It’s a subject you’ve heard me talk about before, but considering new research it’s definitely worth repeating. A recent CBS news segment revealed that not one but five new studies showed that using acid-blocking drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can be potentially dangerous to your health, and that “more than half of prescriptions for these drugs are unnecessary”. Folks, this is an eye-opener if there ever was one!

Every year more than 100 million Americans are prescribed PPIs to help relieve symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux, but what many people don’t know is that these drugs often come with some pretty serious side effects—including a nearly 75 percent greater risk of developing a severe intestinal infection known as C. diff, according to new evidence. Essentially, taking PPIs upsets the healthy bacterial balance in your intestines (which is where the majority of your natural immune defenses can be found), leaving your body vulnerable to illness and infection.

Widespread PPI use has also been linked to higher rates of pneumonia, as well as esophageal candidiasis (yeast overgrowth), inflammation of the stomach lining, increased permeability of upper GI tract lining, and even osteoporosis-related bone fractures due to the fact that PPIs block calcium absorption in the body. Because long-term PPI use also leads to hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid secretion), bacterial overgrowth and acetaldehyde production, PPI users have an increased risk of developing gastric cancer. 

The good news? There are simple things we can do every day to help prevent heartburn and acid reflux without relying on harmful drugs. Diet changes like limiting our intake of caffeine, alcohol, chocolate and fatty or spicy foods can make a big difference, along with maintaining a healthy body weight, getting plenty of exercise and quitting smoking—all pretty good advice if you ask me! Natural supplements made with ingredients such as ellagic acid (from raspberries and pomegranates) can also provide soothing relief for occasional heartburn, and digestive enzymes with added HCl can help ensure complete digestion and reduce the chances of heartburn and acid reflux happening in the first place.

The bottom line is this: why take a potentially dangerous drug when smarter, safer alternatives exist? My hope is that the more people learn about PPIs and their side effects—including why they may not even need them in the first place—the more people will take steps to improve their digestive health naturally.