Acid Reflux Medications can alter Digestive Health


Written by Clare Abercrombie and Lauren Houser Too much coffee? Feeling the after effects of eating too many fries? Are you one of the many Americans pained with chronic heartburn or acid reflux? Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) are an easy, quick, and simple solution to temporarily relieving acid reflux issues. Over 170 million PPI prescriptions were filled in the US in 2014 and until recently we haven’t had telling information on why we need to limit our consumption of such medications.

How to treat Acid Reflux naturally?

The good news is that most forms of acid reflux can be greatly improved through simple diet and lifestyle interventions. Limiting or removing foods and beverages that can trigger symptoms such as alcohol, chocolate, coffee, tea, cow's milk, fatty foods, orange juice, spicy foods and tomato juice can make a huge difference. Quitting smoking and losing weight if overweight can also help. As you make these lifestyle changes, supplements such as licorice, iberogast, chamomile and even digestive enzymes can ease the transition and help decrease reflux symptoms.

How is it that medications created to aid digestive system issues, also prove to be so damaging?

PPIs work in the short term by lowering the acidity of the stomach, providing relief from GERD symptom such as heartburn. However, by lowering the acidity of the stomach, you create a condition that is not amenable to certain beneficial and necessary bacteria, leading to low bacterial diversity. When diversity is lowered, a niche is created within your body for certain resilient bacteria such as Salmonella to overgrow. Aside from leaving you at risk for intestinal infections, lowered bacterial diversity within the gut can influence your body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins and minerals like magnesium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, iron and B vitamins. These micronutrients are essential for healthy bones, balanced immunity and robust energy.

What is the next step?

While the temporary relief may outweigh the risks of utilizing these medications or if taking PPIs is necessary for your individual medical condition, it is important to dialogue with your provider to explore the benefits and possible negative implications of taking PPIs. It is also important to not stop medications abruptly and to work with your provider in tapering your dose if your goal if you are discontinuing GERD medicine.

Current Research

While flipping through the May 2016 issue of Scientific American, I noticed an article chronicling the side effects patients face while taking PPIs. Such medications, have been shown to cause significant impact on the amount and diversity of our gut bacteria. Specifically, this decrease in bacterial diversity can put you at risk for serious intestinal infections, according to researchers at University of Groningen and Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, as well as the Broad Institute of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.