Did you know medications that lower stomach acidity are among the most common medications doctors recommend and prescribe? In fact, health care professionals write prescriptions for almost 115 million of these acid-suppressing medications every year. That’s a lot of scripts!
These days, you can even buy acid-lowering medications at the drugstore without a prescription. You’ve probably seen them in the antacid section of your local drugstore. If you suffer from acid reflux, frequent heartburn or indigestion, you may have tried one of these medications yourself.
Chances are you didn’t worry too much about taking an acid-reducing medication. After all, they’re freely available at the drugstore, so they must be safe, right?
Despite the fact you don’t need a visit to your doctor to get one, recent studies suggest these medications may NOT be safe to use long-term, especially a class of medications called proton-pump inhibitors or PPIs.
We’ll focus mainly on PPIs in this post since lots of people take them for heartburn, and Dr. A gets tons of questions about their safety. More power to you! It’s good to ask questions! We don’t think you should blindly take a medication just because your doctor prescribes or recommends it.
Before swallowing another acid-lowering medication, you should know why you’re taking it and whether there are natural alternatives or lifestyle changes you could try first. Knowledge is power and that’s what we want to arm you with.
First we’ll look at the two main classes of medications that lower stomach acidity, how they work, and why it may not be a good idea to take them long-term. Then we’ll look at alternatives to taking these drugs if you suffer from acid reflux, also known as GERD.
We’ll also touch on ways you can lower your risk for problems if your doctor wants you to stay on one of these medications.
Main Classes of Acid-Lowering Medications
In reality, there are more than two types of acid-lowering medications but we won’t discuss in any detail common antacids, like Tums, which neutralize stomach acid. We’ll, instead, focus on those that were once only available by prescription.
The medications we’re most concerned about are those that actually reduce how much acid your stomach makes.
What to Take for GERD and Why You Should Approach GERD Medications with Caution
Why would you want to reduce acid production by your stomach? There’s a very common condition called gastroesophageal reflux, also known GERD.
If you have GERD, it’s usually because the ring of muscle that separates your stomach and esophagus, called your lower esophageal sphincter, doesn’t shut properly or opens inappropriately, such as after a meal.
Normally, this ring opens up when you swallow to let food pass into your stomach. It then promptly shuts to keep the contents of your tummy from moving BACK into your esophagus. If you have GERD, the ring doesn’t close tightly enough or it relaxes when it shouldn’t. This allows acid to move backward into your esophagus.
When acid backtracks into your esophagus, you experience heartburn, an acid taste in your mouth, or nausea, usually after eating or when you lie down. Some people have “silent” reflux, where they have GERD but not the typical symptoms. Instead, they might atypical symptoms like hoarseness or a chronic cough.
Sometimes, but not always, GERD is associated with a hiatal hernia, a condition where your stomach pushes up through the opening in that separates your esophagus from your stomach called the diaphragm.
Hiatal hernias don’t always cause symptoms and not all GERD is associated with a hiatal hernia.
Now, let’s briefly look at the two types of medications that reduce stomach acidity: