Ongoing research into the effects of certain heartburn medications continues to reveal increased risks of kidney disease or failure. These findings center on proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, which are found in common medicines you may already have in your home like Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec. They are intended to treat gastric or digestive distress.
The New York Times wellness blog recently reported on a Journal of the American Medical Association Network study which details the drugs’ alleged link to serious kidney problems. Researchers followed more than 10,400 people for nearly 14 years and learned that those who used PPIs for an extended period of time could carry a 20% to 50% higher risk of chronic kidney disease. Those who use prescription strength PPI medications may also carry the same risk.
Proton pump inhibitors block the production of stomach acid and may cause kidney disease or failure for several reasons. It’s possible they could block the body from absorbing magnesium or “trigger an allergic reaction that causes swelling inside the kidney and prevents it from working normally,” according to Consumer Reports. It is also possible that they could block bones from absorbing calcium; as previous studies have linked PPIs to increased risk of bone fracture or osteoporosis.
Prolonged use of PPIs could have a number of additional negative consequences. Because they interfere with the production of stomach acid, it’s possible that they could make patients vulnerable to bacterial infections. PPIs also carry an increased risk of heart attack, dementia, and clostridium difficile – more commonly known as c. diff.
Doctor Morgan E. Grams, a kidney specialist at Johns Hopkins, acknowledges that causation has not yet been explicitly established between proton pump inhibitors and kidney disease and that, “like all medications, there are risks and benefits.” For example, no link was found between alternative medications that use H2 receptor antagonists instead of PPIs and any increased risk of kidney disease.
Approximately 15 million prescriptions for proton pump inhibitors were written for Americans as recently as 2013; the latest year we have viable statistics for. While the drugs do help regulate heartburn, it is also possible that they carry enough risk for consumers to examine alternative options.
It may also be worth noting that, in many cases, a modification in diet can treat many digestive ailments. Talk with your doctor to learn about foods that can lower your risk of developing gastric distress and additional gastrointestinal issues. Treating these ailments with common medicines that use PPIs could lead to life-altering conditions. It may just be simpler to forgo that extra slice of pizza.