Are Heartburn Drugs Harmful?

Heartburn medications may be doing more harm than good. Read more about it here.

If you suffer from heartburn you’re not alone. Sixty Million Americans experience heartburn once a month, and 25 million have daily heartburn according to a 2007 report issued by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

While the pain of heartburn feels as if it’s coming from your heart, it is actually the result of the acidic contents on the stomach refluxing (flowing backwards) up the esophagus. Reflux is actually a normal activity. Some studies have shown that reflux occurs just as frequently in patients with no symptoms of heartburn as it does in those who experience heartburn. 

So why do some people feel the pain of reflux as heartburn and others don’t have any symptoms? One factor that determines if you will experience heartburn is the health of the digestive tract’s mucous producing cells. In a healthy digestive system, there’s a network of cells that secrete a thick layer of mucous, which coats and protects our digestive tract from damage by stomach acid. When this network of mucous secreting cells becomes compromised, you will experience a burning sensation.

What damages the lining of the digestive tract?

Drugs, stress and food intolerances can compromise the protective lining of the digestive tract.

Common medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other anti-inflammatory drugs block the production of mucous, and cause microscopic bleeding in the stomach.  Approximately 15 per cent of patients who use these drugs on a long-term basis end up developing ulcers and severe complications.

Secondly, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol suppress mucous production, similar to the way anti-inflammatory drugs do when you are under stress.

Third, heartburn can also be caused by foods that irritate the stomach. Food intolerances and sensitivities are often behind heartburn.

Side Effects of Heartburn Medications

Antacids and heartburn medications such as Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Aciphex, and Protonix may offer relief from the pain of heartburn because they suppress production of stomach acid. However these drugs also have a number of side effects. Frequent side effects are headache, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Ironically many of these side effects are the symptoms, which patients are trying to get rid of by taking the medication!

Heartburn medications may increase hip fractures and promote weak bones.

Acid suppressing heartburn drugs interfere with digestion and absorption of your food. Stomach acid is essential to stimulating protein digestion, and must be present for your intestine to absorb important minerals like calcium. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people over the age of 50 who took drugs such as Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Axiphex, and Protonix for more than one year had a 44% increased risk for hip fractures. People who took higher doses of the above drugs increased their risk of hip fractures by 244%.

Is there a better approach?

Clearly traditional medical approaches to heartburn may offer relief, but create serious side effects. Rather than interrupting your body’s natural balance with medications you may want to consider a more holistic approach that treats the whole body.

At our clinic, we focus on supporting the body's own natural balance. If musculoskeletal problems are driving you to take anti-inflammatory drugs, you’ll probably find that our approach, which combines manual therapies with exercise and scientifically supported nutrition, can free you of your pain.  By identifying food intolerances and providing appropriate nutrients to nourish the mucous lining of your stomach, you can heal your digestive system and be free of heartburn.

To learn more about our unique scientific approach to helping you eliminate digestive stress call our office in Chico, California at 530-899-8741.

Dr. Patrick Giammarise, DC, Internal Health Specialist, Founder of the Digestion Relief Center, in Chico, California specializes in effective, natural relief for IBS, food sensitivities and digestive problems. Learn more at

Published in the Chico Enterprise Record Healthbeat January 2009.

2009, © Dr. Patrick Giammarise, DC. All Rights Reserved.

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Side-effects of Long Term Usage of Heartburn drugs

Combating Acid Reflux May Bring a Host of Ills- New York Times

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