Before we even start, I just need to go on record saying that I think that giving drugs that block stomach acid production is a very bad idea in adults. In children, it borders on a travesty.
I think most of us, regardless of medical background, could easily agree that digestion is very important to long-term health. And digestion centers around our body’s ability to make stomach acid. Without stomach acid the entire process begins to unravel, opening up a Pandora’s box of epic proportions.
I further stand on the belief that ANY provider writing a prescription for a drug that blocks the production of stomach acid should be able to look you in the eye and give you at least 10 very important physiological processes that will be negatively impacted by this drug. If they cannot do this, they have no business interfering with aspects of the body that they don’t fully understand.
This may be a strong statement, but it boils back down to just how massively important digestion is for long-term health.
Consistent with prior blog posts on this topic (which can be read by clicking here) I do have to note that this class of drugs for someone with a bleeding ulcer can be life-saving. But every bit of paperwork that comes with this class of drugs makes it clear that it is for short-term use (usually 3 months or less). Despite this, I frequently see patients who have been on them for YEARS (for those of you not good with math, years > months….).
This particular study looks at just one of the serious side effects of ranitidine and other acid-blocking drugs when used in children (although studies have shown the same concerns with adults). Here’s what they found:
- 46% of kids taking acid-suppression medication had bacterial growing his or her stomach (compared with 18% of the controls). This is a 255% increase in bacteria present in the stomach of kids on these drugs.
On the surface, this sounds really bad.
Bacteria growing in the stomach where it is not supposed to grow. (Also seems ironic in light of the use of acid-blocking drugs for H. pylori infections in the stomach) But the news gets far worse. Researchers looked at what types of bacteria were growing in the stomach and here’s what they discovered:
- Staphylococcus 1,275% more likely to be present.
- Streptococcus 691% more likely.
- Veillonella 956% higher risk.
- Dermabacter 478% higher risk.
- Rothia 638%.
- To top it all off, the number of bacterium found were higher in treated patients.
- For those kids who had proximal nonacid reflux, there were higher concentrations of certain bacteria in his or her lungs.
While they did not find a difference in the bacteria or number of bacteria in the lungs of those on acid-blocking medications who did not have proximal nonacid reflux, it does raise some serious concerns about having bacteria known to cause respiratory infections growing in the stomach. The esophagus is just way too close to the trachea for comfort.
The take home message is that using acid-blocking drugs carries significant risk to long-term health. While it may or may not contribute to upper respiratory infections (and there is good evidence that it does) the long list of additional side effects remains scary. There are many ways to help manage your symptoms, from DGL (a special form of licorice that does not affect blood pressure), vitamin U (a compound that is present in cabbage and can be very good for the mucosa of the gut), dietary changes and stress management. While some of these may require considerable upheaval of where you are at health-wise, it’s certainly much safer in the long run.