Are You Taking Over-the-Counter Heartburn Medication? Know Your Risks for CKD.

credit: Flickr Creative Commons, treasureice

credit: Flickr Creative Commons, treasureice

The NY Times recently reported commonly used heartburn medicines – such as name brands like Nexium or Prilosec – may increase the risk for kidney disease.

Occasional heartburn, according to the Mayo Clinic, is considered common and no cause for alarm*. Most people manage the discomfort of heartburn on their own with these over-the-counter medications, known as P.P.I.s (proton pump inhibitors, antacids, or H2 blockers).

Previous studies have linked P.P.I. use to bone fracture, pneumonia and Clostridium difficile infection. In this particular study (published in JAMA) they found that participants who took the P.P.I.s had a 20 percent to 50 percent higher risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD).

What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

According to the National Kidney Foundation, CKD includes conditions that damage your kidneys and decrease their ability to keep you healthy by not being able to fully do these jobs:

  • Remove waste products from the body
  • Remove drugs from the body
  • Balance the body’s fluids
  • Release hormones that regulate blood pressure
  • Produce an active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones
  • Control the production of red blood cells

You can read more about CKD on the National Kidney Foundation’s website.

“The study doesn’t prove that P.P.I.s cause kidney disease,” said the senior author, Dr. Morgan E. Grams, a kidney specialist at Johns Hopkins, “and we don’t want to cause alarm. P.P.I.s are great medicines, and sometimes lifesaving. But like all medications, there are risks and benefits. One approach for patients who require a long course of P.P.I.s would be to routinely monitor their kidney function.”

This recent study is a good reminder to do your due diligence to ask your medical team about the side effects before taking a new medication. Additionally, WellnessFX would like to bring to light that while heartburn drugs treat certain conditions, one of the side effects is that they can deplete certain nutrient levels in the body, putting your body’s health and function at risk.

The Nutrients Heartburn Drugs Deplete

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. Over-the-counter medications – think Maalox, Mylanta and Tums – help neutralize stomach acid by neutralizing the acid pH of the stomach. This reduction in stomach acid decreases the absorption of:


Did you know: The tiny amount of iron you need is crucial to normal body functions. If you do not have enough iron, your body cannot make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells, and you may develop anemia, a disorder that occurs when there is not enough hemoglobin in the blood.

Folic Acid (aka Folate/B9)

Did you know: B9 is an essential vitamin in the production of many cells, including red and white blood cells. Healthy folate levels also support nerve function, bone and brain health, and help prevent serious birth defects of the spinal cord and brain. This is also a key biomarker in monitoring women’s health.


Did you know: Zinc is needed for normal growth, development, and sexual maturation, and helps regulate appetite, stress level, and sense of taste and smell. It also has antioxidant properties and plays an essential role in the immune system.

What You Can Do About It

Get to the Root

One way to prevent side effects from heartburn medications like antacids is to figure out what’s causing your heartburn, thus lessening or even eliminating your use of the medications. According to the Mayo Clinic, common causes of heartburn include:

  • Spicy foods
  • Onions
  • Citrus products
  • Tomato products, such as ketchup
  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Peppermint
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol, carbonated beverages, coffee or other caffeinated beverages
  • Large or fatty meals

Being overweight or pregnant also can increase your risk of experiencing heartburn.

Monitor Key Kidney Biomarkers

We determine if kidneys are functioning properly by testing for blood levels of substances the kidneys are supposed to filter out. Two of those are:

  • Creatinine: Creatinine is the waste product of creatine phosphate in muscles and is almost never chosen for reabsorption.  If blood levels get high, that means the kidneys aren’t doing their jobs.
  • Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN): BUN is regularly reabsorbed but high blood levels can still tell us a story. It means the kidney isn’t filtering out as much blood as it should, which is a result of dehydration or low blood pressure.


As always, it’s wise to consult with your general physician before implementing any change to your behavior and lifestyle. Regarding nutrient depletion due to heartburn medications, here are some foods than can help you supplement:

  • Folate: Beans, lentils, spinach, asparagus, lettuce, and avocado are the top players with the highest amount of folate. You can also look to broccoli, tropical fruits, and oranges to get your folate.
  • Iron: Meat, seafood, poultry, beans, peas and dark, green leafy vegetables.
    FYI: If you supplement, it is important to only take the prescribed amount, as too much Iron can be toxic.
  • Zinc: Beef and lamb, liver, spinach, pumpkin and squash seeds, pork, chicken.

Be advised that micronutrient doses and levels needed can vary per person, and there is such a thing as over-consumption, as everyone is unique, with a different biochemistry. Using mega-doses of multivitamins or supplements is not recommended either, according to Colorado State University.

How WellnessFX Can Help

This is just one of the common medications that deplete nutrients in the body. You can also use this handy medicine cabinet graphic to identify the other medications, and then empower yourself by learning more about what you can do to supplement.

To test some of the biomarkers we’ve covered in this post, such as Creatinine, BUN, zinc, folate and iron, you can find them in various testing panels we offer, from our flagship Baseline panel to our all-access Premium panel.

A biomarker testing can give you an accurate picture of where you (and your total health) are. Your blood cells regenerate every 120 days, so we recommend re-assessment every 4-6 months, after instituting new habits.

Get a blood test


*Heartburn that is more frequent or interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of a more serious condition that requires medical care.

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.