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The problem with antacid medications (part one)

Are you presently taking antacid or acid blocking medications? If so, you’re not alone because these drugs are some of the highest selling in medical history.

Unfortunately, their long-term use can cause fatigue, Candida overgrowth, bloating, SIBO, constipation, depression, headaches and many other problems.

They may even increase your risk of developing kidney problems, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

There is a dark side to acid blocking medications, which isn’t explained clearly enough by doctors. It is my hope that you feel more informed about the dangers of acid blockers by the end of this two part article.

Acid blocking medications are used widely

In 2011, two acid blockers were reported by the England and Wales NHS to be the 5th and 10th most prescribed medications over the previous 8 years.

23.3 and 17.3 million prescriptions of Omeprazole and Lanzoprazole, respectively, were prescribed in the eight-year period, giving a combined total of over 40 million!

[Source: Prescriptions Dispensed in the Community: England, Statistics for 2001 to 2011. National Statisics. NHS. The Information Centre for Health & Social Care. 31st July, 2011.]

Why are these medications prescribed?

The figures above are no surprise given that so many people have indigestion, heartburn and acid reflux.

Gastroenterologist and author Gerard Mullin suggest that some of these stats are wildly out of date as they come from an interview survey done by the National Center for Health in 1996.

Dr. Mullin states that recent studies on heartburn and gastro-esophageal reflux disease indicate that:

  • 7% of Americans (21million people) have heartburn at least once a day (yes, each and every day!)
  • 14% (42million people) experience it once a week
  • 21% (about 60million people) report having acid regurgitation at least once a month
  • And over 50% (about 150million people) encounter it annually

The ‘go-to’ medications for these conditions are:

  1. Over the counter antacids, and if these don’t work;
  2. Prescription acid blocking medications

What are antacids and acid blockers?

Antacids are generally bought over the counter and are designed to neutralize stomach acid as opposed to blocking its production.

Examples include Tums and Gaviscon, which are often used sporadically to deal with indigestion here or there.

Acid blockers are a whole different story because they work by shutting down stomach acid production.

Acid blockers are generally prescribed for daily use, meaning they shut down stomach acid all day long, day in and day out.

The list, below, shows different medication types for dealing with heartburn, reflux and so on.

H-2 receptor agonists (H2 agonists) Cimetidine (Tagamet®), Famotidine (Pepcid®), Nizatidine (Axid®), Ranitidine (Zantac®)

Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) – Omeprazole (Prilosec®), Lanzoprazole (Prevacid®), Esomeprazole, Pantoprazole

Antacid medications Magnesium and Aluminium Antacids e.g. Gaviscon, Mylanta, Maalox

Sodium Bicarbonate – Alka Seltzer®, baking soda

As stated, the H2 agonists and PPIs are in their most potent dosages when they are prescribed by a physician.

Short-term acid blocker and antacid use is ok

It’s fine to use these medications now and again, say if you have a sudden bout of indigestion, or a bad stomach after a night out!

It’s also fine to use acid blockers in a treatment plan for a given period of time and specific goals – for example a 30-day treatment to allow an ulcer to heal, or 7-14 days to assist H. pylori treatment.

Of course, if you’re struggling with nasty heartburn and reflux symptoms these medications can sometimes offer relief (but I urge you to find the underlying cause of your symptoms so you can get off the acid blockers ASAP).

Do acid blockers cure anything?

No. On their own, these medications to not cure anything. They can suppress symptoms and give your stomach the opportunity to heal by keeping acid levels low, but they do not have any direct healing properties (as far as I know).

My recommendation is to use them only if you have to, and only for a short period of time while you actively seek the real reasons for your symptoms.

Conditions that warrant the use of acid blockers

30-60 days of acid blocking meds is certainly advised if your doctor diagnoses a stomach (peptic) or duodenal ulcer. Suppressing stomach acid can accelerate ulcer healing.

However it’s wise to understand why the ulcer has developed in the first place otherwise it may come back, or another one may develop.

Ulcers are caused by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, stress, NSAID medications and H. pylori infections.

Acid blockers will also be advisable if you have Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, which results in excessive stomach acid production.

Finally, acid blockers are used as part of H. pylori treatment because they enhance the effectiveness of the treatment.

Conditions that DO NOT warrant the long-term use of acid blockers

I feel it’s incredibly unwise to remain on acid blockers for a long period of time without due reason. The challenge is that docs don’t necessarily feel the same way.

We hear from a lot of people who have been taking acid blockers and antacids for a very long time in an attempt to suppress chronic heartburn and acid reflux.

In the majority of these cases, doctors haven’t assisted folk in uncovering the actual reasons for these symptoms.

I feel it’s very poor medical practice to have patients taking acid blocking medications for more than 60-90 days without deep investigation into the cause of the problem, which may be something as simple as:

  • Avoiding a certain type of food
  • Eating in a more relaxed state and chewing food
  • Not drinking fluids with meals
  • Eradicating H. pylori or Candida

Indeed, in my forthcoming book, “How To Beat Heartburn and Reflux Naturally”, I list a number of possible reasons for chronic heartburn and reflux, including:

  • Food sensitivities
  • Gluten intolerance
  • H. pylori infection
  • Candida overgrowth
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
  • Smoking
  • Excessive consumption
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Low stomach acid

Why not find the root cause?

Clinically, I have seen people’s heartburn clear up almost overnight with dietary changes (I am not exaggerating).

In other folk, detecting and then eliminating H. pylori, Candida, SIBO and parasites resolves symptoms and alleviates the need for acid blocker drugs.

In others still, we have to do some deeper work on nutrient repletion and hormone balancing.

My message is that no matter how long you have been taking acid blockers, you can get off them as long as you resolve the underlying causes.

You may need some help with this, and if so please contact us so we can offer a helping hand and guide you through the process.

What we’ve learned

Antacid and acid blocker drugs are among the highest selling

This is because so many people have heartburn and reflux (which is not normal and is not caused by an acid blocker deficiency!)

Antacids neutralize stomach acid whereas acid blockers stop acid production

Short-term use is ok, but unless there is a specific medical need such as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, longer-term use is unnecessary

Heartburn and reflux have many causes, including food, chronic infections, stress, nutrient deficiencies and low stomach acid

The long-term consequences of ongoing acid blocker use can be significant and serious.

In part two of this article…

In the next article, we’ll explore the specific reasons why the long-term use of acid blockers can cause problems

We’ll also cover some simple strategies you can employ to reduce your acid blocker dose, or get off these meds completely (with your doctor’s guidance).

In the meantime, if you would like some individualized assistance in uncovering the root cause of your symptoms, consider a home stool test.

A home stool test, in my humble opinion, is the fastest and most economical way of finding out what’s wrong so that you can overcome your symptoms.

Learn more about a stool test by clicking here.

See you next time!



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