Can Heartburn Meds Cause a Heart Attack?

Extinguish the heartburn fire with these natural remedies (and avoid "remedies" that will make the problem worse!)

June 11, 2015
man heartburn

Heartburn may feel like your heart is on fire, but the drugs to prevent acid reflux may be linked to actual heart attacks, according to research published in PLOS ONE. In an analysis of nearly three million people, taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like Priolsec or Prevacid is associated with a 1.16-fold increased heart attack risk. These findings were independent of age-related risks.

The researchers believe that PPIs are dangerous for hearts because they interfere with protective enzymes, thus leading to more inflammation.

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Mark Moyad, MD, MPH, author of The Supplement Handbook, warns to stay away from acid reflux drugs. "Acid reflux drugs might as well be crack cocaine or heroin," he says. "They work so well and so quickly that you can become addicted to them, but you shouldn't take them long term. Acid reflux drugs increase the risk of vitamin B12 and magnesium deficiencies, which can (in rare cases) cause muscle spasms and irregular heartbeats."

He also points out that these drugs reduce the absorption of iron while also increasing the risk of pneumonia, fractures, and the bacterial infection C. diff.

"Prescription and over-the-counter acid reducers work very well and are very necessary in some cases, but too many people are becoming reliant on them," he says. "In most cases, you should take the lowest dose for the shortest period of time."

More: The Worst Way to Deal With Heartburn

"One thing to keep in mind is that stomach acid is part of your immune system; it kills foreign microorganisms on contact," Dr. Moyad points out. "It's also critical for breaking down food so your intestines can absorb all the nutrients. Now you can see why shutting down acid production for a long period of time increases the risk of several problems."

Instead of turning to drugs that only hurt your health, solve heartburn with these natural solutions, and avoid the ones that will just make your acid reflux worse.

What Works
Lose weight. Even dropping just a few pounds can take the pressure off of the stomach with immediate improvements. "If the obesity epidemic were cut in half overnight, companies making acid reflux drugs and supplements would see their profits halved as well," Dr. Moyad adds.

Loosen your belt. Just like weight loss can take the pressure off your belly, so does wearing loose-fitting clothing.

Sleep right (or rather, left). Sleep with your head slightly elevated or on your left side. "This is just gravity," explains Dr. Moyad. "The slope keeps stomach acid where it belongs." And the difference between the left and right side when it comes to sleeping? "Snoozing on your right side relaxes the esophageal sphincter, allowing acid to creep up into the esophagus; lying on your left keeps the area between the esophagus and stomach above the level of gastric acid in the stomach," he says.

Limit caffeine and alcohol. "They both increase acid reflux from the stomach into the esophagus when used in excess," says Dr. Moyad.

Eliminate trigger foods. "Fried, fatty, and greasy foods. along with fruit beverages and acidic pills (like vitamin C) can make your condition worse," Dr. Moyad notes.

Eat more fiber. "Flaxseed, chia seed, oatmeal, and bran cereals work like a sponge to mop up acid," explains Dr. Moyad. "It's one of the only things in your diet that clinical research has found can consistently reduce acid reflux and possibly even the risk of esophageal cancer that can result from chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)." He recommends trying to get 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily, though not from pills.

Breathe deeply. Dr. Moyad says that practicing breathing exercises before or at least an hour after can strengthen the weak esophageal sphincter that's causing your acid reflux. "They basically involve standing, sitting, or lying on your back while breathing through your nose as deeply as possible, making sure your stomach rises when you inhale and falls when you exhale," he explains.

Acupuncture. Preliminary research that suggests that acupuncture may help heartburn.

More: Popular Heartburn Drugs May Be Doing You Harm

What's Worthless
"There are more supplements that can make acid reflux worse than can help it," warns Dr. Moyad.

Ginger. "Ginger supplements reduce nausea, but they can make acid reflux worse by relaxing the opening between the esophagus and stomach, making it easier for acid to move upstream," says Dr. Moyad.

Peppermint oil. While peppermint is known for settling the stomach, it can also open up the esophageal sphincter, making acid reflux worse. "If you're taking peppermint oil supplements for conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, make sure they're enteric coated, which means they won't dissolve until they reach the small intestine," Dr. Moyad recommends.

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). Licorice has been touted by alternative medicine as a solution to heartburn, but Dr. Moyad points out that the best studies have failed to show a real benefit. "Licorice dietary supplements, which are closely related, are much more of a problem in terms of side effects—including blood pressure swings and hormonal changes—and should not be used at all for reflux," he adds.
 
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C). "The name is a dead giveaway. It's known as an acid for a reason, my friends," says Dr. Moyad. "It can make reflux and indigestion worse and only increases levels of acidity." If you have to take vitamin C, he recommends looking for buffered vitamin C or calcium ascorbate.

Fiber pills. Fiber from food is good. Fiber from pills, not so much. "These dietary supplements and powders can cause regurgitation and esophageal irritation, making GERD and even bloating worse," says Dr. Moyad.

More: Heartburn Remedies Could Weaken Your Bones