The link between a class of heartburn medications called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and serious kidney problems has been solidly established. The belief among mainstream medical professionals, however, was that because the onset of these kidney problems would be sudden, it would be easy to identify individuals experiencing this dangerous side effect and discontinue their use of PPIs. Findings released in February of 2017 reveal that for more than half of patients, kidney damage related to PPI use will develop slowly and may be untreatable by the time anyone realizes something is wrong.
A Silent, and Super Dangerous, Side Effect
More than 15 million Americans have prescriptions for PPIs, which are used to treat heartburn…ulcers…and acid reflux. Untold millions more purchase these drugs over-the-counter, top brands like Prevacid Prilosec and Nexium can easily be procured without a prescription and taken with no monitoring by a doctor or health practitioner.
According to a study done at Washington University in St. Louis and published in Kidney International, more than half of all cases of chronic kidney damage and end-stage renal disease associated with PPI use occur with no prior acute kidney problems. That means that PPI users may not be aware that their kidney function is declining until they suffer long-term kidney damage or even complete kidney failure.
Symptoms of acute kidney problems include fatigue and swelling in the legs and ankles. Typically, acute problems can be reversed with little or no lasting consequences. But for 50 percent or more of the participants in the Washington University study, no symptoms of kidney damage appeared until the problem was quite advanced. By the time end-stage renal disease occurs, the only treatment options are dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Natural Ways to Treat Heartburn
“Our results indicate kidney problems can develop silently and gradually over time, eroding kidney function and leading to long-term kidney damage or even renal failure,” stated senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD. Based on their findings, which came from an analysis of 125,596 users of PPIs, Al-Aly concluded that clinicians should carefully evaluate whether PPI use is medically necessary, since taking the drugs involves such significant risk.
Lifestyle changes and home remedies can allow many individuals to alleviate the discomfort caused by heartburn without risking kidney damage. Here are tips on how to naturally treat—and better yet, avoid—heartburn:
- Drink a glass of aloe vera juice: you may be familiar with aloe vera’s ability to soothe topical burns, but it can also quell heartburn by relieving internal inflammation.
- Stay upright: one reason heartburn tends to get worse at night is that when we lie down, it’s easier for acid to leak into your esophagus. Try to avoid lying down for 3 to 4 hours after eating. If you still experience heartburn, elevating your head (by using a wedge-shaped pillow, for instance) while you sleep can help.
- Eat mindfully: be aware of what foods trigger heartburn—common culprits include acidic and spicy foods. Pay attention, too, to how quickly you eat. Slowing down and taking smaller bites gives your stomach more time to digest and makes it less likely that it will pump out excess acid.
- Take a spoonful of mustard: yes, the condiment you likely have in your refrigerator right now is one of the best heartburn treatments available! Mustard has alkalizing properties that neutralize any acids that may be seeping back up your throat. If you feel the pain of acid reflux setting in, try swallowing a teaspoon of mustard!
- Drink a mug of chamomile tea: not only does chamomile tea reduce inflammation levels in your stomach, but it also lowers stress levels. For many people, the more stressed out they are, the more they’re prone to acid reflux. Drinking a mug of chamomile 30 minutes to an hour before you plan to go to sleep can work wonders!