Volume 2, Issue 31
July 30, 2009

Why heartburn sufferers are at serious risk for pneumonia and other infections

You can't watch TV very long these days without seeing ads for heartburn medications. Apparently, heartburn (or GERD — gastro-esophageal reflux disease) has turned into a national crisis. Due to bad eating habits, stress, medications, and too much coffee, GERD is rampant.

But not to worry, your pharmaceutical industry has been busy at work for you, creating bigger and better medications for your every need. They call these things H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors. Examples are Nexium, Prilosec, and Zantec. What these drugs do is shut off your body's natural production of stomach acid. And, more and more studies are showing that these drugs do something far worse — they make you sick.

The most recent study underlines the extent of the problem. Even though this study focused on children, the implications are valid for you too.

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The researchers looked at 186 healthy children. Their doctors diagnosed half of these kids with GERD, and started them on one of the above drugs. The health of the two groups of children was then compared for the next four months. What happened?

The drugs caused pneumonia. Believe it or not, this was expected. Other studies have shown how these drugs cause pneumonia in adults. So it's no surprise that they did the same thing in kids. But that's not all the researchers found.

They also found that these drugs caused stomach and intestinal disease. The researchers concluded that suppressing the body's natural production of stomach acid was "a major risk factor for infections" — lung, stomach, and intestinal infections. Apparently, stomach acid actually has a purpose beyond digesting food. It protects you from infections.

The authors note that these antacid drugs cause infections in three ways. First, they directly inhibit the function of critical immune cells called leukocytes. These are the cells that gobble up and rid your body of infecting bacteria. Secondly, they change the natural balance of bacteria in the intestines. It's a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria that's critical for maintaining a strong immune system. Lastly, when the natural balance of bacteria is altered, pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria overgrow and take over. This makes infections much more likely.

The real irony in this is that the majority of the children who develop GERD already have an insufficiency of stomach acid, and an imbalance of bacteria. That's why they have the reflux in the first place.

The treatment that really works simply corrects the bacterial imbalance with probiotics like acidophilus, and improves stomach acid function with digestive enzymes, such as those sold by Advanced Bionutritionals' Integrative Digestive Formula. I've been using this strategy to treat GERD for years. It almost never fails, and it never causes lung and intestinal infections. Oh yes, and by the way, it is much cheaper than the drugs.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

REF: Canani RB, Cirillo P, Roggero P, , et al. Therapy with gastric acidity inhibitors increases the risk of acute gastroenteritis and community-acquired pneumonia in children. Pediatrics. 2006 May;117(5):e817-20

Copyright 2009 Soundview Publishing, LLC

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