March 7

Did Your OTC Heartburn Meds Just Open The Door For A Gut Infection?

If you’ve been picking up over the counter reflux medications to fight heartburn, you may want to rethink your approach.

Reflux medications are commonly used today as many are now available over the counter and do not have to be monitored by a healthcare professional. That being said, prolonged use may turn out to be detrimental to other areas of your health if they are taken unnecessarily. Most recently, it has been suggested that you may be putting yourself at greater risk for a gut infection as a study found this was the case for people taking reflux drugs such as Nexium and Prilosec.

Out of a study of the medical records of almost 565,000 adults, researchers found that greater than 188,000 had been given at least one prescription for either a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) or H2 receptor antagonist (H2 blocker). Specifically for this group, it was found that they were four times more likely to develop a Campylobacter infection and 70% more likely to develop one from C. difficile. These types of infections typically result in diarrhea and abdominal pain but can elevate to more serious symptoms. Not a pleasant trade-off for trying to get rid of a case of heartburn!

The study itself, which was found in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, does not imply that the medications themselves were the direct cause of the infections, but some of the effects of the drugs may be a contributing factor to making the body more susceptible to them. Since they all are aimed at reducing stomach acid
production, this may change the internal environment to one that is more favorable to allowing unwanted harmful bacteria to thrive. There have already been warnings issued about increased infection risk of C. diff with PPI’s, and now here is another that should give you pause before using them as your first method of treatment.

Other factors will always play a part in the risk of infections. Prolonged or frequent sickness will tax the immune system and make one more susceptible, as will being on a prolonged course of antibiotics (or frequent use). Improperly cooked food can also be a cause, especially for Campylobacter.


Therefore, your best defense is first and foremost maintaining a healthy diet. If you don’t give the bad bugs fuel to feed from (think sugars, processed foods, etc.), they are less likely to thrive. A diet primed with nutrient dense foods like vegetables and fruits, plenty of water and supplemented with good bacteria from probiotics will generally help maintain a healthy environment from the start. And if that’s the case, reflux shouldn’t be an issue and your risk of the infections would be even lower since the meds wouldn’t even be part of the picture!


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