If you have GERD, or acid reflux, there is a high probability that your doctor told you to take a proton pump inhibitor, or PPI for short. What you probably weren’t told, however, is that these PPI’s carry a range of health risks with them. We discovered this in research we did with our members; we recommend you read Why do GIs always recommend proton pump medication?
The scariest part about these risks is that every six months or so we find about another health issue associated with the daily long-term use of PPIs. Therefore, it’s possible that there could be even more health problems announced in the future that we have not yet discovered about these powerful medications.
What your doctor didn’t tell you about PPIs
You often see celebrities and actors in commercials for PPIs telling their viewers that everyone will be able to eat anything without experiencing the symptoms of acid reflux – as long as you take their pill. This advertising is not just disingenuous, it’s dangerous. They conveniently forget to tell you several things:
First, PPI medications only mask the symptoms of GERD, but they do not stop the regurgitation of stomach contents up into the esophagus. Yes, the acid level of the stomach contents may be lower and symptoms may subside, but reflux continues. Dr. Tom DeMeester MD, a global expert on GERD, discusses these factors in an article published in the Huffington Post titled Acid Reflux Treatment Problem? The Warning On the Pill’s Label Says Use for 14 Days.
Second, PPI medications do not stop the potential for the progression of acid reflux disease. Refluxed stomach contents may also contain bile; which research at the University of Rochester has found to be an underlying factor for Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.
Third, PPIs permit GERD sufferers to maintain the lifestyle and diet that created the GERD problem in the first place. Many experts believe the increase in the incidence of acid reflux (1 in 5 adults) is related to diet and obesity. However, once PPIs reduce or eliminate the symptoms of acid reflux, there is no reason to work on fixing the underlying conditions that triggered the disease.
Fourth, after starting PPIs, it is painful to discontinue daily use. Acid rebound effect is a real condition that affects those attempting to reduce PPI use too quickly. Since the pain is more severe than their normal GERD symptoms, those attempting to quit give up and continue to take their PPI medication daily.
Fifth, long-term daily use is associated with many health risks. On the packaging insert, the FDA has required these drugs to highlight the increased risk of C diff infections, malabsorption of calcium leading to broken bones, and the malabsorption of magnesium. In addition, research has found increased risk of pneumonia, heart attacks, kidney failure, dementia, and several other serious conditions that are summarized in the article noted below.
The five best alternatives to proton pump inhibitors
Luckily, there are healthier and safer alternatives to proton pump inhibitors that can help you manage your acid reflux symptoms. Let’s take a look at five of these opportunities to learn how they can benefit you in your struggle against GERD.
Alternative #1 – Eat a GERD-friendly diet
There are several elements to an effective GERD-friendly meal plan:
First, you need to determine what foods and beverages trigger your GERD symptoms. We offer a large list of the most common “trigger foods” in the “Learn More” article noted below, but since everyone is different, you need to find those foods that cause your pain. Once identified, you should avoid them whenever you can. Unfortunately, some favorite foods such as chocolate and coffee are on that list.
Second, make some smart substitutions in your diet. We offer some good suggestions in our article, food substitutes for your favorite foods that trigger acid reflux.
Third, avoid fatty foods and anything fried. These foods will take longer to digest, which can be a big factor in trigging GERD symptoms.
Fourth, look for “good carbs” and avoid the “bad carbs.” We offer a list of each in the “Learn More” article noted below.
Fifth, pack in the proteins, or “the building blocks of life.” The nice thing about proteins is that they create a sensation of feeling full faster, thus helping to eat smaller portion meals. Smaller meals digest faster, and faster digestion reduces the chances of acid reflux symptoms.
Learn More: 5 Steps to an Effective Acid Reflux Diet
Alternative # 2 – Melatonin
Your body naturally makes melatonin in the pineal gland, but supplements are sold at most pharmacies for health and medical reasons. Melatonin is usually sold and marketed as a sleeping aid, but many people have reported that it has reduced their symptoms from acid reflux. Furthermore, medical research studies have concluded that the results are promising.
As is the case with all medications, there can be interactions with other drugs and not everyone should use melatonin. We always recommend any new treatment such as this be discussed with your physician before you begin. You should also start with a low dose and slowly increase to the standard dose on the medication label.
We discuss some of the major concerns with this medication as well as the research on melatonin in the “Learn More” article noted below.
Learn More: Natural Remedies for GERD: Melatonin
Alternative # 3 – Lifestyle Changes
As every GERD expert will tell you first, if you have GERD you should stop smoking immediately. Smoking can increase reflux by relaxing the LES, which allows more acid to escape the stomach.
Alcohol is another substance that can trigger GERD symptoms and exacerbate them. If you drink alcohol, limit it or cut it out completely. Much like cigarettes, it has a whole range of nasty non-GERD related side effects as well.
If you are overweight or obese, find a proven weight loss program and lose some pounds. The extra weight puts pressure on the abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and can pull the LES into the stomach. This stretching weakens the LES allowing the stomach contents to enter the esophagus.
Eat your last meal of the day at least three hours before you recline or go to bed, and avoid late night snacks.
Eat 5 or 6 small meals/snacks every day to promote faster digestion and reduce the amount of acid required to digest the meal.
Sleep with the head of your bed elevated 6 or 7 inches to allow gravity to keep the contents of your stomach where they belong.
Experiment with several of the natural home remedies. Apple cider vinegar is the best known of these, but the list is long and interesting.
Make sure you are wearing clothes that are loose fitting in your abdomen area and don’t over-tighten your belts. Tight clothing can trigger GERD symptoms and make them worse due to the pressure it puts on your stomach.
Alternative #4 – Relax
When you are stressed out, it can lead to more acid in your stomach and a slower digestion period, which will make your GERD symptoms flair up. Below are some things you can do to help you become stress-free.
Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and sharpen the mind. The reduced stress will help with GERD, and the sharpened mind will help in every other area of your life.
Acupuncture might seem like a weird candidate for this list of healthy alternatives to proton pump inhibitors, but it has been shown in some studies to reduce GERD symptoms and is much safer than the PPI’s.
There are even some insurance companies that will pay for this as a treatment for GERD! Make sure you see a licensed acupuncturist, however, as you don’t want an untrained stranger poking and prodding you randomly.
Yoga can help to relieve stress as well as GERD symptoms as well if done properly. The best part of these alternatives to proton pump inhibitors is that they lead to a happier and healthier lifestyle!
Learn More: 6 ways to reduce stress and relieve pain
Alternative # 5 – Maintain a BMI of 24 or less
If you are overweight or obese, you should consider losing some pounds. The extra weight puts pressure on the abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and can pull the LES into the stomach. This stretching weakens the LES allowing the stomach contents to enter the esophagus.
Medical research has validated that excessive weight and obesity are two factors that increase the risk of acid reflux disease. A study by Hashem El-Serag MD MPH found the correlation between weight and GERD was “clear and convincing” with a 1.5 to 2.0 increase in the risk of GERD and erosive esophagitis. He also went on to highlight that there was a 2.0 to 2.5 increase in the risk of esophageal cancer when compared to those with a healthy BMI.
Also, in the conclusion of the Bristol Helicobacter Project published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers stated: “Being above normal weight substantially increases the likelihood of suffering from GERD symptoms, and obese people are almost three times as likely.”
Can weight loss stop GERD symptoms? According to Laura Gerson MD in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, “If patients are able to lose weight, this lifestyle modification is very effective and can reduce or eliminate the need for medical therapy.”
In another research study titled Weight Loss can lead to resolution of GERD symptoms, the researchers stated: “A structured weight loss program can lead to complete resolution of GERD symptoms in the majority of overweight and obese subjects.”
GERD is complicated, but getting information about it shouldn’t be
Whether you are looking for more information about natural remedies for GERD or hoping to find an expert, we want to be your source for real up to date information about GERD.
With all of the marketing tactics and misinformation out there that attempt to get you on PPI’s, it can be hard to separate fact from opinion. That’s why we have put together what we believe is the best online source for you at RefluxMD.com.
Remember, GERD is a progressive disease, and it can destroy your quality of life as you get older. PPIs may keep your symptoms at bay today, but there are too many health risks associated with the long-term daily use of these powerful drugs. It’s your disease, and it’s your quality of life that is at risk, so it’s up to you to take responsibility for your future. Get started today and work with a GERD expert to design your PPI-free plan to relief and good health! You can do this!