Heartburn or Gastro esophageal reflux is a condition has that affected everyone at some point of time in their lives. And whether you went to the pharmacy or consulted a doctor, you were probably given some medicines for it. Now, heartburn medication is usually of 3 types:
- H2 Blockers
- Proton Pump Inhibitors
Now the first one – as you probably already know – helps to neutralize the excess acid in your stomach that is likely to reflux and cause heartburn. But on the other hand, the other two are both ‘blockers’, one of which actually falls under heartburn medicines to avoid.
What are blockers?
Blockers are medication that actually inhibits the production of acid in the stomach. And if you have a basic idea of heartburn you will know that one of its major causes is inadequate acid production in the stomach leading to indigestion. So an acid blocker is not really going to do you much good…
On the contrary, it only decreases the amount of acid further compounding the situation! But even among these ‘blockers’, there’s a distinction. H2 blockers are acceptable and are often available OTC. But PPIs or Proton Pump Inhibitors are mostly prescription drugs, and possibly with reason. Their activity is much more potent and may not always be desirable. Now let’s look at another question.
What do PPIs do and why are they prescribed?
PPIs diminish the production of Hydrochloric acid in the gut. What this does, on a symptomatic level, is decrease the amount of acid in your stomach – and in turn, the acid doesn’t have a chance to reflux into the food pipe and cause heartburn.
But while you’re treating the symptom, the actual problem goes untreated. Consider, in 90% of cases, heartburn is caused because of inadequate stomach acids, and with indiscriminate use of PPIs you’re just making the acids even scarcer.
So, you must be asking, if PPIs have this effect, why are they even available as a pill? It’s because they have been formulated for only certain conditions:
- Ulcers in the stomach that are bleeding
- A condition where your stomach already produces excess acid called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
- Acid reflux for a prolonged period that has already damaged the esophagus
- Helicobacter pylori caused infection in the stomach
None of these conditions are as simple as regular acid reflux. So, PPIs were originally formulated to treat conditions where acid in the stomach can become a problem. But what are you using it for – to inhibit production of acid when your body actually needs to produce more!
In the process you are actually exposing yourself to more harm:
- The acid in the stomach actually kills off bacteria and infection in the food you eat. Inadequate acid means these bacteria and infections go unaffected and they will affect you more. One example is Clostridium difficile, very harmful bacteria that actually infects your intestines.
- Bone loss as a side effect.
- Hip fracture due to the bone loss.
- You become prone to Pneumonia.
- The chance of addiction and tolerance – after this, if you stop the pills, the heartburn actually comes back and is much worse.
So, the inevitable question…
Should you be having PPIs for heartburn?
And the answer is no. PPIs weren’t formulated for heartburn. And yes, in spite of that quite a few people suffering from this condition get prescribed PPIs. On the other hand, antacid and H2 blockers are much less harmful and help you tackle the heartburn without harming your system. And while they take care of the heartburn temporarily, you can try out other things to treat the underlying causes of the heartburn. So go for these as opposed to PPIs wherever a doctor hasn’t indicated that your condition needs you to be treated with PPIs.
Usually you can tell a PPI from its components. Here are a few examples:
So, the next time you have heartburn – treat the condition, don’t reach for a Proton Pump Inhibitor. Now that you know that these are the absolute heartburn medicines to avoid – in fact they aren’t even heartburn medication… stay safe, stay healthy and try out other more natural ways to treat heartburn!