In the year 2013 alone, more than 15 million people were prescribed proton pump inhibitor drugs, such as Prilosec and Nexium, as remedies for acid reflux. And with proton pump inhibitors – or PPIs – also easily available over the counter, the actual amount of people taking them is clearly even higher. (So, what’s the problem?) Now, research is revealing a disturbing link between PPIs and increased rates of chronic kidney disease. To find out what you can do to protect yourself – let’s take a closer look with a focus on safer solutions.
Research reveals disproportionate rates of kidney disease in older Americans
Not only do 13.4 percent of American adults currently suffer from kidney disease, but researchers have noticed that the incidence of the condition is increasing dramatically in those 60 years and older. And these elevated rates are not just due to an aging population. Researchers have noted a troubling pattern: between 1994 and 2008 – years in which the use of PPIs was embraced by millions – the incidence of kidney disease in people over 60 spiked by 38 percent.
Although heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and genetics are common culprits in kidney disease, there is evidence linking PPIs to this recent rise of chronic kidney disease and kidney failure in older individuals. In a 6-year study conducted by the prestigious Johns Hopkins University and involving 10,482 subjects with an average age of 63 years, people who used proton pump inhibiting drugs to treat heartburn and indigestion increased their risk of developing kidney disease by 20 to 50 percent. In addition, a 2013 study showed that patients with acute kidney failure were more than twice as likely to be taking a proton pump inhibitor. The good news: once the drugs are stopped, recovery can follow within several months – a testament to the body’s amazing ability to heal itself. And, scientists have found that even the act of reducing dosing frequency – for example, from twice daily to once daily – can have beneficial effects. Naturally, you should talk to your doctor before adjusting your dosages of any prescribed medication.
Acid reflux – and the use of PPIs – has grown at an alarming rate
More than 40 percent of American adults suffer from heartburn-causing acid reflux, with millions relying daily on medications such as Nexium (esomeprazole), Prilosec (omeprazole) and Prevacid (iansoprazole) to relieve the discomfort. These proton pump inhibitors work by blocking the production of stomach acid. Unfortunately, scientists report that excess stomach acid is not the cause of acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Instead, GERD is caused by a “mechanical” problem – the failure of the sphincter valve between the stomach and esophagus to close properly. This failure causes the stomach contents, which include enzymes, acids, bile, and undigested food, to rise back up into the esophagus, causing pain and damage.
PPIs present a real and present danger to the body
Long-term use of PPIs, and the chronic depletion of stomach acid they cause, can create absorption problems with key minerals and vitamins such as magnesium, calcium, iron, and B-12. Unsurprisingly, the inability to absorb these essential nutrients is reflected by increased rates of bone fractures and osteoporosis among proton pump inhibitor users. Individuals taking PPIs also suffer from increased rates of heart attack, pneumonia and stroke, as well as higher levels of homocysteine and C-reactive protein and reduced levels of beneficial nitric oxide. PPIs can also weaken the ability of the mucosal lining of the stomach to act as a barrier against infection. Finally, the medications can cause interstitial nephritis – a condition in which spaces between kidney tubules become swollen and impair the kidneys’ ability to filter toxins from the blood.
A safer option: Relieve GERD naturally
Fortunately, simple lifestyle changes can ease and even reverse GERD – and, with it, the need for proton pump inhibitors. Losing weight, cutting down or stopping the use of common irritants such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, eating smaller meals, avoiding eating late in the evening, and elevating the head of the bed are common-sense – and fairly effective – methods you can try. A cutting-edge, drug-free natural treatment for GERD and heartburn involves taking calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate and licorice extract together. Natural health experts say that this combination helps to facilitate the closure of the esophageal sphincter valve and neutralize acid in the esophagus – while still leaving stomach acidity undisturbed. In a recent placebo-controlled study published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine and involving 50 patients with dyspepsia, a licorice extract produced impressive results. Participants who were given the extract cut their symptoms effectively in half compared to the control group.
You can also support general kidney health and prevent damage with common herbs and nutrients.
Cranberry juice and cranberry extracts can help eliminate bacteria in the kidneys, while both lemon juice and beetroot help to raise the acidity level of urine to help clear out accumulated toxins. Dark cherries, blackberries and blueberries are all high in beneficial flavonoids called anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory and detoxifying effects that can benefit the kidneys. And, finally, parsley, celery and dandelion root are time-honored remedies for supporting kidney health and function.
A final thought about testing …
If you are a long-term user of proton pump inhibitors, it would be wise to ask your doctor for a simple cystatin-C blood test, which can reliably indicate the presence or absence of kidney disease. Your kidneys not only perform the indispensable task of filtering waste and toxins from the blood – they also secrete hormones to make red blood cells, maintain electrolyte levels and help to regulate blood pressure. The rising incidence of kidney disease, and the associated health consequences, point to the importance of keeping these essential organs in optimal working condition.
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