Acid reflux affects most people at one time or another. Rethink Health reports that 60 million adults in the U.S. experience it at least once a month, while 25 million suffer with it on a daily basis. A study published in the journal Gastroenterology back in 2009, found that acid reflux is the single most common gastrointestinal reason for visiting the GP outside of the hospital, with 9 million such visits taking place in that year alone. For many, the solution seems simple: Just use an over-the-counter medication to deal with the acid and resolve the problem. What most people don’t realize is that though they may no longer feel the symptoms after taking an OTC medication, the problem is still there, and left untreated, can lead to a serious condition called Barrett’s Esophagus, in which all that stomach acid eventually damages the lining of the esophagus. In turn, this condition can eventually result in esophageal cancer.
As reported by The Baltimore Sun, a group called the Esophageal Cancer Action Network (ECAN), which is based in Baltimore, is calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to add warning labels to OTC medications like Nexium, Prilosec, Omeprazole, Prevacid, Dexilant, Aciphex and Protonix. The group wants people to be made fully aware that using such medications, while providing relief from the symptoms of acid reflux, does not reduce the cancer risk, and that people with a persistent problem need to visit the doctor.
Michelle Meixell, a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which developed both Nexium and Prilosec, issued the following emailed statement when approached for comment:
“AstraZeneca is confident in the safety and efficacy of Nexium when used in accordance with the FDA approved label, which has been established through numerous clinical trials.”
Many would say that her statement managed to avoid addressing the issue entirely, which is fairly typical of Big Pharma. Other pharmaceutical companies and their representative agencies did not even respond to the Sun’s requests for comments.
It is important to note that in addition to masking the symptoms of acid reflux, thereby making people complacent about the risk of esophageal cancer, these medications also carry many other side effects, including:
- Antacids like Alka-Seltzer, Tums and Pepto-Bismol can cause diarrhea and constipation;
- H2 blockers, including Tagamet HB, Calmicid, Fluxid, Pepcid AC and others, can cause headaches, diarrhea, constipation, nausea and vomiting;
- Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) like Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid have been known to cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and headaches. Other less common but more dangerous side effects include increased risk of bone fracture and pneumonia.
It is also worth noting that none of these medications are meant to be used for an extended period of time, anyway.
While surgical intervention may be required to address the problem of persistent acid reflux, for many people, simple lifestyle changes can dramatically reduce or even eliminate it altogether.
- Lose weight and then stay within your recommended weight range;
- Stop smoking immediately, or as a preventative measure, make sure you never start;
- Reduce your intake of fried and fatty foods;
- Avoid spicy or highly acidic foods;
- Eat less milk and dairy, and ensure that what you do consume is from grass-fed animals that have not been given routine antibiotics or hormones;
- Eliminate processed baked goods which are often high in refined sugar and bad fats, and are generally made from refined white flour; and
- Limit your intake of coffee and alcohol, both of which create acid.
Some natural supplements can also increase your body’s ability to cope with and reduce acid reflux naturally, including digestive enzymes and probiotics. There are also several natural remedies for acid reflux that really work, including a tablespoon of organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar; tea made from fresh ginger; a tablespoon of baking soda diluted in half a cup of water; and unprocessed aloe vera juice. More suggestions can be found here.