a woman with heartburn pain

Proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs for short, have become a mainstay as heartburn drugs. Once available only by prescription, powerful acid-suppressing drugs such as omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and esomeprazole (Nexium) are now available over the counter. They are no longer restricted to the treatment of ulcers and severe gastroesophageal reflux disease, as they initially were, but now are widely used for many kinds of digestive distress.

But is it wise for so many people to be taking PPI heartburn drugs, or for people to take them for so long? New research from the Netherlands suggests that these medications can change the balance of bacteria living in the intestinal tract.

Consequences of Heartburn Drugs for Bacterial Balance in the Digestive Tract:

Dutch researchers analyzed the DNA of fecal samples from 1,815 adults. They found that those taking proton pump inhibitors have fewer types of beneficial bacteria and more potentially dangerous bacteria.

Such changes in the ecology of the gut appear to increase the risk for infection with Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff. This organism can cause severe, hard-to-treat diarrhea.

Gut, online, December 9, 2015

This is hardly the first time that we have heard that long-term use of PPI medications could boost the chance of recurrent C. diff. infections. A report in JAMA Internal Medicine in May, 2015, showed that many hospitalized patients are at significantly increased risk of multiple C. diff. infections if they remain on these heartburn drugs. Although it can be very difficult to discontinue such medicines, the effort pays off when the person is no longer susceptible to repeated bouts of life-threatening diarrhea.

You can learn more about PPIs and other ways to manage heartburn in our Guide to Digestive Disorders.

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  1. Judy

    I’m reading a book called “Why Stomach Acid is Good for You”. It’s a very needed book that I think everyone should read, especially if they have a chronic condition of any sort, are over 50, or have digestive issues. It’s amazing how messed up stomach acid affects the entire body. I only wish doctors would learn real healing and not just symptom suppression via pharmaceuticals.

  2. Jim Horn
    Menifee, CA

    I used to suffer from acid reflux terribly, using two TUMS tablets 6-8 times per day. I started taking a combined mineral supplement of turmeric and ginger (I get mine from swanson) – one capsule in the morning and one in the evening and my heartburn is gone. No drug, no problems, just simple relief from natural sources.

    • rick

      I know a lady who used tums like candy and her increase in calcium levels came close to killing her.

      • rick

        As far as proton pump inhibitors go, my best friend was prescribed them, and then shortly after he suffered from a blocked bile duct. He had what they called Whipple surgery and several painful years later died of pancreatic cancer. I believe to this day that proton pump inhibitors led up to his cancer!

        • Terry Graedon

          Pancreatitis has been reported as a rare side effect to proton pump inhibitors. There’s no clear connection between the drug and your friend’s cancer.

    • Judy
      Charleston, SC

      Jim Horn: When you say that you got your mineral supplement of turmeric and ginger from swanson, are you saying that there is a product line? Please elaborate. Thanks!

  3. Donna White
    Greensboro, NC

    I always enjoy your articles in the Sunday News and Record.

  4. Eleanor

    I have found fermented vegetables did wonders for bacterial balance and GI tract problems.

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