The Problem of Proton-Pump Inhibitors, the common acid-reflux medication

Recent studies have shown an increased risk of death in people taking the popular over-the-counter acid-reflux medications known as PPIs (proton pump inhibitor) such as omeprazole (Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid). Other studies showing increase risk of stomach infections, heart disease, pneumonia bone fractures and dementia. Dispite their common availablility and heavy advertising, these medications are not meant for long-term use, and getting off these drugs can be harder than you might imagine.

First of all, if you're taking a PPI and want to get off, go see your doctor. Your doctor can decide if it's right for you to go without these drugs, the best way to do it, and what supplements may or may not be good for you.

Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) are a group of drugs whose main action is a pronounced and long-lasting reduction of gastric acid production. They are the most potent inhibitors of acid secretion available and lead to a lower pH in the stomach and ultimately in the intestines. This alters the balance of microbes in your gut, which you may know by now is a huge deal when it comes to overall health.

Getting off a PPI can be tricky if you've been on it for a long time. Stopping this medication causes "rebound hypersecretion" because some cells in the stomach undergo hypertrophy as a result of the PPI. Since stomach cells turn over after about two months, the hyper acidity effects shouldn't be permanent, but they will almost definitly cause some discomfort when a person stops taking a PPI.

To limit the discomfort, it can be beneficial to wean off the PPI slowly. In addition, certain supplements can help minimize the effects of hyperacidity. It's generally best if these are started a month before the weaning process.

  • Probiotic: Try adding a probiotic to help build up the benefical flora in your gut. A high quality product is worth the price since the design and technology used in production helps guarantee that whatever strains are in the capsule will actually benefit you.
  • L-Glutamine: Some believe that glutamine may be able to help strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter (a muscle ring that stops acid from rising out of the stomach into the esophagus) in the same way that is helps build and strengthen other muscle tissue in the body, thus eliminating stomach acid from coming back up through the LES and causing heartburn. Glutamine is also capable of repairing and healing mucous membranes, including the lining of the esophagus that may be damaged by ongoing acid erosion.
  • Zinc: This mineral found naturally in crabs, oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and dairy products helps limit the amount of stomach acid the stomach produces.
  • DGL: Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice supports a healthy stomach lining when taken before meals. These tablets are chewed for best results, but sometimes DGL can be found in capsules if you can't stand the taste.

Dietary changes are also beneficial. Generally following a low carb, protein and vegetable rich diet is the most beneficial for healthy digestion. Eat smaller meals until you're about 2/3 full (in other words, stop before you feel full). For the first few months after weaning off a PPI, avoid spicy and acidic food. Don't eat late at night or lay down after meals. If you can't give up your coffee, opt for those with higher proportion of milk like a cappucino or latte to balance the acidity. Cold-Brew, dark roast and decaf also have less acidity.

Incorporating custom blended Chinese Herbs may be beneficial if your digestive problems persist. Since these are custom blended, there isn't just one or two individual herbs to mention. The herbs are blended for your individual problems, to treat not only the symptoms but also the reason why YOU have digestive problems.

Lifestyle and diet are always the best way to maintain balance so they can't be overlooked. Stress management helps digestion as well as everything else, health-wise, so incorporating some healthy habits will benefit more than your stomach. Acupuncture can make a big difference here as well by reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Now I want to hear from you! Have you gotten off a PPI or have any tips for reflux to share?

ps. Don't forget to check with your prescribing doctor first about coming off of any medication!