You probably know by now that the more widely prescribed a drug is, the more skeptical I am about whether it's such a good idea. One member of the top 10 most prescribed drug classes in particular has done nothing to change my mind. It comes with a number of side effects and risk factors, and researchers have recently identified a new one: kidney disease.
This overprescribed and dangerous drug is the proton pump inhibitor (PPI). Doctors prescribe PPIs to treat heartburn and acid reflux. The problem is, they don't actually solve the issue – they just cover up symptoms. And they can leave a lot of other issues in their wake. According to research recently presented at the American Society of Nephrology's Kidney Week conference, one of those issues is an increased risk of kidney disease.
Over the past several years, more and more people have been developing chronic kidney disease (CKD). While a number of other increasingly prevalent health issues, such as diabetes and hypertension, can contribute to CKD, researchers wondered if the increase in usage of PPIs could be playing a role as well. Two different teams set out to investigate whether there was a connection.
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One team of researchers, from John Hopkins University, tracked over 10,000 adults from 1996 to 2011. At the outset of the study, all of the participants had normal kidney function. The researchers found that those who used PPIs were 20-50% more likely to develop CKD than those who didn't use the drugs, even when the researchers accounted for baseline differences between the two groups.
Another study conducted by a team at SUNY, Buffalo, reviewed the data of 24,149 patients who developed CKD over the course of eight years. They found that slightly over a quarter (25.7%) had used PPIs. In fact, they found that using PPIs increased CKD risk by 10%. Even more startling is that the drugs increased the risk of premature death by 76%!
Those are scary numbers. SUNY researcher Dr. Pradeep Arora noted, "As a large number of patients are being treated with PPIs, health care providers need to be better educated about the potential side effects of these drugs, such as CKD. PPIs are often prescribed outside of their approved uses, and it has been estimated that up to two-thirds of all people on PPIs do not have a verified indication for the drug."
I certainly don't want you to suffer from heartburn or acid reflux. But I don't want you to get kidney disease (or increase your risk of premature death by 76%) either. If you're experiencing heartburn or acid reflux, try just doing this for 3 weeks: Take melatonin (3-20 mg daily) and a good probiotic along with the PPI. At the same time stop all coffee, tea, NSAID medications, alcohol, sugar, fruit, and carbonated beverages. Then after three weeks, phase off the PPI. There is a good likelihood that the reflux will be controlled without the drug. This is safe, natural, and effective — and it won't hurt your kidneys.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD