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More Proof Heartburn Products Are Dangerous

Heartburn is a common condition and estimated to affect nearly 60 million Americans at least once a month.1 The pain is often described as sharp and burning, sometimes behind the breastbone and other times moving around the neck or throat. A Norwegian research team2 reported the incidence of people who experienced acid reflux at least once a week had increased by nearly 50 percent in the decade leading up to 2009.3

Occasional heartburn is not uncommon, but when the pain occurs frequently, or interferes with your daily routine, it may have become chronic heartburn.4 Your symptoms may be the result of a problem with your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) located between the stomach and esophagus. Normally, this sphincter keeps stomach acid in your stomach, only opening when you're swallowing or to let you belch.5

When your LES allows gastric acid to rise into your esophagus you experience the symptoms of heartburn, since the lining of your esophagus is not designed to withstand the acidic pH of stomach acid. With continued exposure to acid, the cells in the esophagus begin to adapt and become more like cells found in your small intestines.6 This is called Barrett's Esophagus and is a condition that increases your risk of developing esophageal cancer.

Previous research has found people taking a heartburn medication called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), and who had infections with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), associated with the development of stomach ulcers, had a greater chance of developing cellular changes linked to stomach cancer.7 In recent research, scientists have now determined people taking PPIs, even after the infection had cleared, had a greater potential for developing stomach cancer as compared to those who were never infected.8

PPIs May Increase Your Risk of Cancer

Researchers from University College London and The University of Hong Kong found the risk of developing stomach cancer more than doubled when an individual took PPIs. To factor the potential role the infection plays in the development of stomach cancer, the researchers compared the use of PPIs to reduce acid reflux against people treated with triple therapy to kill H. pylori and then with H2 receptor antagonists such as Pepcid, Tagamet or Zantac.9

Conventional medicine accepted triple therapy as the first line of defense against H. pylori in 2006. It consists of two antibiotics and a PPI to reduce acid secretion.10 On average, the patients in the study were monitored for 7.5 years, until they developed cancer, died or the study completed. During this time, taking PPIs was associated with double the risk of developing stomach cancer, while taking an H2 antagonist was not linked to an increased risk.

Additionally, the researchers found those who took PPIs every day had close to four times the risk of stomach cancer, compared to those who took the drug once a week.11 Dr. Wai Keung Leung, professor of gastroenterology at the University of Hong Kong, cautioned:12

"While PPIs are one of the most commonly used medications for treating reflux disease as well as dyspepsia, clinicians should exercise caution when prescribing long-term PPIs, even to patients who have H. pylori eradicated."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly two-thirds of the world population are infected with the gram-negative bacterium, H. pylori,13 but not all exhibit signs of the infection. This infection is believed to be the major cause of peptic ulcer disease and gastritis worldwide. PPIs may be prescribed for the treatment of heartburn symptoms, without the presence of peptic ulcers.

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