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The Problem with Proton Pump Inhibitors
by Jennifer Morganti, ND

The May 2010 Archives of Internal Medicine published a series of reports and studies on the use and side effects of proton pump inhibitors, the commonly prescribed class of medications that suppress acid secretion in the stomach. These medications are effective at alleviating the discomfort of heartburn, but were originally intended for more serious disorders such as ulcers, GERD, and inflammation of the esophagus. These studies highlight the serious side effects of these drugs and question the ease and frequency (113.4 million prescriptions annually!) at which they are prescribed.

One study in the review found that proton pump inhibitors increase the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women. The data was extracted from a large clinical trial known as the Women's Health Initiative Study. After eight years of follow-up, the study found that while women taking the drug did not have a decrease of bone mineral density, they did have increased rates of total fractures.

Another study found that proton pump inhibitors altered the intestinal environment significantly enough to increase the rates of infection with the hard-to-treat C. difficile bacteria by 74%! A second study found a 42% increased risk of recurrence of C. difficile in people who also used proton pump inhibitors. Theoretically, this is because gastric acid serves the purpose of killing pathogenic bacteria, such as C. difficille, and when the acid is eliminated, bacteria can proliferate unchecked.

In terms of the efficacy of the drug, a meta-analysis of several studies on bleeding ulcers revealed that high doses of proton pump inhibitors did not reduce the rates of bleeding or death as compared to normal doses. This drug does not serve to heal the stomach, but only addresses the symptoms of discomfort.

From a Naturopathic perspective, gastric acid is essential in maintaining the delicate balance of the gastrointestinal system. The acid serves the purpose of digesting and absorbing minerals, breaking down food, and triggering the release of digestive enzymes. Suppressing acid only causes imbalances throughout the body. In the case of heartburn or dyspepsia, it is more important to address the causes of the irritation and discomfort and treat by healing the stomach lining, rather than eliminating the acid.

Many studies have demonstrated that zinc carnosine can effectively soothe and heal the stomach lining in typical cases of heartburn and gastritis, without interfering in the digestion process. This ingredient comes from Japan, where zinc carnosine is considered a prescription "drug" for healing ulcers and gastritis. Zinc carnosine can be found in several products including Life Extension's CarnoSoothe with PicroProtect, Lane Labs' Nature's Lining and Doctor's Best PepZin GI.

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