About 15 million Americans take heartburn and ulcer medications known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). The drugs work by suppressing the acids in your stomach, which may help relieve heartburn symptoms but also has some unintended consequences.
Among them, stomach acid helps your body to absorb valuable vitamin B12, a nutrient necessary for proper red blood cell function, neurological function and DNA synthesis. Specifically, your stomach acid separates vitamin B12 from the protein it is attached to in your food – an essential step that allows it to be utilized by your body.
If your stomach acid is suppressed, your body may therefore have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, and, indeed, new research shows that people taking PPIs for more than two years had a 65 percent increase in their risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
The study’s lead author noted:
“This research raises the question of whether people who are taking acid-depressing medications long term should be screened for vitamin B12 deficiency … It’s a relatively simple blood test, and vitamin supplements are an effective way of managing the vitamin deficiency, if it is found.”
If you’ve been taking heartburn drugs long term, you might want to be proactive in having your vitamin B12 levels checked, or at least ensuring you’re getting extra via your diet or supplements. Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products.
Low Magnesium Levels, Fractures and Infections Also Linked to Heartburn Drugs
This isn’t the first time heartburn drugs have been linked to health risks, especially when they’re used long term. In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that magnesium levels may drop with long-term use of PPIs, which may trigger seizures, muscle spasms or arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat).
Heartburn drugs may also harm your bone health and increase your risk of infections. In fact, one study found patients who took PPIs elevated their risk of bone fractures by 25 percent and their risk of infection from Clostridium difficile by 74 percent.
The good news is that in many cases heartburn isn’t serious and can be effectively managed, and even prevented, naturally without the use of drugs. Here are 11 tips for soothing heartburn naturally to try out today.