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Heartburn Meds Now — Alzheimer’s Later?

Virginia Eaton Feb 19 SNOL Heart BurnBy Virginia Eaton —

When you’re in the middle of a severe heartburn or acid reflux attack, you would sell your mother for some relief! Many people turn to over-the-counter heartburn medication, often with great success. Unfortunately, some startling research recently released suggests that the danger of sustained use of some heartburn drugs — such as Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium (also known as proton pump inhibitors or PPIs) — is increasing the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

If you’ve never experienced a family member or loved one having Alzheimer’s disease, count yourself very lucky. It is a disease that robs people of their lives; not just the one who suffers from Alzheimer’s but every family member who must watch that decline into oblivion suffers a deep loss as well. There are few things more painful than looking into your parent or spouses’ eyes and having them not know who you are. So how does seemingly simple heartburn connect to memory loss? The answer possible relates to basic nutrition.

Heartburn and acid reflux occur when the acid in the stomach flows back up your esophagus, causing that characteristic burning and bile taste after eating certain foods, or too much of any food. The way some medications control heartburn is by decreasing the amount of stomach acid the body produces, which sounds like a good thing. However, there are some downsides to decreasing your stomach acid.

Virginia Eaton Feb 19 SNOL Junk Food (Raggio's Pantry) (2)The most pressing problem is that less stomach acid means that your food isn’t broken down well, making it difficult for your body to extract all the nutrients that it would otherwise. Your body is not absorbing some of the vitamins and minerals that you think you’re getting from your food. Rather, those precious nutrients are moving straight through you when you use the bathroom. Doctors and researchers have known this for some time, but haven’t been concerned about the risks of interfering with vitamin and mineral absorption — until now.

This most recent study on PPI’s looked at a tremendous amount of data from the largest German health insurer, and included both inpatient and outpatient information. The results clearly point a finger at PPIs being linked to Alzheimer’s disease. While researchers aren’t ready to name a cause, they suspect that the decrease in nutrients that occurs while taking these medications, at least partially explains the increased frequency of Alzheimer’s disease.

Virginia Eaton Feb 19 SNOL HeartBurn DementiaFrom a scientific perspective, the next step is to conduct clinical trials to better determine a cause and effect relationship, at which point the medical community may be less cavalier about how they talk to patients about heartburn medication. As an empowered individual, you may want to reconsider your choice to take these kinds of remedies, since most heartburn and acid reflux is controllable using diet and lifestyle changes. In other words, you have the power to heal and repair your body by choosing to eat differently and perhaps give up a bad habit or two. As always, check with your doctor before going off medication that has been prescribed. To take control of your heartburn or acid reflux be on the lookout for these likely offenders:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Chocolate
  • Soda
  • Fried foods
  • Alcohol
  • High fat foods like cheese, ice cream, etc.
  • Caffeine

Virginia Eaton Feb 19 SNOL HeartBurn cigarette-424540Once you’ve decided that risking dementia for a quick heartburn fix is not the way you want to go, be aware that getting off the meds can come with some physical discomfort — not unlike giving up caffeine. Your body has come to count on the regular dampening effect of the PPI medications and may over-produce stomach acid once the drugs are withdrawn. Isn’t that a nice way for the drug companies to make sure they hang on to customers? Also helpful in the prevention of heartburn are fashion tips, such as wearing comfortable rather than tight fitting clothing when you eat. It’s also advised that you avoid laying down right after a meal or snack. In addition, you can try these natural remedies to help manage and even prevent that dreaded burning in your chest after over-indulging:

  • A teaspoon of baking soda in 8-12 ounces of water
  • Ginger or chamomile tea
  • Chewing sugar-free gum
  • Fennel seeds

Virginia Eaton Feb 19 SNOL peppermint-1036050Maintaining a healthy weight also helps to keep the heartburn under control. Smoking combined with alcohol is a double whammy that increases your likelihood of ruining a good meal with a miserable bout of heartburn afterward. Slow down when you eat, chew your food well and, hopefully, you won’t need any remedies.

The news in the recently released study means those content to pop a pill in order to eat one more slice of pizza, or have one more beer, may want to rethink that strategy. Why risk the nightmare of Altzheimer’s later on, in order to maintain a few bad habits now?’

Read more of Virginia Eaton’s blog posts here.

Virginia Eaton is a health coach and owner of Class: The Body Pastiche


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