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Addicted to Heartburn Drugs

There are ways to stop taking heartburn medicines once you have become dependent upon them.

Q. I have taken just about every heartburn medicine on the market, including lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec) and pantoprazole (Protonix). My doctor is encouraging me to get off acid-suppressing drugs because she is worried that my bone density is dropping. After ten years on these drugs, I have also become deficient in vitamin B12.

When I try to stop, though, the heartburn is unbearable. The only relief is to take the medication. I feel almost like an addict. Is there any way I can get off these drugs without going through hell?

A. Stopping strong acid-suppressing drugs (proton pump inhibitors or PPIs) can be very challenging because of rebound acid secretion. Gradual tapering of the dose along with remedies such as DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice available at health food stores), probiotics or persimmon-ginger tea can be helpful in slowly getting off these medications. We include these tips in our Guide to Digestive Disorders, which also discusses the pros and cons of PPIs.

Long-term PPI use can lead to lower magnesium and vitamin B12 levels. Such drugs are associated with reduced bone density (Rheumatology International, March 2, 2013).

Here is one reader’s experience using DGL to get off such drugs:

“I went through this and agree it is pure hell. But I finally got help – real help and now I’m cured.

“This is what I did: 15 minutes before eating I would have a DGL licorice tablet.

“With my meal I’d have two digestive enzymes and a probiotic tablet. All of these can be bought at the health food store.

“I kept up this regimen for two months while continuing with with Prilosec. I also stopped drinking red wine, drank low-acid coffee from Trader Joes, regulated my meals to three meals a day at about the same time, reduced the meal sizes and didn’t eat after dinner.

“There is an article you can read on www.endfatigue.com — search acid reflux. It’s written by Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum.

“I still get an acid stomach once in a while, but I just take a DGL and it goes away.”

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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