Is your heartburn medication safe for your liver?

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Drugs used to control heartburn or reflux are some of the most commonly used medications in the world. Research shows they may increase the risk of chronic liver disease. They do this by altering the intestinal microbiome. They encourage the growth of potentially harmful gut bugs that can cause injury to liver cells.

Proton pump inhibitors are the most commonly used stomach acid blocking drugs. Examples include Losec, Zoton, Nexium, Pariet and Prevacid. By altering your gut bugs, they can lead to three different types of liver disease.

Research was carried out at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, and published in the journal Nature Communications. According to the lead researcher: “Our stomachs produce gastric acid to kill ingested microbes, and taking a medication to suppress gastric acid secretion can change the composition of the gut microbiome. Since we found previously that the gut microbiome – the communities of bacteria and other microbes living there – can influence liver disease risk, we wondered what effect gastric acid suppression might have on the progression of chronic liver disease. We found that the absence of gastric acid promotes growth of Enterococcus bacteria in the intestines and translocation to the liver, where they exacerbate inflammation and worsen chronic liver disease.”

Which 3 liver diseases can eventuate?

  • Alcohol-induced liver disease. Only in people who drink alcohol of course. The medication can increase the harm that alcohol does to the liver.
  • NAFLD (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease)
  • NASH (steatohepatitis, which is a more severe form of fatty liver which can be fatal).

Each of these liver diseases raises the risk of cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

The researchers concluded their study with the following statement: “Our findings indicate that the recent rise in use of gastric acid-suppressing medications might have contributed to the increased incidence of chronic liver disease. Although obesity and alcohol use predispose a person to acid reflux requiring antacid medication, many patients with chronic liver disease take gastric acid suppressive medications without appropriate indication. We believe clinicians should consider withholding medications that suppress gastric acid unless there is a strong medical indication.”

Being overweight and suffering with reflux and heartburn are associated with a greater risk of fatty liver. This is because obesity is associated with a higher level of harmful bacteria in the intestines. Sugar and refined carbohydrates like bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, chips and foods made of flour encourage the overgrowth of bad gut bugs. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is a well known risk factor for fatty liver. This is a great website for learning more about that.

Taking an acid suppressing drug compounds the problem. Stomach acid is your friend. It is very necessary for adequate digestion of protein and minerals, but also it’s a wonderful disinfectant for your gut. You can encourage your stomach to produce more acid by sipping on a little diluted apple cider vinegar before meals. It should help to improve nutrient absorption and discourage bacterial overgrowth. BactoClear capsules contain essential oils of clove, oregano and thyme. They help to promote healthy digestive function.

Glutamine is an amino acid that can reduce inflammation in the lining of the stomach and oesophagus. It is found in Ultimate Gut Health powder, which can be taken after meals. Please don’t discontinue any medication without prior discussion with your doctor.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email