PPI Drugs and Chronic Kidney Disease

As the potential dangers of proton pump inhibitor drugs—such as Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium—continue to come to the light, the most recent study has shown an increased risk of chronic kidney disease among those taking PPI drugs for extended periods of time. PPI drugs were never intended to become a daily pill for Americans – in fact, when the drugs were first approved by the FDA, it was recommended that they be taken for no longer than six weeks. Despite this, it is not uncommon to find people who have been taking PPI drugs for months, years, or even as long as two decades.

PPI Drugs Never Intended for Daily Heartburn

PPI drugs were also not intended for “casual” use by those with heartburn. Rather, they were approved for those with true gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD patients have a weakness in the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach, causing stomach acids to chronically rise into the esophagus. For patients who have significant inflammation in the esophagus, or a stomach ulcer, PPI drugs can be helpful in allowing those issues to heal. However, the use of PPI drugs has gone far beyond those with these true medical issues.

Additional Risks Associated with PPI Drugs

More than 15 million Americans used prescription and over-the-counter PPI drugs in 2013, to the tune of more than $10 billion. For many of those millions, PPI drugs were recommended by their doctor, and few people had any reason to think the drugs could be unsafe until research showed that those taking PPI drugs on a regular basis could be at a greater risk for heart disease. Next, a study showed PPIs could potentially increase the risk for dementia by up to 44 percent for those who routinely took PPI drugs compared to those who did not take the drugs.

The studies regarding dementia and PPI drugs showed the drugs increased the levels of a damaging protein known as beta-amyloid, which accumulates in the brains of dementia patients. PPI drugs block the production of stomach acid, which not only helps digest food, but also has a barrier function against different ingested pathogens. This means that when there is less stomach acid in the body, vulnerability to nutritional deficiencies and infections increases. In particular, a sometimes life-threatening digestive system infection known as Clostridium difficile and pneumonia seem to occur more often among those taking PPI drugs.

Study Linking PPI Use with Kidney Disease

The latest research linking PPI drugs and chronic kidney disease used data from 248,751 patients, who were divided into two groups: those taking PPI drugs and those who did not. Patients were followed for a median period of 13.9 years. It was noted that PPI users were more often white, obese, and that they typically also took medications for high blood pressure. The estimated risk of a patient taking PPI drugs and subsequently developing chronic kidney disease was 11.8 percent, while the estimated risk was 8.5 percent among the group who did not use PPI drugs.

Discontinuing PPI Drugs Not as Easy as it Would Seem

In addition to an increased risk of heart disease, dementia, and kidney disease, taking PPI drugs on a regular basis inhibits the absorption of nutrients, promotes an overgrowth of bacteria, reduces resistance to infection, and may even increase the risk of cancer. Unfortunately, simply discontinuing the use of PPI drugs is not as easy as it might seem, particularly for those who have been taking the drugs for a significant length of time. Many of those who perhaps heard of the potential risks and decided to stop taking the drugs cold turkey lived to regret that decision.

When a person has been taking PPI drugs for a significant length of time and then suddenly stops, a huge surge of stomach acid can result, causing such serious symptoms that the patient ends up in the emergency room. There is a protocol for patients who wish to wean themselves off PPI drugs, and it includes doing so very gradually. PPI drugs can eventually be replaced with less dangerous heartburn medications including Zantac and other H2 receptor blockers, however, heartburn should ideally be controlled with diet and exercise since both H2 receptor blockers as well as PPI drugs can inhibit the absorption of nutrients.

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