Taking medication for stomach acid could be a lot worse for you than you realise. NH investigates…
Late last year the story broke that proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), the commonly-prescribed drugs used to treat acid reflux, raise the risk of stomach cancer. A study published in the journal Gut found an association between long term usage and a 2.4 times higher risk of getting the disease. Thousands of people take these drugs, which include omeprazole and lansoprazole, each day in the UK – so just how risky are they?
“PPIs work by reducing the production of stomach acid,” says A Vogel nutritionist Alison Cullen (avogel.co.uk). “This is thought to be a good thing when dealing with acid reflux or inflammatory gastric conditions. The problem is that you need your stomach acid for several other purposes, such as breaking down proteins, absorbing iron, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B12.
Not getting enough of these vital nutrients can have far-reaching consequences. “Low iron levels are obviously a problem as this can lead to lower levels of energy, especially if protein is also not being well absorbed,” says Alison. “The result of low magnesium levels is weak muscles, fatigue, cramping, irregular heartbeat, and problems absorbing calcium. Reports of low magnesium levels with PPI use have been reported. Ironically, one of the issues now recognised is that drugs for osteoporosis often cause heartburn, so PPIs are then given to those patients, who need plenty of magnesium to help absorb calcium to protect their bones.”
So, if you suffer from indigestion and are taking a PPI, what should you do? Firstly, speak to your doctor. You should not come off any prescribed medicines without the advice of your healthcare team. “Next, discuss with your doctor what your options are,” advises Alison. “There might be other medicines that you could use for your digestive problem, but of course, the exact choice will depend on your individual circumstances.
“Over the years, a number of herbal medicines have been authorised to treat symptoms of stomach and digestive upset, such as indigestion and bloating. For example, one traditional herbal medicine is Digestisan Oral Drops (£4.15, avogel.co.uk).
It combines naturally sourced extracts of traditional herbal ‘bitters’ with peppermint to provide a convenient treatment for digestive upset. It is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for indigestion, the sensation of fullness and flatulence associated with over-indulgence in food or drink, or both, exclusively based upon long-standing use as a traditional remedy.”
And there’s more natural help for the problem. “Herbs can help soothe irritation caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD),” says herbalist and naturopath Gabi Heyes who lectures for the College of Naturopathic Medicine (naturopathy-uk.com).
Good ones include slippery elm, liquorice, marshmallow or meadowsweet, which are herbs rich in ‘mucilage’, a thick substance which coats the tissues.
“What you eat needs to be broken down effectively, so consume small amounts of bitter food, which stimulates digestion: rocket, watercress, radish, chicory, celery and dandelion root coffee. As meals can backflow, sit upright at a table when eating, as slouching relaxes the ring of muscles that connects the stomach and oesophagus,” Gabi advises.
“Chew all food thoroughly and slowly, without drinking too much fluid. And avoid common triggers: dairy, gluten, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, fried foods, mint, citrus, tomatoes and spices.
“An amino acid called l-glutamine may help repair the mucosal lining of the oesophagus. Opt for slow-cooked vegetables, organic bone broth, grass-fed meats, olive oil, coconut oil, cooked apples, and if you’re OK with dairy, live yoghurt and kefir.
“Soil-based organisms are a type of probiotic that is well tolerated by GERD sufferers to re-establish the friendly bacteria in the bowel, which helps to rebalance the internal environment. And finally, ask your GP to rule out H. pylori, a hiatal hernia and whether your meds may be causing GERD.”
No one can deny that acid reflux is a truly awful condition to have but, as with so many medical problems, it is wise to explore every natural option, which may be gentler to the body, than rely solely on the pharmaceutical.
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