If you’re one of the 30-40% of Americans who suffer from acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), chances are you take medication regularly to keep it under control. But you might want to think twice before you pop that pill, given what the latest research says.
A new study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found a connection between acid suppression medications and increased risk of bacterial gastroenteritis.
Researchers found that use of commonly-prescribed acid suppression medications – proton pump inhibitors (such as Nexium, Prevacid, or Prilosec) and histamine blockers (such as Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac) – was linked with an increased risk of intestinal infections with C. difficile, campylobacter, salmonella, shigella, or E. coli bacteria, all of which can cause significant illness.
Compared with individuals who did not take heartburn medications, those who did had 1.7-times and 3.7-times increased risks of developing a gastrointestinal infection. Among hospitalized patients, those using the medications had 1.4-times and 4.5-times increased risks, respectively.
The risk was greatest for C. difficile and campylobacter infections, which included symptoms like abdominal pain and diarrhea.
The study authors surmised that while stomach acid may not kill these harmful bacteria, taking acid-suppressing medications might cause changes to the gut microbiome and increase infection risk.
“Users of these medications should be particularly vigilant about food hygiene as the removal of stomach acid makes them more easily infected with agents such as Campylobacter, which is commonly found on poultry,” said senior study author Thomas MacDonald.
So while acid suppression therapy to treat heartburn is generally considered safe and relatively free from side effects, these new findings suggest there can be significant risks and adverse gastrointestinal consequences with their use.
Consider instead lifestyle changes like weight loss, quitting smoking and drinking, increasing fiber intake, and avoiding trigger foods to help reduce and manage the frequency of your symptoms without the need for medication. Going natural may be the key to keeping your gut microbiome healthy and your GI tract infection-free!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.