This month the FDA announced that taking proton pump inhibitors like Nexium or the latest to hit the market—Zegerid—to reduce stomach acid may increase your risk of hip, wrist, and even spine fractures. You're especially at risk if you're over 50 or if you have been taking a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) for more than a year. Taking a high dose of a PPI especially increases your risk for these fractures.
Now, I'm sure the FDA announcement will take some by surprise. After all, what does a proton pump inhibitor have to do with bone fractures? But consider this...
Proton pump inhibitors reduce stomach acid. And that acid in your stomach is there for a reason: Not only does it help break down the protein in the foods you eat; it plays a major role in how your body absorbs calcium.
Is it really any surprise then, after years of taking a PPI (and not absorbing calcium and other nutrients critical for tissue repair and overall health) that you fracture your hip getting out of the car?
But that's not all...
Once you start taking a PPI, it's hard to stop
Here's another big problem with PPIs: In my opinion, they're addictive...meaning once you start one, you can't get off it.
Just last year, I told you about a clinical trial
that proved why it's so hard to wean yourself off of a PPI. The study's authors called it a "rebound" effect...
Here's how it works: Say you go on vacation. You eat terrible and have a bad bout of indigestion. You start taking a PPI to resolve your issues. After a few weeks, you think you have the problem under control and you stop taking the drug. But your body goes into withdrawal and your stomach starts to produce too much stomach acid to make up for the loss. As a result, the reflux returns. So you go back on the drug and just like that, the drug company has a lifelong user. In my book, that's the definition of an addictive drug.
Plus, you can now get several PPIs without a prescription. So instead of getting a 14-day prescription for the drug, you can pick it up at the drug store and take it for as long as you want. And that's a huge problem because your fracture risk increases once you take a PPI longer than a year.
Getting to the truth about stomach acid
The truth is, most people who complain of acid reflux or heartburn actually have TOO LITTLE stomach acid. You see, as the body ages, it produces less digestive enzymes and stomach acid. As a result, your stomach doesn't break down food all the way and you begin to feel some of it gurgle back up. Then, you compound the problem even further by taking an acid reducer. So then, with even fewer digestive juices flowing, you pretty much guarantee that your body won't properly break down food. Vital nutrients never get absorbed. They're just sent down the drain undigested.
The good news is you can combat reflux, heartburn, and other nagging GI problems without resorting to harmful drugs that rob your body of essential nutrients. The goal is to create an environment in your stomach where GI problems can't occur.
How? Take digestive enzymes.
Natural enzymes jumpstart your motor
The body, of course, is supposed to make its own enzymes and stomach acid for proper digestion. But as we age, our bodies produce less and less of it. Plus, years of antacids, PPIs, antibiotics, and even poor eating habits tend to aggravate stomach problems.
The solution is to give your body the natural enzymes it's missing to jumpstart your motor. And you can find these almost anywhere these days, even the grocery store.
Basically, you want to look for digestive enzyme capsules that say FULL SPECTRUM. These will help you break down and digest all three types of food groups: proteins, fats, and carbs.
If the words FULL SPECTRUM don't appear on the label, just make sure capsules contain all three types of enzymes:
- Proteolytic (proteo means protein)
- Lipolytic (lipo means fat)
- Amylolytic (amylo means carbohydrate)
You also want to make sure your digestive enzyme supplement contains betaine hydrochloride (or HCl). It's a plant-based substitute for hydrochloric acid (the type of acid I mentioned earlier that helps your body absorb calcium).
The bottle will probably suggest you take your enzymes before meals. But that's a mistake. In most cases, it's best to take digestive enzyme immediately after meals (or toward the end of your meal, if your symptoms are really severe). This will ensure you just augment--not replace--the body's manufacture of its own enzymes.
Create a healthy digestive tract
Besides digestive enzymes, you'll also want to make sure that you're taking a probiotic that contains billions of units of active cultures of "friendly" bacteria. And for anyone suffering upper GI problems, I recommend you pour the capsule contents down your throat. Let your natural saliva wash it down. This way, all the friendly bacteria coat your throat and esophagus. It will also aid in your overall digestion. Following this two-part regimen, you should notice an improvement in about a week, if not days.
For really tough cases, try DGL. It's a form of licorice that has one component removed that helps your digestive system. Chew or suck on it 20 minutes before eating. You'll also want to avoid known triggers such as spicy and acidic foods, flour products, sugar, and alcohol so you won't trigger your symptoms even more.
In closing, I know the new commercials with the guy painting on his stomach are pretty nifty. And the promised benefit of immediate relief sounds appealing. But don't buy into the hype. Zegerid – even with the nifty stomach paint – is still a proton pump inhibitor. Don't fall for the short-term fix, but work on your long- term solution that will also keep your bones intact.
Until next time,
Allan Spreen, M.D.