FDA sounds alarm on dangers of antacid drugs

May 26, 2010 in GERD | 12 comments

alarmIn a shockingly rare example of the FDA actually doing its job, a report was issued on Tuesday cautioning against the prolonged use of a class of acid stopping drugs called proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs).

Who knows, maybe someone at the FDA read my series on heartburn and GERD, especially this article and this one detailing the dangers of acid stopping drugs?

This is a really big deal. PPIs are one of the most popular classes of drugs prescribed. Doctors wrote 114 million prescriptions for them last year. Americans spend $5.1 billion on Nexium, the most popular PPI, alone.

The FDA report cautions against high doses or prolonged use of PPIs, because they’ve been shown to increase the risk of infection, bone fractures and dementia.

But the danger doesn’t stop there. As I pointed out in my series, all acid stopping drugs (not just PPIs) inhibit nutrient absorption, promote bacterial overgrowth, reduce resistance to infection and increase the risk of cancer and other serious diseases.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad the FDA finally issued this warning. But I can’t help wondering how someone who has been taking a PPI for 20 years is going to feel about it. If I were one of those people, I’d be incredibly angry. Especially because researchers who studied these drugs before they were approved by the FDA years ago sounded a similar warning.

In fact, when the drugs were first approved, it was recommended that they be taken for no longer than six weeks because of these same concerns the FDA is only now warning us about! Looks like someone dropped the ball on that one, because it’s not at all uncommon to encounter people who’ve been on a PPI for two decades. After writing the GERD series, I heard from several people in that group.

So please forward this article to anyone you know who has been taking one of these dangerous drugs for any longer than six weeks. And believe me, you know one of these people. We all do. You may even be one of them.

If you or a loved one wants to get off these drugs and treat GERD naturally, the the series on my blog clearly explains how to do that.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

MollyMurr May 26, 2010 at 1:19 pm

I was on Nexium for nearly 10 years because I would wake up at night breathing in acid.  I finally self-diagnosed myself with sleep apnea.   My doctor still encouraged me to take Nexium for my occasional heartburn.
Then I got test results back from my yearly physical that showed I was anemic.  This was odd.  My doctor gave me iron supplements to take.  I started investigating side effects of Nexium and found one site that claimed it caused anemia because the stomach needs acid to get at the iron in foods and supplements.  After taking iron for a few months (still on Nexium) and not having my blood test numbers change, I decided to stop Nexium.  I’ve been using Zantac for the past month.  I have had more heartburn, but it hasn’t been bad, and I know that it could be “reactive” from stopping the Nexium.

More importantly, my energy levels have been higher, and I just went for another blood test today that I’m sure will show normal to high iron levels.  I feel like I actually may have too much iron now, based on some other symptoms, but the test will tell.  I really *should* have too much iron in my system, when I’m taking an iron pill every day.
My mother in law used Nexium for a month and became anemic.  She went off Nexium and the anemia went away.  Why don’t our doctors know this?
My goal is to be off Zantac as well.  Thank you for the excellent articles.


Konnie May 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I’ve been taking Protonix for 2 years for a hiatal hernia.   It has worked wonderfully to eliminate most GERD symptoms.  However,  in the two years I was hospitalized for 5 days for a bacterial infection in my colon and last week had to have my appendix out.  Last year I suffered a vertebrae compression fracture just from on strong cough!   I am a 50 year old female, in otherwise good health.

Hearing this news is rather eye opening as I have been given no warnings from either my internist or my gastroenterologist about issues related to long term use of Protonix.  Guess I’ll make a Dr. appt. tomorrow.


Chris Kresser May 26, 2010 at 6:12 pm

I hope you have an open-minded doctor. Many are unaware of the risks, even though the scientific literature is very clear on the increased risk of infection that comes with PPIs. Maybe you could print out some of the studies I linked to from my articles on the risks of acid-stopping drugs, particularly the ones related to infections. You might want to read the GERD series and try some of the suggestions. Check out the comments on each article. You’ll see many reports of dramatic improvements from people who have tried the low-carb approach with HCL. Good luck.


Arthur Remes May 28, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Thanks for your wonderful website.
I have two questions which I would be grateful to have you answer.
The first: My chiropractor says it is a bad idea to take fish oil with food because it decreases the absorption of other nutrients. He says it should be taken between meals. iS that correct, in your opinion? I’ve never seen this discussed.
The second question I have is where on the FDA website it says that Prilosec, etc. increase the possibility of dementia. It seems to mention dementia being cited as a possible risk factor for fracture, but not as a result of taking the drug.  I may have misread it.
I hope you have the time to answer.


Chris Kresser May 29, 2010 at 8:18 am

1. Read my recent article called The Definitive Fish Oil Buyer’s Guide. I explain that the absorption of fish oil is significantly better (3x or more) when taken with a high fat meal.

2. PPIs may directly contribute to increases in fractures because they inhibit calcium absorption.


Brian May 30, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I was prescribed Nexium and Pantoloc after being diagnosed with what they considered to be GERD, even though my symptoms did not really match.  I tried them both, maybe a total of a few months, but thankfully I stopped because neither really did anything.  It’s a shame that these pills are prescribed as if they actually solve the problem when all they do at best is temporarily mask the symptoms.  The more I learn about the “health” system the more I feel that we are alone to figure things out for ourselves.


Chris Kresser May 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Yes, we should always be our own advocates. On the other hand, there are practitioners working outside of the conventional medical system that have a more sophisticated understanding of functional medicine and promoting health than many doctors. You could try consulting one of them.


dr david sassoon October 31, 2010 at 9:57 pm

congratulations for your web site.
i have worked as a scientist for more than 40 years…and seen first hand the damage that long term use of nexium drugs and alike can do to humans.
after 6 weeks of usage,……switching to a good complex of “”good probiotics”" will cure you.
god bles
dr david
ps. soon…we will have a web site to help anyone with their case of acidity…etc with no cost.


Robert Crone January 4, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Please help….

I’ve been on PPI’s for approx. 20 years from the age of about 18. Initially for heartburn and indigestion, but latterly more and more symptoms have been added to the list. I’ve got raised ALT & AST liver enzimes, raised anti-nuclear antibodies, multiple food intolerences (YORK TEST), hypothyroidism, skin rashes, itching, headaches, stomach pain, fatigue, poor memory and concentration, very poor circulation, and the list goes on.

I’ve had 3 endoscopies, pressure tests, liver scans, and much more. Everytime I’ve been to my GP he asked me to increase the dosage of PPI, at one point I was on 60mg of omeprazole.

Recently I got myself tested for food intolerance as I was desperate to get to the bottom of this. I was intolerant to milk, eggs, chicken, wheat, gluten, and lots more. Since I stopped these foods the heartburn has stopped for the first time in 20 years, I’ve added HCL with pepsin and good bacteria to my diet also.

I’m so angry that this has dragged on for 20 years.. I’m feeling a little better now, but need my Doctor to get me referred to get to the root of the cause.

I’m hopeful i can get these issues resolved but I’m struggling with my Doctor. Can you advise a way forward for me.



Dr Plemon March 3, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Two of my patients, who are pharmacists, have told me that it is widely known that people are only supposed to be taking GERD/reflux meds for 6 weeks. They see the same people come back with the script over and over again, even though they know that that was not the intended protocol for these drugs. But as pharmacists, they can only educate the patients about the risks, since only a “Doctor” can alter their drug regimen. Bot made a big deal about the risk of osteopenia and fracture and stated that there is a LOT of evidence out there, with many lawsuits in the works and yet to come. The FDA is a day late (but NEVER a dollar short) once again.


Ismail Al Oraini May 8, 2011 at 1:14 am

Thank you for your life saving article. I have started taking anti acid drugs in 11/2000. By mid 2005 I started feeling fatigue and disoriented. I visited doctors and run all kind of tests including MRI to the brain. No up normality was found and was diagnosed with depression and ended up with anti depression drugs that I took for couple of weeks only (I was not really convinced). In 10/2010 the same symptoms have become more intense plus occasional headaches and nick pain. The MRI revealed sever damage in my nick disks, the causes for fatigue and the disorientation remains undetermined until I read your article where you have mentioned that anti-acid drugs may increase the risk of dementia.

My question now is that the health damage that was caused by prolong use of anti-acid drugs, the dementia in particular, is it reversible? Would it go away or improve when I stop taking anti-acid drugs?

Thank you and hope to hear your input soon.


Chris Kresser May 8, 2011 at 7:27 am

If the problems were caused by B12 deficiency, there’s no way to tell if they are reversible until you build up your B12 reserves again. Unfortunately, some B12 deficiency-caused neurological damage is irreversible.


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