No one likes having a stomach ache or acid reflux. And when we experience these problems regularly, it's easy to just pop a pill to try to find relief. Unfortunately, going about treating these issues the wrong way can cause far more stomach problems in the future than you anticipated.
One of the most common treatments of acid reflux is proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). I've written before about why I don't like these drugs. Now, I have another reason to add to my list. According to research published in Gut, using PPIs for a prolonged period of time can more than double your risk of stomach cancer, the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide.
Interestingly, the bacteria Helicobacter pylori plays a significant role in the development of stomach cancer. And PPIs actually help kill off H. pylori. So you would think that PPIs would help lower your stomach cancer risk. Turns out, the opposite is true - particularly if you keep using PPIs for a long time after you get rid of the H. pylori.
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Researchers enrolled over 63,000 adults in a study to try to get to the root of this. First, they killed off the H. pylori in their stomachs with a combination of a PPI and two antibiotics. This took seven days. Then the participants received either PPIs or a different drug, called H2 blockers, to treat their acid reflux. The researchers then followed the participants until they developed stomach cancer or died or the study period ended. On average, they followed the participants for 7.5 years.
In all, 153 of the participants developed stomach cancer, within five years on average. While none tested positive for H. pylori, they all had inflammation of the stomach lining and had suffered with it for quite some time. The researchers found that taking the PPIs doubled the participants' risk of developing stomach cancer. But there was no association with the H2 blockers. Plus, the longer the participants used the PPIs, the more their risk increased: five-fold after a year, six-fold after two years, and eight-fold after three years.
I know that acid reflux can be painful and frustrating. But stomach cancer is too - and then some. Fortunately, there are safer ways to treat reflux. If you're already on a PPI, you need to keep taking it so that you can phase it out slowly. For three weeks, take your PPI along with 3-20 mg of melatonin before bed and a good probiotic. You also need to eliminate coffee, tea, NSAID medications, alcohol, sugar, fruit, and carbonated beverages. Then start phasing out the PPI. You should find that your stomach acid, your reflux, and your stomach cancer risk stay under control.
If you find out that even these measures won't completely take care of your reflux problems, then try taking an H2 blocker (Zantac, Tagament, cimetidine, rantidine) instead of a PPI. The H2 blockers are much safer.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD