Last year saw a dramatic increase in the attention being paid to injuries sustained by patients taking a class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors. While the term may not be familiar, you almost certainly know them by name. In fact, they’re likely sitting in your medicine cabinet as you read this.
Prilosec. Nexium. Prevacid. The ads for these drugs make it seem as though taking a pill for heartburn or other digestive distresses is as commonplace as drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Celebrities smile as they tell you that they have the same problems and they found respite – and so can you.
The ads work. Lending as much authority to the power of advertising as to the lack of quality in the average American’s diet, PPIs are among the most prescribed medications in the country. And, in some cases, you don’t even need a prescription.
What these celebrities aren’t telling you as they shill for these medications is that long-term use of these powerful drugs could also be doing serious damage to vital systems in your body. You’ll never see Larry the Cable Guy stand in front of a camera in his camouflaged hat and flannel and tell you that Prilosec OTC can put you at an increased risk of heart attack (to say nothing of the likely meal that brought on the indigestion in the first place), dementia, and bone fractures.
However, further research has also linked the drugs to an increased risk of kidney disease. These are serious risks for drugs advertised as being for the relief of “frequent heartburn.” Two studies released in 2016 showed that patients taking PPIs to control heartburn were demonstrably more likely to suffer from kidney failure and disease than those taking a different class of drugs to control their symptoms.
Researchers and academics were quick to point out that the studies did not necessarily show causation; which is to say that they don’t inherently show that one thing absolutely causes the other. But the data was strong enough to show that further studies should continue.
And continue they have. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Journal of Internal Medicine shows that the use of PPIs was “independently associated with a 20 percent to 50 percent higher risk of chronic kidney disease.” According to the New York Times’ wellness blog, the study followed 10,482 patients for nearly 14 years. The results of the study were then validated against a quarter of a million other patients being cared for out of a separate health care system.
The study’s author, Dr. Morgan E. Grams, again points out that the study does not completely prove that PPIs cause kidney disease. However, the Johns Hopkins kidney specialist urges caution and says that “like all medications, there are risks and benefits. One approach for patients who require a long course of PPIs would be to routinely monitor their kidney function.”
One has to wonder if a change in diet might not be a simpler, safer, and more beneficial solution for many who think that heartburn is somehow normal and routine.