Heartburn drugs linked to kidney damage in 50 percent of patients with no warning signs
Heartburn drugs like, Prevacid, Nexium and Prilosec are being consumed by up to 50 percent of all Americans suffering from acid reflux – and with big pharma pushing these ‘remedies’ – it’s no wonder why these medications have become household names.
Currently, over 15 million Americans have prescriptions for these proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) – which are intended to ease symptoms of reflux and heartburn by relieving gastric acid – with millions more purchasing these medications over the counter. But disturbing new studies link prolonged use of these familiar remedies with kidney damage – which can develop seemingly “out of the blue,” with no warning signs or symptoms.
Major warning about heartburn drugs: The problems can develop “silently”
In a five-year study of 125,000 patients published in Kidney International, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that more than half of the cases of chronic kidney damage and end-stage renal damage occurred in people without any previous record of kidney problems. According to senior study author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, the study showed that kidney problems in patients taking PPIs can develop silently and gradually over time, eroding kidney function and leading to long-term kidney damage or even renal failure.
End-stage renal disease is the failure of kidneys to remove waste from the body, necessitating either dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Dr. Al-Aly warned that doctors must pay careful attention to kidney function in patients that use PPIs – which include lansoprazole, omeprazole and esomeprazole – even when there are no signs or symptoms of damage.
The study also evaluated 18,436 new users of another type of heartburn medication known as Histamine H2 receptor antagonists, or H2 blockers. While H2 blockers don’t work as well on heartburn, researchers found that these drugs are less likely to cause kidney problems.
Additional studies confirm researchers’ disturbing findings
An earlier study published in Journal of the American Society of Nephrology also showed that long-term use of heartburn medications is associated with kidney damage, with PPI users 28 percent more likely to experience chronic kidney disease, and a shocking 96 percent more likely to develop kidney failure.
The longer the drugs were taken, the higher the risk. And, the daily dosage affects risk as well.
In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the team found that twice-a-day users of PPIs tripled their risk over people who took a single daily dose.
The research team called for using PPIs only when “medically necessary,” and limiting the duration of the treatment as well.
Lead author Dr. Morgan Grams, assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, pointed out that up to 70 percent of acid reflux prescriptions are handed out “inappropriately” – and he estimated that a full 25 percent of long-term users could stop taking the medication without suffering increased heartburn or acid reflux.
Of course, stemming the flow of prescribed PPIs will do nothing to reduce the number of people buying – and taking – these medications over the counter.
And, the damage from PPIs isn’t limited to the kidneys.
PPIs affect absorption of essential vitamins and minerals
PPIs interfere with the ability of the body to extract vitamin B12, an essential nutrient, from foods. Studies have shown that 75 percent of PPI users have been found to be deficient in vitamin B-12 – compared to 11 percent among the general non-using population.
PPIs can cause dramatic declines in blood magnesium levels – characterized by symptoms of fatigue, unsteadiness, numbness and tingling, seizures and heart arrhythmias.
As if that weren’t enough, PPIs can also lead to poor calcium absorption, raising the risk of bone fracture – especially in older patients.
In addition, PPI users are more likely to be obese and have high blood pressure. Use of PPIs is also associated with higher rates of pneumonia and C. difficile, a potentially dangerous bacterial infection.
And, finally, a German study showed that older adults who take proton pump inhibitors have a 44 percent increased chance of developing dementia.
Natural solutions exist for acid reflux
Many natural health experts point out that heartburn typically results from too little stomach acid, rather than too much – and that PPIs can actually worsen the problem.
You may be able to ease heartburn and acid reflux with simple dietary and lifestyle changes – such as avoiding fried, fatty and processed foods, eating smaller meals, chewing food well and avoiding smoking and excessive drinking. Eating healthy amounts of vegetables and high-quality organic unprocessed foods can help restore natural gastric balance, while consuming fermented foods – such as sauerkraut, miso soup and kimchi – can help eliminate the H. pylori bacterium that can contribute to reflux.
Natural, time-honored remedies for heartburn include unfiltered apple cider vinegar, baking soda, ginger root tea, chamomile tea and slippery elm.
Of course, you shouldn’t stop or substitute any prescribed medication without first discussing it with your healthcare provider.
The best advice on PPIs comes from Dr. Kenneth DeVault, president of the American College of Gastroenterology. “If you don’t need these medications, you shouldn’t take them,” advises DeVault.