Got heartburn? GERD? Listen up! This isn’t new news, but it’s news I think everyone should know: Using proton pump inhibitors (commonly known as PPIs) for extended periods of time could make you more likely to suffer osteoporosis-related bone fractures.

Why do I think this is so important? Because folks, PPIs are the third-highest-selling class of drugs on the market today, and one of the most popular PPIs—Nexium® (you know, the little purple pill)—has the second-highest retail sales among all drugs sold in the U.S. That means there’s a good chance that you or someone you know is taking one. So let’s review:

What is a PPI? A PPI is a drug that blocks the production of the enzyme in the stomach that produces acid. PPIs are commonly prescribed for the following conditions:

  • Ulcers
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, or acid reflux)
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (a rare disease that results in the overproduction of gastrin, which releases excess stomach acid)

Do PPIs work? Yes, on the surface they work remarkably well. They reduce stomach acid, which reduces pain almost instantly, but—and I can’t stress this enough—covering up the symptoms does not solve the underlying problem. And even though it’s recommended that PPIs aren’t used for more than 8 to 12 weeks at a time, a lot of people are taking them for much longer, probably because they’re so readily available!

What worries me is that people just don’t know enough about the side effects and complications of using PPIs longer than they should, but there are so many—which brings me back to my point. Research shows that long-term PPI use is linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis-related bone fractures, especially hip, wrist and spine fractures.   

What’s the connection? Simple: Hypochlorhydria (which is just a fancy term for low stomach acid) can decrease calcium absorption, and PPIs create hypochlorhydria in the stomach. This results in reduced calcium absorption, and if the body doesn’t get enough calcium from the diet, where does it take it from? Your bones!

It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s one that can be avoided by taking steps to establish a strong foundation of digestive health. These include eating a high-fiber diet and avoiding heavily processed, high-sugar and high-fat foods, as well as taking daily enzymes, probiotics and beneficial Omega-3 oils. I’ll cover more on the dangers of PPI use in future blogs, so stay tuned. But remember—there are safe and effective natural alternatives to using PPIs, and all it takes is a quick trip to the health food store!