Do Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Drugs Lead to Cancer?

gastroesophageal reflux disease and cancer

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For those who have educated themselves, the big fear of uncontrolled gastrointestinal reflux disease is that it could turn into esophageal cancer.

Because of this fear, people accept the idea that using drugs that block stomach acid is the right thing to do.  After all, acid splashes up on the esophagus and damages the lining because it is not designed for that type of abuse.  The damaged lining of the esophagus tries to heal and, over time, these cells break down from the chronic damage and become precancerous.  This condition is referred to as Barrett’s esophagus and it is a strong risk factor for later development of esophageal cancer.

For many years now, mainstream medicine has approached this problem using drugs like Nexium and Prilosec with a tenacity of the papparazzi on Britney Spears.  But blocking stomach acid, an absolutely critical component of digestion, wreaks havoc on your body’s ability to live healthy.  Few drugs will create as many long-term problems as drugs to block stomach acid.  With the exception of maybe antibiotics, which can take years to recover from, if ever.

I have certainly covered the dangers of blocking stomach acid in previous articles that can be read by clicking here, so I won’t go over them again.  But let’s just sum it up by saying that it’s a baaaad idea.  Of course, if you have a perforated ulcer and you are bleeding internally, than this class of drugs will be a lifesaver.  But for the rest of you not lying in a hospital bed pasty white from anemia this is not a good idea.

So what does all this have to do with this particular article?  In it, researchers took an interesting look at the bacteria in the upper gastrointestinal tract and the risk of developing esophageal or stomach cancer.  More specifically, they looked at how much diversity there was in the bacteria found.  Keep in mind that higher diversity is usually a good thing and a sign of a healthier bacterial flora.  (Antibiotics decimate bacteria flora diversity, just so you know…)  The bacterial diversity was then compared to known markers that increase the risk of development of esophageal and gastric cancer (serum pepsinogen I/pepsinogen II ratio or PGI/II for gastric cancer risk and esophageal squamous dysplasia or ESD for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma).  Here’s what they found:

  • Lower microbial diversity (number of bacterial genera per sample) was led to higher risks for both gastric and esophageal cancer.

Before you can realize just how important this is, you need to know that the use of drugs that block the production of stomach acid interfere with the normal balance of bacteria in the gut.  When you block stomach acid, you’ve just destroyed your body’s ability to kill off certain bacteria that are NOT supposed to grow in the GI tract.  This leads to a condition known as small bowel bacterial overgrowth–bacteria growing where it is not supposed to be growing.

In general, any drug that is going to interfere with the normal function of the GI tract is going to upset the delicate balance of bacteria residing there.  This means that antibiotics and drugs that block acid production may very well contribute to the development of the very cancers that doctors are mistakenly using these classes of drugs to try to prevent.  Talk about a backwards system.

This also means that using heavy hitting probiotics (like VSL-3 high potency probiotics that I am a very big fan of for those patients who have really screwed up their systems with antibiotics) should be an important part of your cancer-prevention routine.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.