The FDA has ignored the dangers long enough. Action Alert!
ANH-USA has submitted a Citizens Petition to the FDA concerning the increased risk of pneumonia that is associated with proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medications for acid reflux. This effect has been documented for a number of years, yet the agency has so far refused to update these drugs’ label warning to reflect this danger. This side effect is especially concerning given the current pandemic, which attacks the respiratory system. It is time to force the FDA’s hand.
These widely prescribed drugs (Prilosec and Prevacid are popular brand names) block the production of stomach acid and are used to treat heartburn and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). PPIs have been linked with increased risk of pneumonia which is of particular concern with COVID-19 and the respiratory damage that characterizes advanced cases.
The mechanism by which PPIs cause pneumonia is not fully understood, but one theory is that they compromise the stomach’s “acid mantle” against gastric colonization of bacteria. Normally, gastric pH is around 2, which effectively limits bacterial colonization from ingested microbes; PPIs increase this pH to above 4 for approximately 24 hours, compromising this natural defense mechanism. PPIs may also lead to delayed gastric emptying, increased gastric contents, larger bacterial loads, and increased pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, causing reflux that brings bacteria back up into the respiratory tract and thus increases the likelihood of infection. Another theory is that PPIs reduce the acidity of the upper digestive tract which results in increased bacterial colonization of the larynx, esophagus, and lungs.
PPIs also impact the gastrointestinal microbiota, which could be linked to reducing immunity and hence increasing pneumonia risk. This is key. We’re currently living through a viral pandemic that attacks the respiratory system. Not only do PPIs weaken our immune response overall, they make us more susceptible to a respiratory infection that could put us more at risk for COVID-19 complications.
Important research has found that PPIs shut off acid pumps, not just in the stomach, but in every other cell of the body. This interferes with the way cells make energy and detoxify. It also results in “systematically compromised immunity.” Referring to his research on PPIs and their effect on the lysosomes, one doctor summed it up like this: “I think we now have a smoking gun,” referring to the mechanism by which PPIs cause the wide range of negative health effects that have been documented.
There are an estimated 4.9 million cases of pneumonia in the US per year, requiring more than 250,000 hospitalizations and resulting in 50,000 deaths. The cost of treating pneumonia in the US is estimated to be $13.4 billion. PPIs could be costing us billions of dollars a year in healthcare costs for pneumonia alone, not to mention the other health hazards they cause.
The COVID-19 pandemic starkly underlines the significance of these dangers. The millions of users of PPIs must be warned that using these drugs compromises immunity and increases risk of pneumonia—pertinent information, to say the least, during a viral pandemic that attacks the respiratory system.
Public health experts say between 60 and 70% of people who take these drugs don’t need them. Acid blockers like PPIs do not address the root cause of stomach trouble, which is often too little stomach acid, not too much. This means that in many cases, taking acid blockers simply makes your stomach problems even worse.
Then there are the other side effects, which we’ve written about extensively. Acid blockers:
- Increase the risk of a baby developing asthma if taken by pregnant mothers.
- Increase the risk of bacterial infection and bone fracture.
- Cause both acute and chronic kidney disease.
- Increase the risk of dementia by as much as 52%.
- Raise the risk of heart attack by as much as 20%.
The FDA already has issued a number of warnings regarding PPIs, including the increased risk of bone fracture, hypomagnesemia (low serum magnesium levels), and Clostridium difficile associated diarrhea. It’s time to add pneumonia to this list, especially given the increased danger as we weather this pandemic.
Action Alert! Write to the FDA, with a copy to Congress, telling the agency to add a warning that PPIs increase risk of pneumonia. Please send your message immediately.