Heartburn Medicine Danger: Kidneys

Woman grabbing her stomache in pain
October 31, 2016
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

In these pages, I’ve said again and again that acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD—gastroesophageal reflux disease—usually shouldn’t be treated by acid blockers.

Doctors are very quick to prescribe acid blockers—usually proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs)—but the problems with them are enormous.

For one thing, most heartburn isn’t caused by excessive stomach acid. And even when acid is the problem, it’s a symptom of the underlying issue—not a root cause.

Best-case scenario, PPIs are bandaids treating your immediate symptoms, instead of helping reduce the underlying cause. That’s a pretty poor best-case scenario.

But the worst-case scenario just keeps getting worse. We’ve known for a while now that PPIs increase the risk of heart problems—including heart attacks in otherwise-healthy people.

But recent research suggests that PPIs do even more damage. A study out of Johns Hopkins shows that PPIs are linked to chronic kidney disease. That increases the risk of all sorts of illnesses—including cardiovascular problems—and an increased chance of death.

That’s something you simply shouldn’t mess around with. Especially since PPIs are ineffective in most cases of indigestion.

Besides, as I’m about to show you, real solutions are very easy to find—and to practice.

What Is GERD?

GERD—the most common cause of heartburn—happens when the muscle between your stomach and your esophagus isn’t closing properly. It should let food pass down, but only allow gas (or vomit) to come back up.

When this muscle—called the lower esophageal sphincter valve (LES)—isn’t closing completely and creating a tight seal, stomach acid can splash into your esophagus. That causes the burning sensation you know as heartburn.

It also can do plenty of other damage, including scarring your esophagus, narrowing it, or even causing esophageal cancer. Chronic GERD is a serious issue.

And because acid is involved, doctors loved their PPIs, which reduce acid production.

But the acid isn’t the problem—the opening between stomach and esophagus is. And fixing that problem is easy, as I’ll show you in a moment.

But not all heartburn is caused by GERD. For some people, indigestion is actually a sign of food allergies.

That’s why I always test for allergies when a patient complains of heartburn or indigestion. That’s a step many doctors skip. Which means, people without GERD are being treated for it—with a dangerous treatment that doesn’t even help, no less!

What really causes heartburn?

As I mentioned, food allergies are a common culprit. In fact, about 15 million Americans—around 5% of the population—have diagnosed food allergies, and the number is rising.

Between 1997 and 2011, the number of children diagnosed with food allergies jumped 50%.

That’s why I always check for food allergies first. It’s a growing problem, and the solution is simple—just avoid the food causing the allergy!

But there are plenty of other possible issues. Eating high-fat foods relaxes the LES, and smoking can give it problems—both leading to heartburn.

Hiatal hernias—when part of your stomach protrudes through the muscle wall in your chest, instead of staying down in your abdomen—can cause the LES to malfunction.

Pregnancy and obesity can both put pressure on your abdomen, creating heartburn.

And there are a host of problems stemming from the esophagus—not the stomach or LES—that can present as indigestion or heartburn.

All told, somewhere between 50% and 70% of heartburn cases aren’t GERD at all. And—whether the cause is GERD or something else—the solution is nearly always the same.

Clean up your act

The best way to eliminate heartburn is to control your diet.

This goes beyond avoiding foods that could be provoking an allergy.

As I already mentioned, high-fat foods relax the sphincter between your esophagus and your stomach. So no more fried foods or potato chips if you’re worried about heartburn.

But high-fat foods aren’t alone. Chocolate, peppermint, alcohol, and caffeine all can cause your LES to let acid leak into your esophagus.

Meanwhile, high-fiber foods have been found to reduce your odds of getting heartburn by 20%. That means plenty of veggies and fruits.

Avoid overeating! This should be obvious, but a full stomach is more likely to put pressure on the cap and leak upwards. You definitely don’t want that.

And fatty foods make an appearance on this list again—this time, because they take longer to digest, so they take up space in your stomach longer and increase the odds of overflowing.

If you carry weight around the middle, that’s also added pressure on your stomach and LES. Slowly but surely, as you lose weight, your indigestion problems should also clear up.

And if you’re already suffering a bout, avoid irritating foods and beverages, like tomato juice, anything citrus, or chili peppers.

If you find all of these diet tips aren’t helping—or you just aren’t doing a good job holding to them—don’t fret. There’s one simple, safe supplement that, in many cases, can stop indigestion flat.

 

I’m talking about melatonin. While you probably think of better sleep when you think melatonin, you might not realize that it also is key for a properly-functioning LES. Melatonin helps the LES create a perfect seal—thus preventing any acid splashing back up into your esophagus. It’s a great way to treat just about every cause of heartburn—including GERD.

 

I recommend taking 6 mg of melatonin 30-60 minutes before bed. It will help you get great sleep, while preventing the indigestion and heartburn caused by GERD.

 

Finally, after eating, wait two or three hours before exercising, and don’t lay down for the same amount of time. You don’t want to jostle any acid upwards, nor tilt your stomach back.

No matter what’s causing your indigestion, following this diet, and these tips, should clear it up. If your chronic heartburn persists, you should talk to your doctor—because indigestion can be a symptom of other issues. But in the vast majority of cases, it will clear up with a little modified eating.

And whatever you do, avoid PPIs. 70% of all prescribed PPIs are completely unnecessary. They increase your risk of heart disease. And now we know that PPIs increase your chances of developing kidney disease by 20% to 50% as well.

For a drug that doesn’t do much, that’s just not a risk worth taking.

References

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