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New Proton Pump Inhibitor Danger

July 29, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

I know sometimes it sounds like I’m forever tangling with the medical establishment. But I truly believe that, the majority of the time, what our physicians, pharmacists and care staff do improves and saves lives by the hundreds of thousands, with often-miraculous interventions.

On the other hand…

One of our most common diseases has been routinely misdiagnosed, overtreated, and undertreated, with dangerous consequences.

The Heartburn Hoax

Have you ever had a painful burning sensation in the stomach, chest, and throat areas?

Especially after a rich or spicy meal?

Who hasn’t?

You probably call it heartburn or acid reflux. Doctors call it GERD—gastro-esophageal reflux disease. They’re all essentially the same, differing only in the extent of the damage they do.

I’m deeply disappointed that our pharmaceutical companies classify them as two different diseases—purely, in my opinion, in order to sell more drugs.

That’s part of The Heartburn Hoax in action.

So what is heartburn?

Heartburn happens when your stomach’s contents travel back up your esophagus—partially digested food traveling in the wrong direction. The pain and burning are caused by your stomach acids irritating the delicate tissues of the esophagus.

It’s certainly uncomfortable, and can be dangerous—a step along the road to ulcers, swelling, and esophageal cancer.

The most common treatment: not just wrong—dangerous

The standard treatments for heartburn are anti-acid medications called proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers. With megabuck marketing help from their makers, they’re among the most prescribed drugs in the universe. And the most profitable. Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix…familiar names, right?

Yes, PPIs neutralize stomach acids and H2 blockers block them, which prevents the pain and burning.

But no—acids are not the problem. In fact, tinkering with them at all is downright dangerous and disruptive. Those acids play a host of essential roles, from breaking food down into vital nutrients to fighting off bad bacteria in our gut.

PPIs increase heart attack risk

Not only is lowering acids with PPIs the wrong treatment for indigestion; research published in June of this year provides a frightening new reason to avoid them.

PPIs have already been linked to an increased risk of heart attack among users with a history of heart attack. But the new research has found increased risk among PPI users with perfectly healthy hearts—no history of cardiovascular disease.

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For me, and millions of PPI users (13 million in the US in 2009), this should be a mad as hell moment.

But pharmaceutical companies keep pushing these potential killers and life-wreckers.

The Heartburn Hoax. Great for business. Terrible for people.

The real cause and cure

The real cause of heartburn is a poorly functioning lower esophageal sphincter valve (LES). This is a flap that separates the esophagus from the stomach. When functioning normally, it opens only to allow food and liquid to pass down into the stomach, and vomit and gas to escape up. When abnormal, it allows corrosive stomach contents to leak into the esophagus.

There are dozens of lifestyle and dietary causes of LES problems, and they differ from person to person. But alcohol consumption and smoking are common culprits, as is stress, too much caffeine, obesity, hernia, food allergies, over-or under-eating. The list is long.

The right treatment

The right treatment for heartburn is to improve LES function. As with so many over-medicated conditions, there is a safe, natural way to do that.

Most often, the American diet is “Esophageal Public Enemy Number One”. And most often, I find that the American diet, among its many other crimes, has fed my patient into a state of insufficient stomach acid.

Correcting the deficiency can be as simple as adjusting diet, first by eliminating stomach-upsetting foods like alcohol, spicy foods, and fatty foods. You can also add supplements like digestive enzymes, which help you break down food and digest it better. The three most important digestive enzymes are lipase, which helps digest fat, amylase, which targets carbohydrates, and protease, for protein. These and other enzymes help make digestion more efficient. Probiotics, of course, help promote healthy digestion and elimination. It can also be a lifestyle change, one of many that improves overall health—getting more exercise, smoking cessation, etc.

Find a doctor who sees through The Heartburn Hoax and will help you find the real cause of your heartburn.

Putting the heart in heartburn

I’d be remiss if I didn’t alert you to a relatively little known phenomenon: the symptoms of severe heartburn and heart attack can be very similar.

Two things I want to impress on you:

  1. You will not always be able to tell heartburn and heart attack symptoms apart. Even experienced doctors often can’t without immediate tests for heart issues and a medical and dietary history check.
  2. If you’re not 100% sure that what you’re experiencing is heartburn, call 911.

Of course, the heartburn sensation might indeed be caused by LES malfunction. But it might also be caused by reduced blood flow to your heart, aka angina, or a true heart attack.

Some guidelines: one specialist says that if the burning sensation comes on during moderate or strenuous activity, it points to heart attack. It’s also useful to know that the pain associated with angina and heart attack is described as “crushing—like an elephant sitting on your chest.”

The key point is not to dismiss that burning sensation as “just a little heartburn” and pop a PPI or other dangerous anti-acid. Make sure your doctor knows if you’ve experienced symptoms. If you’re 50-plus and getting unexpected heartburn, it’s worth a heart checkup, pronto. If you’re younger and have heart risk factors—hypertension, diabetes, or a family history of heart disease, ditto.

Know The Heartburn Hoax—and don’t buy it.

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