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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Mich LAc

Heartburn, Prilosec, and Your Health

Have You Seen Those Prilosec Commercials?

Have you seen the latest Prilosec commercials featuring Larry the Cable Guy? I can't watch it without getting angry about the message being sent to people. Larry the Cable Guy is the "charming spokesman" representing the All-American good guy; he's depicted driving big trucks in the mud and going to family picnics and weddings in the various commercials. The Prilosec message basically states that you should have the "freedom" to eat whatever you want however you want, and that this pill provides you the "freedom" to eat, and, therefore, live as you please. There are also patriotic images to further excite you about your "right to corn dogs" and "freedom" from heartburn. Behind all the "Go USA" excitement, this set of commercials is teaching viewers how to become dependent on Prilosec by glamorizing the "freedom" of making poor lifestyle choices. Prilosec allows you to ignore your body telling you that there is something out of balance. When we ignore the messages our bodies send us - like heartburn - we are ignoring the signs that our bodies are unhealthy. The benefit of taking Prilosec in the short run (no heartburn) is nothing compared to the seriously damaging effects of ignoring your body over the long term (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer).

Obviously, this is not a message that benefits anyone other than Prilosec. Healthcare Professionals don't recommend that any of their patients eat MORE corndogs and hot wings. Prilosec's motivation is only to sell more pills, not to make people healthier. The fact that they flaunt their message under the false pretenses of "freedom" is infuriating. It also makes me angry that this campaign seems targeted towards the Country/Southern audience. Based on their use of Larry the Cable Guy as the spokesman, the mud truck driving, and southern vibe of the commercials, this audience was clearly targeted by the marketing team. This ad campaign plays into an assumption that "country folk" aren't smart enough to pick up on the unhealthy message Prilosec is presenting since it's hidden behind the US flag. The whole "freedom" angle plays into a particular sensitivity (patriotism and supporting our soldiers at war) that is stereotypically popular in that market. The worst part is that Prilosec's target audience, the Americans living in the Southern states of the US, has the highest rates of obesity and obesity related diseases of any group! Prilosec pays marketing companies tons of money to use these underhanded techniques to promote the very lifestyle choices that are crippling and killing their customers so that they can increase their profits.

Moreover, Prilosec is not advised to be taken over the long term. It is NOT a solution for heartburn, but a band aid for the symptoms. The latest information available from the AstraZeneca US website states that Prilosec should be taken anywhere from 10 days to 8 weeks depending on the condition being treated. AstraZeneca also states that long term use can result in atrophic gastritis, bone fracture, and osteoporosis.

AstraZenica also states that no formal studies have been done on patients taking Prilosec for longer than 1 year to determine if there are any additional risks or dangers. Based on this information, there can be serious consequences for NOT taking Prilosec as indicated - consequences we don't even know about yet. But for some reason - probably the fact that it's information that could hurt sales - the commercials don't talk about the dangers of over-using their medications. Is your "freedom" to eat a corn dog really worth all of that trouble? This is your life and your health - you have other options!

2013 Prevalence of Obesity in the US

There is More Than One Type of Heartburn?

There are MANY DIFFERENT causes of heartburn. Only one cause involves a true excess of acid in the stomach. For instance, many patients who are experiencing heartburn like symptoms, including acid regurgitation, a burning sensation behind the sternum, burning in the throat, chest discomfort, or sore throat/hoarseness, actually have low levels of stomach acid, which is known as Hypochlorhydria or Achlorhydria. If these patients take antacids or Prilosec for their symptoms, they will not find relief; in fact their symptoms will likely get worse. Studies show that 20% of people in their 50's and 69% of people in their 80's have Hypochlorohydria, so this is a very common problem that many people don't know much about. For Hypochlorohydria patients, one type of therapy actually involves taking a shot of apple cider vinegar or a vinegar pill before eating. The vinegar helps their heartburn like symptoms by increasing the acid levels in the stomach and therefore treating the root cause of the problem. Vinegar is a more effective treatment than Prilosec because taking an antacid which will further reduce the acidity of the stomach and cause more symptoms.

What is Hiatal Hernia? How Does it Cause Heartburn

Another cause of heartburn is a hiatal hernia. A Hiatal Hernia occurs when the upper portion of the stomach pokes up through the diaphragm and gets caught where only the esophagus should fit. This condition affects up to 40% of people and can cause heartburn symptoms because the stomach cannot tolerate the increased pressure caused from it bulging through the diaphragm. As a result, the esophageal sphincter in the stomach fails and allows the stomach contents to pass up into the esophagus causing heartburn symptoms.

A similar condition can also occur with increased pressure on the abdomen - often related to pregnancy or excess belly fat. None of these situations will be "cured" by the taking of antacids. While taking them may help your symptoms in the short run, this treatment will only lead to taking antacids for a long period of time, which causes Hypochlorohydria or low stomach acid and a host of other complications.

Gastritis and Heartburn

Gastritis, or inflammation of the lining of the stomach, can cause another type of heartburn. In this case, the stomach lining gets irritated, and the irritation causes heartburn symptoms. Causes of stomach irritation include: stress, NSAID pain relievers, alcohol, viruses, or ulcers. You can avoid the discomfort caused by taking supplements and medications that cause stomach irritation by making sure to take these items with food. Additionally, I recommend that my patients with irritation related heartburn take daily Aloe Juice. Aloe Juice is a superfood that is excellent for supporting healthy mucosa in the gut and relieving heartburn symptoms related to irritation by soothing the lining of the stomach. Probiotics and digestive enzyme supplements are also helpful. Moreover, some patients taking a daily aspirin regimen can suffer from irritation related heartburn. You can talk to your doctor about trying an enteric coated aspirin instead of the basic baby aspirin to protect your stomach and stop your heartburn symptoms.

Heartburn Hacks! Avoid Heartburn in the First Place!

1. MAKE TIME TO EAT YOUR MEALS. Relax before you eat, and take time to chew and enjoy your food. Eating when your are stressed or overworked can cause heartburn. 2. DON'T EAT BEFORE GOING TO BED. Laying horizontally increases the pressure on the esophageal sphincter which leads to heartburn. Wait at least 2 hours after a meal before going to sleep. 3. AVOID DIET TRIGGERS. Coffee, Alcohol, Milk, Greasy Foods, Tomatoes, Peppermint (including gum), and any other foods you are sensitive to. 4. SEE YOUR ACUPUNCTURIST. We can determine the root of your symptoms and make sure you are getting the best treatments and tips for your personal situation. 5. DRINK GINGER TEA with your meals. Ginger promotes healthy digestion and eases bloating. 6. STOP SMOKING. Cigarettes can lead to heartburn 7. AVOID TIGHT FITTING CLOTHING that increases the pressure on your abdomen and stomach areas. This can be very important for patients who have a haital hernia. 8. SEE YOUR PCP to rule out stomach ulcers from bacteria like H. Pylori or another serious underlying condition. This is especially important if you notice any sudden change in freequency or severity of your symptoms. Worsening symptoms can indicate a serious condition and should be immediately brought to a doctors attention.

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