Heartburn meds can harm your heartAccording to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death among American men and women, claiming more than 600,000 lives every year.

Of the 735,000 Americans who have a heart attack every year, more than 70 percent (525,000) are experiencing one for the first time. Nearly half of Americans have at least one of these risk factors for heart disease:

  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure

A new risk factor for heart attacks is Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), which are drugs that work by decreasing the amount of acid in the lining of the stomach, based on a recent study appearing in PLOS One.

Accounting for an estimated $13 billion in annual sales, PPIs are one of the most popular classes of drugs that Americans take. (One out of 14 Americans have taken PPIs, according to the FDA.)

Although patients use PPIs to treat heartburn, these drugs are prescribed to treat other health problems too, including Barrett’s esophagus, ulcer-inducing H. pylori infections and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.

The most popular PPIs are available over-the-counter, including Zegerid (a combination of omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate), Nexium (esomeprazole magnesium), Prilosec (omeprazole magnesium) and Prevacid (lansoprazole).

A recent review of some 2.9 million patient records by researchers at Houston Methodist and Stanford University concluded that those with no prior history of heart disease, who took PPIs increased their risk of heart attack by as much as 21 percent.

On the other hand, patients who took another type of over-the-counter drug used to reduce stomach acid — Histamine antagonists (H2 antagonists or H2 blockers) — experienced no extra risk of heart attack. (Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet are popular H2 blockers sold over-the-counter.)

What made the difference between these sets of drugs? A 2013 study that examined the ability of PPIs to damage the endothelium led to some answers, says Dr. John Cooke of Houston Methodist and senior author of the PLOS One study, according to a press release.

“Our earlier work identified that the PPIs can adversely affect the endothelium, the Teflon-like lining of the blood vessels. That observation led us to hypothesize that anyone taking PPIs may be at greater risk for heart attack.”

The risk of heart attack isn’t the only reason why you should think twice before taking a PPI drug. Another recent study found omeprazole disrupted the gut health of every patient so severely, that they were vulnerable to Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections.

Before taking a PPI, you may want to consider these non-drug solutions first:

  • Delay your bedtime about two hours after eating a nighttime meal.
  • Avoid heartburn triggers like high-acidic foods, alcohol and smoking.
  • Consume smaller meals with less fat.
  • Consider losing a few pounds.
  • Take a probiotic with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic or EndoMune Advanced Junior (for kids) that protects your gut health too.