People with serious acid reflux are trapped in a terrible dilemma. To control their uncomfortable symptoms, their doctors prescribe a powerful acid-suppressing drug such as dexlansoprazole (Dexilant), pantoprazole (Protonix) or rabeprazole (AcipHex). These drugs are proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs. Even if a person’s symptoms are not unbearable, they may be told to take a PPI to protect themselves from Barrett’s esophagus or a rare but grave complication, esophageal cancer.
Side Effects of PPIs:
The trouble is that the PPIs have been racking up serious side effects for the last few decades. When omeprazole (Prilosec) and lansoprazole (Prevacid) were first introduced, doctors believed their side effects were extremely minor. But since then we have learned that people who take a PPI are more likely to break a hip (Annals of Epidemiology, Apr., 2014), suffer diarrhea due to a C diff overgrowth (Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, July, 2013), develop chronic kidney disease (JAMA Internal Medicine, Feb., 2016) or have a heart attack (PLoS ONE, June 10, 2015). No wonder many readers have become nervous about taking a PPI.
Resolving the Dilemma:
Q. I have severe acid reflux problems. For treatment, I use Pepcid Complete twice a day. I also use Gaviscon and DGL intermittently. I live in constant worry about whether any of these is a PPI.
I know DGL is natural, but would you please settle this once and for all: is Pepcid Complete or Gaviscon considered a PPI?
A. Neither Pepcid Complete nor Gaviscon is a PPI (proton pump inhibitor). PPI drugs such as esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) or omeprazole (Prilosec) are very effective at healing ulcers and treating gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Over the past decade, however, scientists have discovered some disturbing side effects from PPIs. The list now includes strokes, heart attacks, kidney damage, dementia, weakened bones and infections.
Gaviscon contains the antacids aluminum hydroxide and magnesium carbonate. Pepcid Complete has three different compounds to help control heartburn: famotidine, calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide.
Controlling Reflux without a PPI:
For other strategies to ease indigestion and control heartburn we are sending you our Guide to Digestive Disorders. DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) is a natural compound derived from licorice that can be helpful against heartburn. Other natural favorites for easing heartburn or reflux include ginger-persimmon tea or apple cider vinegar. Over-the-counter approaches include antacids such as Tums or Maalox, or a half-teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water.