And don’t eat less than a few hours before bedtime to give your stomach a chance to process the meal.