If you have heartburn or acid reflux, you just take some pills, right? Turns out using protein-pump inhibitors (PPIs) for these conditions is linked an earlier death, according to a new study. This is a shame because these disorders are actually some of the easiest to treat using functional medicine.

A recent study found using PPIs for extended periods increases the risk of earlier death from heart disease, kidney disease, and upper gastrointestinal cancer. The longer you take PPIs the greater your risk, even if you take lower doses. Other studies link PPIs to dementia, bone fractures, and pneumonia.

Common PPI brands include Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium and Protonix.

The study examined medical records of more than 200,000 people over a decade. It discovered that chronic PPI users had a 20 percent higher rate of death that those who took other acid-suppressing drugs (unfortunately, they did not look at death rates compared to those who took no acid-suppressing drugs).

The worst part of this study is that more than 50 percent of people taking PPIs had no medical need for them.  PPI-related deaths were most common in this group.

Why you should use functional medicine instead of PPIs for acid reflux or heartburn

Most people, and even doctors, assume heartburn and acid reflux is caused by high stomach acid. But the truth is that low stomach acid is often the culprit. We need healthy levels of stomach acid to digest foods, especially meats. When stomach acid is too low, it prevents the valve to the small intestine from opening. This the food to wash back up into the esophagus, burning the delicate tissue which is not designed to encounter even low levels of stomach acid.

Low stomach acid causes food to sit too long in the stomach, causing it to rot and putrefy and give you that heavy or acid stomach sensation. Some people quit eating meat for this reason.

Low stomach acid leads to digestive issues throughout the rest of the digestive tract, such as an inflamed and damaged intestinal lining, intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, poor gut bacteria diversity, and increased inflammation throughout the body.

Low stomach acid also allows infectious pathogens into the gut. Stomach acid is necessary to kill bacteria, fungi, and other foreign invaders you ingest so they don’t get into bloodstream.

Sufficient stomach acid prevents food intolerances — thoroughly digested food is less likely to trigger the immune system to react and cause loss of oral tolerance, which can be a primary cause of food sensitivities.

Symptoms of low stomach acid

  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflux
  • Indigestion
  • Stomach ulcers (low stomach acid raises the risk of an pylori infection, which causes stomach ulcers)
  • Nausea
  • Belching after meals
  • Hiccups after eating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Undigested food in stools

What to do if you have low stomach acid

We help patients with low stomach acid by improving their Hashimoto’s low thyroid condition. Hypothyroidism prevents proper stomach acid production.

We also recommend taking betaine hydrochloric acid (HCl) capsules with your protein meals. Increase your dose with each meal until you feel warmth in your stomach, then go back to the previous dose and stay there. You may need a lot initially but then find you need to lower the dose as your body’s stomach acid production improves along with your health.

If you feel intense burning in your stomach with even one capsule of HCl, you may have ulcers and an H. pylori infection. These can be successfully treated with nutritional compounds.

Ask my office for more advice on how to manage your Hashimoto’s low thyroid, heartburn, indigestion, or acid reflux, and how to improve your overall health by improving your digestive health.