More than 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month, and many of them search for relief in their medicine cabinets. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), better known by brand names like Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec, are the strongest type of drug available for treating symptoms of acid reflux, and they are also the most common. Despite their effectiveness in treating reflux, long-term use of PPIs can have some pretty hefty consequences, like osteoporosis and bone fractures.
PPIs reduce the symptoms of acid reflux by preventing the production of stomach acid. This can cause the body to have trouble absorbing vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium and calcium, which are necessary for healthy bones. People who take PPIs twice a day for more than a year have an increased risk of bone fractures. Most often, these fractures occur in the tip of the thigh bone or wrist (Source: CBS Boston).
There is currently no study that directly links PPI usage to bone loss, but growing evidence has caused many doctors to express concern over long-term usage. Patients dealing with chronic heartburn can often reduce their symptoms naturally – therefore limiting their dependence on medication – by making a few basic lifestyle changes. These include:
- Avoiding heartburn triggers, such as chocolate, peppermint, tomatoes, onions and spicy foods
- Losing excess weight
- Giving up smoking
- Avoiding alcohol
- Not eating before bedtime
- Eating slowly and practicing portion control
PPIs can be helpful as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for acid reflux, but long-term use can be risky. If you use PPIs to control your heartburn symptoms, be sure to maintain regular visits with your healthcare provider. Your doctor may want to consider alternate treatments, such as surgery or H2 blockers, or recommend calcium and magnesium supplements to prevent bone loss.