2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Can I Quit My Heartburn Drug?

“As long as I’m trimming my daily prescription drugs,” remarked Mary, who had recently quit her cholesterol-lowering statin after shifting to healthful eating, “what about this Nexium? I admit I have some misgivings about stopping anything that seems to be working so well!”

I hear that a lot. Some patients have been taking a chronic heartburn drug for such a long time they don’t remember who prescribed it in the first place.

Heartburn has been upscaled to gastro-esophageal reflux disorder (GERD) by the large pharmaceutical companies for reasons I assume are obvious to you. The original drugs in this family were Prevacid and Prilosec, but soon the knock-offs followed: Nexium, Protonix, AcipHex, and Kapidex. As a whole, the group is called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and they act by reducing your stomach’s production of acid.

If you’re a consumer of media you know they’ve all been heavily marketed via TV, magazines, and the internet. Nexium’s ad shows a table of attractive people shoveling down copious amounts of food. Then one of them starts looking nauseated and her stomach expands. Nexium (purple pill) to the rescue!

Because the PPIs are generally quite safe, the FDA has allowed them to be sold over the counter when their patents expire. PPIs have been a cash cow for Big Pharma. These days, 30 tablets of Nexium (still on patent) will set you back almost $200 if you don’t have health insurance. In 2008, people spent more than $25 billion on PPIs. By the way, if you don’t have insurance you can get the same drug generically from Canada for $50 via the online Universal Drugstore.

Undeniably, PPIs work. Most patients with chronic heartburn/GERD report relief in a few days, rarely report any side effects (nausea, which just 4% of users get, is the most common side effect), and thus take the attitude, “I’ll just keep refilling this forever” with a hidden subtext: that way, I can continue to eat enormous amounts of food any time, day or night, and get away with it.

For most users, PPIs are lifestyle choice drugs. Let’s be honest: if a heartburn/GERD sufferer ate small meals made up of real foods (not prepared foods and not high-sugar/refined flour foods), avoided eating late at night, reduced alcohol consumption, lost some tummy fat, and learned to weed out the foods that most often trigger heartburn symptoms, she probably wouldn’t need a PPI.

There is one group of people who do need a PPI–those with a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. These patients have severe heartburn due to the presence of stomach acid cells in the lower part of their esophagus. Barrett’s is diagnosed by a gastroenterologist during a gastroscopy with biopsy, and because the condition carries an increased cancer risk prevented by PPIs, these patients are instructed to use PPIs “forever.”

Many remaining PPI users seem to think they were been born with a Nexium deficiency. Since such a condition does not exist, the reality is that, to a certain extent, they’ve chosen to add a $7-per-day pill to cover an unhealthy, but largely preventable, aspect of lifestyle: gluttony, overindulgence, overeating, pigging out–call it what you will.

Are there any downsides to taking a PPI?
I’m glad you asked. The most significant one to surface in recent years showed that long-term users of any PPI were four times more susceptible to hip fractures than non-users. You need stomach acid for optimal calcium absorption. With diminished acid in PPI users, more osteopenia (early osteoporosis) and osteoporosis appeared. You can prevent this by supplementing with calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin B-12 deficiency is also linked to long-term PPI use and you might remind your doctor to check your B-12 levels yearly to see if you need supplementation.

But giving up your PPI might be easier.

“Really,” I told Mary, “It’s up to you. If you feel life is incomplete without a late-night Chicago-style pizza washed down with a bottle of red wine and maybe a little tiramisu to sweeten the deal, then by all means renew your Nexium, take some calcium and D, and have your B-12 checked.” I added that when the weight gain from that kind of eating gave her a potbelly, this itself would make her heartburn/GERD worse, and she might even need two Nexium a day. “Don’t lose your health insurance,” I recommended.

Then I printed out some background on heartburn and a list of easy self-healing steps she could take for a month or so before stopping her Nexium to see if she still needed it.

Click here for everything on heartburn

Leave a Comment


Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Telemedicine – Now Available at WholeHealth Chicago

In order to maintain your continuity of care, WholeHealth Chicago now offers telemedicine appointments with most of our practitioners. During a telemedicine visit, you and your healthcare provider can review medical history, discuss symptoms, arrange for prescriptions, and more. When necessary, labs and diagnostic imaging can be ordered from a facility near your home, and our Natural Apothecary can ship supplements quickly to your door.

Please contact Patient Services for details and scheduling a telemedicine appointment, or to change a regular appointment to telemedicine by calling 773-296-6700.

We’re looking forward to meeting with you in our virtual consultation room soon.

DIAGNOSE-IT-YOURSELF: COVID-19

Far and away, the commonest phone call/e mail I receive asks about COVID-19 diagnosis.
Just print this out, tape it on your refrigerator door, and stay calm.

ALLERGIES

• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Red, swollen eyes
• Itchy eyes and nose
• Tickly throat
• No fever

COLD
• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Sore throat
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild dry cough
• Rarely a low fever

STREP THROAT
• Painful sore throat
• Hurts to swallow
• Swollen glands in neck
• Fever

FLU (Standard seasonal flu)
• Fever
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Sudden onset over few hours
• Headache
• Sore throat
• Fatigue, sometimes quite severe
• Muscle aches, sometimes quite severe
• Rarely, diarrhea

CORONAVIRUS-COVID 19
• Shortness of breath
• Fever (usually above 100 degrees)
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Slow onset (2-14 days)
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild fatigue
• Mild sneezing

Recent Health Tips

  • Do You Have Low Testosterone?

    For 80 (!) years physicians have prescribed testosterone to men without being certain if it actually had any effect…other than raising testosterone levels. The only FDA-approved indication for testosterone is hypogonadism, in which there’s an actual disorder of the male reproductive system that results in the body not producing enough testosterone. Causes of hypogonadism include testicular damage from mumps, a genetic condition called Klinefelter syndrome, Read More

  • WholeHealth Chicago IV Therapies: Metabolic Boost (Skinny Shots)

    It’s really a bummer to add weight gain to the stressors you’ve been experiencing in this difficult year of Covid-19, police brutality, and economic crashes. You’re the victim of a perfect storm: inactivity, anxiety, disrupted sleep, and eating too many of the wrong calories. I know comfort foods are comforting, but did you really need to bake another batch of snickerdoodles? The result of all Read More

  • I Feel So Inflamed!

    Previously, I wrote about mold-related illness, yet another commonly overlooked diagnosis. It’s surprising how regularly mold issues fly under the radar of conventional physicians. When you consider how often homes and workplaces have a leaky roof, unless something smells moldy or we discover creeping black stains somewhere we often don’t think of mold. Moreover, because just 25% of us are genetically susceptible to mold allergies Read More

Join our Discount Program

Member benefits include 10% off all your purchases. Low, one-time membership fee of $25 ($35 for family).

MORE INFORMATION

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!