Heartburn Treatments

I’ve talked about this before, but new evidence is stacking up about the potential risks involved in long-term use of Proton Pump Inhibitors. These – omeprazole and its relatives – work to reduce stomach acid, and are hugely popular. The WHO classes omeprazole as an ‘essential drug’. They have largely replaced H2 Inhibitors – Zantac/Ranitidine – and people who consult me often don’t see them as medication at all. Like laxatives and painkillers, they are just one of those measures you take to make annoying symptoms go away.

The trouble is, there is now definitive evidence that long-term use will more than double your risk of developing stomach cancer. And it’s not to do with Helicobacter pylori, which was once thought to be the villain of the piece, causing everything from reflux to stomach ulcers. Getting rid of the bacteria makes no difference. So what is going on?

Stomach cancer is always associated with chronic inflammation of the stomach lining. It seems that while PPIs reduce stomach acid, they don’t address the causes of inflammation; perhaps they even make it worse. It’s interesting that H2 inhibitors, which have a different mode of action, are not linked with a greater risk of stomach cancer. I predict a sudden resurgence in their popularity, and I’m sure the sales of Rennies will increase too.

But none of these address the causes of inflammation. We know that smoking plays a part, and so can certain foods. So, of course, can stress. Simply popping pills doesn’t make any of those things go away. And stomach inflammation isn’t trivial; it means your system is unhappy at a very basic level. There are likely to be problems in the small intestine and bowel too, and knock-on issues with the way you absorb nutrients, your immunity, your hormone levels…the list goes on.

It is yet another invitation to take a good hard look at what is and isn’t working for you. And the payoffs are potentially huge; no-one knows what effect these symptoms have on your energy, your mood, your basic enjoyment of life. These factors will never be studied, because there’s no profit to be made. In the end, it’s up to us to take responsibility for our own health.

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