To combat heartburn, millions of Americans take antacids. You can buy popular brands like Prilosec OTC, Nexium and Prevacid at just about any grocery or drug store.
Yet, the truth behind antacids is that the temporary relief they provide might have a deadly consequence.
What is, they might increase your chance of having a heart attack.
Are You at Risk?
A new in-depth study from Houston Methodist and Stanford University scientists revealed something as fascinating as it may be frightening.
Adults who use antacids in the form of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are between 16% and 21% more likely to experience a heart attack than people who don’t use the commonly prescribed antacid drugs.
PPIs like Prilosec OTC, Nexium and Prevacid are designed to lower stomach acid, which in turn should prevent heartburn.
But research suggests that PPIs may reduce nitric oxide production from cells that line the inside of the circulatory system.
This damage can extend to the heart.
And lower levels of nitric oxide have long been associated with cardiovascular problems.
“By looking at data from people who were given [antacid] drugs primarily for acid reflux and had no prior history of heart disease, our data-mining pipeline signals an association with a higher rate of heart attacks,” said the study’s lead author, Nigam H. Shah, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Stanford, where the work was done.
“Our results demonstrate that [antacids] appear to be associated with elevated risk of heart attack in the general population.”
The FDA estimates about one in 14 Americans have used this type of antacid.
In 2009, PPIs were the No. 3 used drug in the United States. Global sales top $13 billion each year.
Doctors prescribe PPIs to treat many diseases, like gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can cause severe inflammation if left untreated.
Another condition called Barrett’s esophagus develops from inflammation and can, in turn, lead to esophageal cancer.
In other words, heartburn and acid reflux can cause longer-term damage. But, PPI antacids are not a cure for either.
They are a bandage to mask the real problem.
And now, this research suggests they could cause even bigger problems for our health.
What Really Causes Heartburn?
Once food passes through the esophagus into the stomach, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) closes to prevent food or acid coming back up.
Acid reflux occurs when the LES relaxes improperly, allowing acid from the stomach to flow backward (reflux) into the esophagus.
Heartburn is not caused by an overabundance of stomach acid. It is caused by a faulty valve in the esophagus.
This faulty valve is usually a result of one of these two things:
1. Hiatal hernia — when the stomach pushes upward through the diaphragm and causes the LES to open improperly. A hiatal hernia is very difficult to spot without the help of a specialist.
If you have a hiatal hernia, physical therapy on the area may work. Many chiropractors are skilled in this adjustment.
2. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection — a gastrointestinal infection causing chronic inflammation in the stomach lining. This leads to a weakened LES and, in turn, acid reflux.
H. pylori is one of the many diseases that can disturb the natural gastric balance in the gut. If you’re experiencing acid reflux, see a specialist for a gut biopsy.
There are some also general gut health guidelines you can follow to help cure H.pylori and other inflammatory gut diseases.