Whenever I watch television, I am always struck by the number of commercials for prescription medications. This is a particular pet peeve of mine, as I really think these types of commercials should be completely banned. For one thing, the amount of money spent on advertising, drives the cost of these medications up to insanely high levels, and for another, it creates a situation where instead of people coming to their doctors for a diagnosis/cure, they come in asking for a specific prescription medication, which may or may not even be the best option for them. I have even had patients (thankfully rare) that get upset when I won’t prescribe the medication they saw on television.
Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely in favor of people being well informed about their healthcare. One of the blessings of the internet (and I suppose one of the curses for some people) is that it allows everyone access to look up their symptoms and try to figure out what might be wrong with them. However the commercial promotion of the quick fix pill (that often comes with horrible side effects) drives me absolutely nuts.
Take for example the commercial I saw last night that set off this particular rant. It was a commercial for an “acid blocker” that prevents heartburn, and it was being promoted by a well known comedian. Of the medication commercials that drive me nuts, these are at or near the top of my list. In all but a very few instances, I am not a fan of “acid blocking” medications and here are a few reasons why:
- Long term use puts you at increased risk for hip and other bone fractures. Why? Probably because Calcium and other minerals needed for bone production require acid in the digestive system, to be properly absorbed.
- The acid level in your stomach is what stimulates the release of digestive enzymes and bile further down in the digestive system – all of which help you break down your food. If your food is not being broken down properly, you can’t extract all the nutrients from it and you’re also going to be at increased risk of developing food sensitivities, which in turn will likely cause more heartburn (as well as a ton of other health problems).
- Stomach acid is part of our body’s natural defense against germs, parasites and other infectious agents we might accidentally ingest with our food.
- Use of these medications does not address the cause of the heartburn. I am all for having the occasional junk food binge, but the commercials for these medications often seem to promote regular over-indulgence as a lifestyle. I would far rather find out why people are getting heartburn in the first place and fix that, than put a band-aid on it and encourage them to continue living unhealthy lifestyles.
- Our level of acid production can decline for various reasons, including age, which makes foods harder to digest and through the chain of events, creates more sensitivities to foods. One of the ways these sensitivities can present, is with heartburn. These are the cases you hear about where people with heartburn get relief from taking acid supplementation, something that on first hearing, sounds pretty crazy. For these folks, taking antacids is going to make the problem worse rather than better.
If you’re currently taking “acid blockers” or any other antacid type medications (over the counter or prescription) and have been taking them for some time, I definitely do not recommend suddenly going off of them. Sudden discontinuation of these medications can cause severe rebound heartburn. Rather, I would suggest addressing the reasons you’re getting the heartburn in the first place, healing the gut, and then talking to your doc about tapering off of the medication. Chronic acid reflux (heartburn) is also not something you want to ignore. Long term acid washing up from the stomach into your esophagus can cause a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus, which can over years, predispose you to developing esophageal cancer. So if you’re not going to fix the cause of the heartburn, then these medications are (in my opinion) definitely the lesser of two evils.
Better than having to decide between two unpleasant situations though, is to address the underlying cause and heal the gut. Not only will you get relief from your chronic heartburn, but you are also likely to find that a whole host of other, seemingly unrelated, health issues improve. Going back to one of the first blogs I wrote on here, what happens in the digestive system affects the health of your entire body in ways far beyond just nutritional intake.