PPIs: Too often, too much and too long

Write a prescription, collect the co-pay, and move on to the next patient.

The assembly line might work for cars and computers, but it's the wrong approach for humans -- yet it's one mainstream doctors use every day.

They're not interested in finding the real cause of a problem like heartburn or GERD so they make you settle for a proton pump inhibitor. It's hard work and it's time consuming -- and they don't have the time or, quite frankly, the skills to do the job right.

That's why most docs will take the shortcut and write a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor such as Prilosec or Nexium.

These drugs are potentially so dangerous that guidelines call for limiting them to four to eight weeks -- and if the patient is still having stomach acid problems, doctors are supposed to ditch the proton pump inhibitor and try a new approach.

But in nearly every case, doctors start their patients off with a three-month supply -- and a full two years later, just about all of them are still taking the proton pump inhibitor drug that was supposed to be limited to two months, according to a new study of 1,600 veterans diagnosed with heartburn.

But there's a reason the guidelines call for strict limits on PPIs: They could be flat-out dangerous.

These drugs can block the absorption of calcium and magnesium, putting you at risk for bone breaks and osteoporosis as well as a potentially deadly magnesium deficiency that can strike even with short-term use.

PPIs can also cause stomach acid problems to get worse over the long run -- one of the reasons few people manage to get off them once they start.

But the worst risk of all is in what they do to your stomach when they suppress acid levels -- because despite what you might think, you actually need that stomach acid for both proper digestion and protection from infection.

That's why the best approach to heartburn isn't a PPI drug, even if doctors did limit their use to just four weeks. It's in working with a doctor who has the time and the skills to find the real cause of your stomach acid problems so that it can be corrected naturally.

I usually start with tests for food sensitivities, which can cause stomach acid problems to flare up. Once you know which foods cause these flare-ups, you can learn to avoid them.

A holistic physician can run the tests for you. And if you're in Southern California, I can perform those tests here in my clinic. Contact my office for more information or to make an appointment.