Acid reflux is a serious health condition and if not addressed at the right time may become chronic. However, conventional acid reflux medications really do more harm than good in the long run.
Apart from making your GERD even worse, these drugs put you at a grave risk of certain gastrointestinal infections. Such infections could prove life-threatening and may even lead to death.
Blocking Acid Isn’t Really a Smart Idea
here are reasons why our stomach produces concentrated acid. One of them is killing harmful bacteria. The other is to help the process of digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food that we eat. Concentrated acid also signals the LES to stay shut when food is inside the stomach. This is because there will be a lot of churning occurring when food is being mixed with various digestive juices within the stomach. An open LES will allow this fast churning food to slosh back up the food pipe causing discomfort.
When you take an acid blocking (proton pump inhibitor or H2 blocker) or acid neutralizing (potassium and magnesium containing antacids) anti-reflux medication, you are effectively making things worse for you. For one, you aren’t allowing your stomach to perform its functions effectively and second, you are not allowing your LES to shut properly. This is going to make your GERD worse and popping a pill may only give you momentary relief.
A serious complication of taking conventional acid-blocking medication is making your gut susceptible to pathogenic microorganisms, which can lead to a variety of health problems. And among these are bacteria called Clostridium difficle and Campylobacter. Both these bacteria can cause a serious kind of diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Types of Bacterial Infections Caused By GERD Medication
As we said earlier, our stomach produces acid as a means of natural defense against bacterial infections. We may ingest billions of bacteria through food and water and all of these find their way into our stomach. If they aren’t killed, they will enter our intestines and may also find their way into other parts of the body. To stop this from happening, our stomach has evolved a way to kill these potential offenders.
When we stop this acid from getting secreted into the stomach or neutralize this acid chemically, we are actually inviting pathogenic bacteria to populate our gut and cause trouble. This is exactly what happens when we take anti-reflux medication.
A British study that assessed more than 188,000 people on acid suppressing medicines (PPIs and H2 blockers) found that the majority of these people were positive for bacterial gastroenteritis. The causative bacteria were identified as either C. difficle or Campylobacter.
Campylobacteriosis is the infection caused by Campylobacter, most commonly C. jejuni. It causes diarrhea or dysentery (often bloody, due to severe inflammation of the gut lining), abdominal cramps and fever. More importantly, these bacteria have the ability to cause tissue injury in the gut. They can come out of the gut and cause even more serious conditions. Complications include a type of autoimmune disease as well as a condition where the lower half of the body becomes permanently paralyzed. Respiratory failure may also occur in later stages.
C. difficle infection may be either mild or severe, depending upon factors like the immune status of the individual and the bacterial load. A mild infection may present itself with symptoms like watery diarrhea two or more times a day (for two days or more) along with mild cramping and abdominal tenderness.
In severe cases, due to loss of fluids, the patient may become dehydrated and may require hospitalization. C. difficle causes tissue inflammation inside the gut. These inflamed patches may bleed or form pus.
Symptoms of a severe bacterial infection include
- Watery diarrhea, 10-15 times a day
- Severe abdominal cramping and pain
- Blood or pus in stool
- Rapid heart rate
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Kidney failure
Research has also found that people who are on PPIs increase their risks of community acquired and hospital acquired bacterial pneumonia. Again, low stomach acid is to blame. Pneumonia causing bacteria are common in our environment and our natural immune defenses, including high stomach acidity, are necessary to keep these bacteria in check. When stomach acidity is lowered, these bacterial pathogens can easily cause diseases once they gain access to our body.
One of the most ironic stories of bacteria infecting our guts is that of a bug called Helicobacter pylori. Among the most common bacterial pathogens affecting close to half the world’s population by some accounts, H. pylori is a peculiar bacterium. It requires low acidity inside the stomach to colonize. It can colonize if there is a temporary condition of low acidity inside the stomach. Once it has colonized, it maintains an environment of low acidity for it to thrive. This low acidity is the cause of GERD. So it is very likely that you had an episode of acid reflux for which you took acid suppressing medicine. This resulted in low acidity. This low acidity created the perfect conditions for an H. pylori infection, after which the bacterium made sure your stomach always had low acidity. Apart from causing GERD, H. pylori is also known to cause stomach ulcers.
Due to low stomach acid caused by acid-suppressing medicines, you can also get a small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO. Our small intestine is not meant to have a lot of bacteria. But due to loss of the fine acid balance in the stomach, the acid balance of the small intestine is also lost and bacterial overgrowth occurs. Complications of SIBO include a worsening GERD, leaky gut syndrome, ulcers and colon cancer.
Acid suppressing medication is a potent chemical preparation that is very effective in providing symptomatic relief when the condition is due to over production of acid. In fact, many studies have shown that short term use of these medicines under strict medical supervision is very helpful in treating ulcers and managing GERD. However, uncontrolled use of these medicines which are freely available without any prescriptions is largely to blame for the health fiasco that we just discussed.hi
We have maintained on our site the need for a Functional Medicine approach that looks at solving chronic health problems through a well-rounded and holistic approach. This approach involves dietary and lifestyle modifications along with management of stress and physical exercises. Treating GERD is no different and mere symptomatic relief shouldn’t be the aim. The endeavor should be to treat the root cause of the condition and gain lasting relief.