Unhappy Liver

Have you ever met people who have a hard time admitting they might have made a mistake? Such individuals defend their decisions and actions no matter what the consequences. It feels to us as if the Food and Drug Administration is a lot like that. The agency has a hard time reversing course. Once the FDA declares a class of drugs safe for over-the-counter use, it seemingly hates to admit there’s a problem. Such appears to be the case with serious PPI side effects.

New PPI Side Effects:

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) are among the most popular drugs in the drug store. You may not recognize generic names like dexlansoprazole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole, omeprazole, pantoprazole and rabeprazole. The brand names, however, are almost household words: Aciphex, Dexilant, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec and Protonix. Millions of people swallow such pills every day.

PPIs and Liver Disease:

A study utilizing a mouse model suggests that these powerful acid-suppressing drugs may increase liver inflammation and liver disease (Nature Communications, Oct. 10, 2017). This may be a particular problem for people who drink a lot of alcohol.

PPIs are very effective at blocking stomach acid secretion. As a result, the balance of microbes in the intestines changes, and that can affect liver health. With reduced stomach acid, bacteria in the Enterococcus genus flourish. They can migrate to the liver and cause inflammation and damage.

The researchers analyzed stool samples from human subjects. These were alcoholics who were at risk for liver damage. The individuals who were taking proton pump inhibitors had higher levels of Enterococcus in their stool samples. They also seemed to be more vulnerable to alcohol-induced liver disease.

Learn to Love Your Liver:

Americans pretty much take their livers for granted…until something goes wrong. The French, on the other hand, love their livers. They are quite concerned about maintaining healthy livers, even though they do drink a lot of wine.

Without a healthy liver you are in very big trouble. Sadly, liver disease is increasing at an alarming rate. Obesity plays a big role. Fatty liver disease is a serious problem that results from the obesity epidemic. Alcohol abuse leads to cirrhosis of the liver. It too is a killer.

The idea that changing the bacterial balance in the gut with PPIs might affect the liver worries us. The lead author of the research is Bernd Schnabl, MD. He told the University of California San Diego Health Communications Department:

“Our stomachs produce gastric acid to kill ingested microbes, and taking a medication to suppress gastric acid secretion can change the composition of the gut microbiome. Since we found previously that the gut microbiome — the communities of bacteria and other microbes living there — can influence liver disease risk, we wondered what effect gastric acid suppression might have on the progression of chronic liver disease. We found that the absence of gastric acid promotes growth of Enterococcus bacteria in the intestines and translocation to the liver, where they exacerbate inflammation and worsen chronic liver disease.”

“Our findings indicate that the recent rise in use of gastric acid-suppressing medications might have contributed to the increased incidence of chronic liver disease. Although obesity and alcohol use predispose a person to acid reflux requiring antacid medication, many patients with chronic liver disease take gastric acid suppressive medications without appropriate indication. We believe clinicians should consider withholding medications that suppress gastric acid unless there is a strong medical indication.”

Other PPI Side Effects:

Changing the Gut Microbiome:

Dr. Schnabl is not the only researcher to discover that PPI side effects include changing the bacterial balance in the intestinal tract. Dutch investigators reported the following (Gut, May, 2016) :

“The differences between PPI users and non-users observed in this study are consistently associated with changes towards a less healthy gut microbiome. These differences are in line with known changes that predispose to C. difficile infections and can potentially explain the increased risk of enteric infections in PPI users. On a population level, the effects of PPI are more prominent than the effects of antibiotics or other commonly used drugs.”

Learn more about the disrupted microbiome at this link:

“Do Heartburn Drugs Disturb Bacterial Balance in the GI Tract?”

Kidney Disease:

All this bad news comes on top of prior research suggesting that proton pump inhibitors may increase the risk for kidney disease. Here is an article on this topic:

“Can PPI Heartburn Drugs Harm Kidneys Without Early Symptoms?”

More PPI Side Effects:

As if kidney and liver disease were not enough, here is a list of other potential PPI complications:

Scary PPI Side Effects:

• Infections (pneumonia, Clostridium difficile, aka C. diff)

• Heart attacks and vascular calcification

• Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease

• Malabsorption of nutrients (calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B12)

• Weakened bones, osteopenia, osteoporosis, fractures

• Blood disorder (thrombocytopenia, anemia, iron deficiency)

PPI Side Effects and Early Death:

As scary as the PPI side effects listed above may be, the ultimate adverse reaction is death. An epidemiological study published in BMJ (July 4, 2017) was titled:

“Risk of Death Among Users of Proton Pump Inhibitors:

A Longitudinal Observational Cohort Study of United States Veterans.”

The investigators conclude:

“This study provides insights into the excess risk of death associated with PPI use. In a large primary cohort of new users of acid suppression therapy followed for a median of 5.71 years, we show a significant association between PPI use and risk of all-cause mortality. Risk was increased among those with no documented medical indications for PPI use and with prolonged duration of use…

“PPI are widely used by millions of people for indications and durations that were never tested or approved; they are available over the counter (without prescription) in several countries and generally perceived as safe class of therapeutics. They are often overprescribed, rarely deprescribed and frequently started inappropriately during a hospital stay, and their use extended for long-term duration without appropriate medical indication.

“…we consistently found a significant association between PPI use and increased risk of death. The consistency of study findings in our report and the growing body of evidence in the literature showing a host of adverse events associated with PPI use are compelling, and because of the high prevalence of PPI use, it may have public health implications. Exercising pharmacovigilance and limiting PPI use to instances and durations where it is medically indicated may be warranted.”

The investigators who carried out the liver studies also recommend that clinicians reserve PPI-type drugs for people who absolutely must suppress stomach acid.
[Nature Communications, Oct. 10, 2017]

NEVER STOP PPIs Suddenly:

Despite all the worrisome PPI side effects described above, never stop a PPI without medical supervision. And never stop a PPI suddenly. Rebound hyperacidity can be horrific. You can learn about horrible heartburn from PPI withdrawal at this link.

Where’s the FDA?

Imagine the FDA’s outrage if a dietary supplement or herb were linked to heart attacks, strokes, kidney or liver disease. There almost assuredly would be immediate regulatory action. Go back and read the list of PPI side effects. These are not trivial complications. Some are life threatening. And yet the FDA seems uninterested in alerting the public to such adverse reactions. Remember, PPIs are 1) readily available in pharmacies, supermarkets, gas stations, quickie marts and other convenience stores and 2) it is not easy to stop PPIs after you have taken them for several weeks.

Do you think the FDA should do anything about the growing list of serious PPI side effects? We would love to get your feedback in the comment section below.

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  1. Richard
    New Jersey
    Reply

    It seems obvious that the FDA should take another look at this class of drugs. Also, many people including me are probably not clear on the difference between PPIs and antacids like Tums or Rolaids. What is safe to take for isolated episodes of heartburn or indigestion?

  2. Annmarie V
    New Jersey
    Reply

    Dexilant has caused me lupus and osteoporosis after 2 yrs and now I found out about my liver and reading this article and not so happy.

  3. Marla
    Dallas, TX
    Reply

    My 91-year-old mother has severe acid reflux and was diagnosed with GERD and Barrett’s esophagus syndrome. She has been taking a spectrum of PPI medications for over 30 years. A life-long athlete and avid tennis player, she played tennis up until two weeks after her 90th birthday when she suddenly suffered a compression fracture from “severe” osteoporosis that had never been diagnosed. Her decline over the past year has been heartbreaking. I blame the PPIs.

  4. Jann
    Liberty Lake,Wa
    Reply

    After being on PPI’s for several years, I began to experience difficulty walking short distances before my legs wore out.
    Since I have spinal disease and had numerous ruptured discs , I suspected the problem was in my spine. The symptoms got worse and soon I had to use a wheelchair to shop. This went on for about 6 mos.
    Then I had an insurance issue with my PPI prescription and ran out of the meds. Soon, the strength returned to my legs and I was mobile again!
    After investigating the side effects of these meds, I suspected that the weakness was due to insufficient magnesium. I also developed osteopenia & osteoporosis.
    My niece suggested that I try unfiltered, unpasteurized cider vinegar for my reflux. It worked wonders and now I rarely need it.
    I thank you both for your tireless work informing the public regarding the unsafe medications.
    I’ve also stopped taking sertraline as a result of your recent coverage of SSRI’s. I’ve stopped having drenching night sweats since then!
    Thank you so much!
    Jann
    Liberty Lake, Wa

  5. Bill
    Florida
    Reply

    After suffering from severe heartburn for a number of years, my doctor put me on PPIs when they were still rarely used, in the mid ’80’s, and my initial prescription had limited duration. They helped – the heartburn ceased – but the heartburn returned immediately when I stopped. The doctor obtained permission from Kaiser Permanente in California (my healthcare provider then) to continue the medication long term. I have been taking omeprazole ever since with no observable damage to liver, kidneys, or g-tract. Though I no longer live in California, I have blood work every six months and remain in excellent health.

  6. Robin
    Reply

    If you have chronic heartburn, like I did, you may have an underlying food allergy. See a naturpathic MD and get a food allergy test. I was on a PPIs for nearly 15 years, until I started having troubling side effects and started looking for alternatives. Best thing I ever did was to give up almost all dairy and take dairy enzymes when needed. For what is now very occasional heartburn, I take Zantac, which does not have the side effects seen in PPI use.

  7. Dorothy
    Reply

    I haven’t checked lately, but the packaging used to say ” Do not take this medication more than 14 days.” I took Zantac for a while, until I read Peoples Pharmacy articles that convinced me that your stomach knows what it needs. I gradually worked myself off the pills over a three week period. I also am aware of my eating habits. Try to slow down and take small bites. Watching TV and eating is the worst. Good Luck with quitting.

  8. Robert
    Reply

    I have been given 40mg PPI to take once a day, with refills for 12 months. I open the capsule and divided one every day in half and take one a day. Have had three EGD’s for Cryo Therapy to burn the tissue on an ulcer. My need one more treatment. Than I my look at Vit k1 or K2 to repair any damage to my other organs.

    B.fry

  9. Darlene
    TX
    Reply

    I’ll stop barely short of calling the FDA – IDIOTS – because I find so many things they do shocking! We the American public are there guinea pigs for testing drugs!!!!!

    I took 4 months of weaning myself off at least 10 years of use of PPI’s ironically I’ve had higher than normal liver enzymes in that 10 year period. After my first year off them I finally had NORMAL liver enzymes on my annual physical! Now I know why!

  10. Susan
    Reply

    What is the effect of these horrendous drugs that are prescribed for infants and toddlers and the parents refuse to stop them????

  11. Parrish
    Reply

    This is just more evidence of how much influence pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers wield at the FDA. In reality, these are civil servants ill-equipped to deal with the powerful lobbyists these corporations employ.

  12. Linda
    Tampa FL
    Reply

    Peppermint Tea is a wonderful panacea for digestive issues. Aloe and Slippery Elm are also worth considering for support plus healing. PPI’s have there place but depending on them too much can only lead to unpleasant issues.

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