Are these popular drugs contributing to cancer?

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

March 29, 2021


If you think your family history of cancer is your biggest risk factor in getting this terrible disease, think again.

Only 30% of cancer cases are due to genetics. It’s the other 70% you should worry about. That’s because these are the result of lifestyle issues. And, believe it or not, that’s good news.

While you can’t control your genetics, you can control your lifestyle. And poor lifestyle choices have caused a rare cancer to become one of the fastest growing cancers in the U.S.

And the reason this cancer is growing so fast isn’t poor diet, pollution, or lack of exercise. It’s medications – some very popular medications.

In the last 30 years alone, the chance of getting this cancer has increased fivefold. According to Dr. Scott Swanson, chief of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, “There may be only 14,000 cases now, but if you keep up that rate of rise, it’s going to pass them all. If it continues, we’re going to be dealing with a real epidemic.”

But that’s not the worst of it. It looks like the cause of this form of cancer is a combination of extremely common symptoms, along with the drugs that are used to suppress the symptom.

The cancer I’m talking about is esophageal cancer.

The symptom that causes it is good old heartburn. The estimates are that 60 million people have heartburn occasionally. And over 15 million people have it on a regular basis.

And the drugs used to treat it are those that suppress stomach acid production. Common examples are Pepcid, Zantac, Tagamet, Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium. Prescriptions for these drugs and their cousins nearly doubled from 50 million in 1999 to more than 93 million in 2004!

Why are these drugs being used by more and more people? Because of bad lifestyle habits. The kinds of habits that are causing the dramatic increase in esophageal cancer.

No Need to Worry — It’s Preventable

Now I don’t want you to worry too much over this. If you have heartburn, even if you take medications for it, it is not automatic that you will get esophageal cancer. However, you will greatly increase your risk. It works like this.

About 12% of patients with persistent heartburn (called GERD) will develop a more severe form of the disease called Barrett’s esophagus. The problem here is that other than putting a tube with a camera down your throat (called gastroscopy, which costs about $1,000) there is no way to know who has Barrett’s and who has simple heartburn. And the distinction is important.

Once heartburn turns into Barrett’s, the risk for esophageal cancer increases by 40 times. That translates into one in every 20 patients with Barrett’s getting esophageal cancer. That’s a substantial risk for a very serious disease. So instead of worrying about getting esophageal cancer, why not just get rid of your heartburn/GERD? It’s easy. And if you are on heartburn medication, there’s an additional bonus. You can save that $2-$4 a day that you’re currently spending on medication, because you will no longer need it.

A Real Cure for Heartburn

Whenever I’m on the hunt for a real cure for any disease, the first thing I do is determine what caused the disease. The most common dietary causes of heartburn/GERD and Barrett’s are the excessive use of coffee, alcohol, aspirin and other painkillers (such as NSAIDs), and carbonated beverages (including soda water). The most common lifestyle causes are weight gain, eating too fast, eating less than three hours before sleep, and stress.

But that’s not all. There is one cause that almost every doctor misses — poor digestion.

The poor digestion comes in two flavors. One is an under production of stomach acid. The other is an under production of pancreatic enzymes. And the two are often tied together. Pancreas enzymes are secreted in response to stomach acid production. So when there’s an underproduction of stomach acid, there’s a decreased release of pancreatic digestive enzymes. They go hand in hand.

Stomach acid is important for digestion, but it also serves another critical purpose. It protects us from infections. Every time we eat something, there’s always some bacteria, fungi, yeast, and mold on the food. This is true no matter how sanitary the cooking methods are. There’s no need to get concerned about it, however, because God took care of all that when He made your body to produce plenty of stomach acid. When you eat these infectious organisms, it exposes them to stomach acid, where they are killed, and it protects you from infection.

That is, unless you don’t have sufficient stomach acid to do the job. In that case, you will develop infections in your stomach and upper digestive tract. And these infections are a major cause of heartburn/GERD. The most common infection is from a yeast organism called candida albicans. I’ll talk more about Candida in a little bit.

Hypochlorhydria — A Major Cause of Heartburn

The term that doctors typically use to describe an under production of stomach acid is hypochlorhydria.

Your doctor can diagnose hypochlorhydria using a very easy testing procedure called tubeless gastric analysis.

The test requires you to swallow a capsule, which contains circuitry that can measure the presence of stomach acid. The capsule also contains a small radio transmitter. So as it determines how much stomach acid is present, it transmits the information back to the receiver.

The capsule is eliminated from the body in a normal bowel movement. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t leave any chemicals in the body. And it doesn’t have any side effects.

So how does hypochlorhydria cause heartburn/GERD? In two ways. First, as I mentioned above, it allows the growth of bacteria, fungi, yeast, and mold in the stomach and the upper intestines.

The other way hypochlorhydria causes heartburn is by poor digestion. And an insufficient level of stomach acid can dramatically reduce your digestive capacity. You need stomach acid to start the digestive process and cause the release of pancreatic enzymes, which are so crucial for digestion. To the degree that the food you eat isn’t fully digested and absorbed into your system, it will just sit in your stomach and upper intestines and ferment.

But poor digestion is not enough to cause esophageal cancer all by itself. So what is the cause? The biggest reason why patients with heartburn/GERD get esophageal cancer is the drugs they use to treat the heartburn symptoms.

The Drugs Are the Problem

When most people have heartburn/GERD, the first thing they reach for is an antacid or a drug that decreases stomach acid production. But, as you’ve already seen, many cases of heartburn/GERD are not caused by too much stomach acid, but too little. So in that case, taking a drug that reduces stomach acid just makes the problem worse.

But I have told you only half the story so far. These drugs lead to an even worse scenario. One that is directly associated with esophageal cancer. They lead to bile reflux.

Bile reflux, particularly the reflux of unconjugated bile acids, is when bile acids, specifically what are known as unconjugated bile acids, reflux from the small intestine up into the esophagus. Bile reflux is now known to be one of the major causes of esophageal cancer.

And a study published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery explains how antacids cause bile reflux.

The doctors looked at 30 patients who had GERD. All of them had been taking the drug Prilosec for the symptoms. The researchers performed a gastroscopy on all of these patients.

Not surprisingly, they found that one-third of them had a dramatic increase in the presence of bacterial overgrowth. These bacteria acted to increase the amount of unconjugated bile acids in the stomach. And they increased it a lot — a full 1,200%!

Another study published several years ago also shows how bad this problem of bile reflux is. This one came out of the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds in Leeds, England. In this study, the researchers found that 48% of the patients studied who were taking drugs to reduce stomach acid had bile reflux!

This is a remarkable finding, and one that the drug reps are not going to tell their doctors. You are also not going to see this information on any of the thousands of TV commercials that appear every day encouraging you to take these drugs for your heartburn symptoms.

So the bad news is that taking drugs to reduce stomach acid production is one of the causes of esophageal cancer. And this helps to explain why the incidence of this terrible cancer is growing at such an alarming rate. But there is some good news to report.

In the same study, the researchers also looked at 10 patients who had been on Prilosec, but who had stopped it for only ten days. Happily enough, they found that the bile acid problem had disappeared in all but one of them. So, if you are taking these drugs, it’s good to know that once you stop them, you can normalize your bile reflux in a short period of time.

Other Drugs That Cause Heartburn/GERD

I mentioned them in the beginning of this article, but it is good to say it again. The class of drugs called NSAIDs is a known cause of heartburn. Many people use these anti-inflammatory drugs to treat various aches and pains, including arthritis. Examples are Advil, ibuprofen, Aleve, Mobic, Motrin, Naprosyn, and Celebrex.

Another class of medications that cause heartburn is the bisphosphonates. These are the drugs that are used as a treatment for osteoporosis. Common examples are Fosamax and Actonel.

The last group of drugs that can cause heartburn is antibiotics. Even just one course of antibiotics can result in an overgrowth of a yeast called candida albicans. Candida is a fermenting organism. It is by far the most common infection that causes heartburn and GERD. I’ve seen many cases of chronic heartburn that started after a course of antibiotics.

Curing Your Heartburn Naturally

To cure heartburn and avoid esophageal cancer, there are five things you have to do. This program is a total cure. It will completely eliminate heartburn/GERD:

(1) Eliminate candida. To do this you need to stop eating all carbohydrates for two weeks. This means limiting your diet to only vegetables that grow above ground, meats, and cheese. Nothing else!

After two weeks you can start eating carbohydrates again, but continue to avoid sugar and fruit for an additional four weeks.

At the same time, take an anti-yeast medication called nystatin. You have to get this by prescription from your doctor. Get one hundred 500,000 unit tablets, and take one tablet, four times a day until they are gone.

Also, take a strong probiotic twice a day. Take four capsules twice a day for six weeks. Also take the probiotic saccharomycin bullardi. You can get this online and at any health food store. Take 250 mg two times a day for six weeks. This simple program will completely eliminate candida from 98% of people.

(2) Eliminate all alcohol, coffee, tea, caffeine, NSAIDs, and carbonated drinks including carbonated water.

(3) Eat slowly, and avoid eating for three hours before you go to bed.

(4) Take the following supplements: 20 drops of cabbage juice extract; and one ounce of aloe juice four times a day. Also, take two pancreatic enzyme capsules before each meal.

(5) After one week, the heartburn symptoms will be so minor that it should be possible to stop the stomach acid medications. Two weeks later, stomach acid production will have returned to normal. At that point, ask your doctor to test for hypochlorhydria with tubeless gastric analysis. You can find a list of doctors who do this test at

If you have an insufficient amount of stomach acid, start taking one to two stomach acid tablets at the end of each meal. Don’t be surprised if the test says you need HCl. Most people will need it.


Sarela, A.I., D.G. Hick, et al. “Persistent Acid and Bile Reflux in Asymptomatic Patients With Barrett Esophagus Receiving Proton Pump Inhibitor Therapy.” Arch Surg., 2004;139:547-551.

Song, S., S. Guha, et al. “COX-2 induction by unconjugated bile acids involves reactive oxygen species-mediated signaling pathways in Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal adenocarcinoma.” Gut 2007;56:1512-1521.

Theisen, J., D. Nehra, et al. “Suppression of gastric acid secretion in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease results in gastric bacterial overgrowth and deconjugation of bile acids.” J Gastrointest Surg. 2000 January-February;4(1):50-4.

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