The superbug Clostridium difficile (C. diff) has become a serious health problem in recent years. Deaths associated with this very potent and harmful superbug, especially among those age 65 and older, have risen dramatically to some 14,000 Americans annually.

Often, we remind you that too much exposure to antibiotics (via drugs and food) can deplete the healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, leaving you very vulnerable to superbugs like C. diff.

In fact, a recent blog highlighted several ways to avoid C. diff, including avoiding antibiotics unless your body really needs them.

A recent study featured in the journal Microbiome added a new culprit to the list of things you shouldn’t over do to protect your gut health: over-the-counter heartburn drugs in the form of proton pump inhibitors (PPI), including esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec) and pantoprazole (Protonix).

Researchers tested the effects of taking either a low dose (one 20 mg. tablet) or high dose (two 20 mg. tablets) of omeprazole on nine healthy patients (ages 18-57) for four weeks. Stool samples were compared prior to the study, then at days seven and 28 while taking omeprazole.

No patient participating in the study suffered any adverse effects from taking a PPI, but that was the only good news.

By the end of the 28 days, the gut microbiomes of all patients were disrupted and less diverse regardless of the dosage, leaving them vulnerable to C. diff infections. And, it took a month for the gut health of these patients to partly improve.

These findings don’t include the more serious side effects related to taking PPIs too often, including osteoporosis-related fractures of the spine, wrist and hip, pneumonia, the reduced absorption of minerals and vitamins and weight gains.

Despite these results, lead researcher and gastroenterologist Dr. John DiBaise urged caution. “We’re not saying people should stop taking their regular antacids; despite the many health risks associated with PPI use, they have an extensive track record of safety when used as directed.

“What we are saying is that the medical and research communities should consider these medications in the context of the patient’s microbiome.”

To curb the overuse of PPIs (like broad spectrum antibiotics), Dr. DiBaise suggests treating milder heartburn problems with these non-drug solutions:

  • Lose weight.
  • Avoid foods, alcohol and tobacco that trigger heartburn.
  • Eat smaller meals with lower amounts of fat.
  • Delay your bedtime for about two hours after eating an evening meal.

Another non-drug solution that protects and enhances the diversity of your bacteria, especially if you’re taking a PPI over the long term to alleviate heartburn: a multi-species probiotic, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic or EndoMune Advanced Junior (for kids) that gives your immune system a much needed natural boost.