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Pharmaceuticals vs vitamins

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Proton pump inhibitors like Nexium, Somac and Zoton are drugs used extensively by the medical profession to suppress stomach acid in order to treat conditions like reflux, which can lead to heartburn, or inflammation of the oesophagus, the digestive tube connecting the mouth with the stomach, often connected with adverse reactions to foods, ulcers, bloating, uncomfortable fullness after eating and incessant burping. The problem is these drugs are harnessed as a blanket panacea for a swelling array of patients who mention any form of digestive distress to their doctors.

While some patients unquestionably benefit from these drugs, they also constitute a massive windfall for the pharmaceutical industry once patients embark on the endless journey of taking these pills on a daily bases. Current revenue statistics suggest that a whopping 2 billion dollars is spent unnecessarily on pharmaceuticals worldwide every year. What doctors often don’t alert their patients to, possibly because they have also been poorly informed, is the possibility of considerable collateral damage that might be unleashed by these medications.

Proton pump inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors suppress stomach acid, which can also lead to the increased production of another stomach hormone associated with digestion called gastrin. Gastroenterologists have long asserted that this is only a theoretical concern, yet in 2012 the first cancer in humans that was directly attributable to a lowering of acid and an escalation in gastrin was described, an event that hardly elicited a reflective burp in the medical world. While adequate stomach acid is also needed to digest and absorb iron, vitamin B12 and protein, studies have yet to unequivocally demonstrate that lowering acid actually compromises the status of these nutrients.

Current revenue statistics suggest that a whopping 2 billion dollars is spent unnecessarily on pharmaceuticals worldwide every year.

What research has uncovered is the increased incidence of osteoporosis and hip fractures, possibly due to a deficit of calcium, another nutrient that might take a nosedive when acid is tampered with. Acid is also needed to neutralise harmful bacteria and, once this is aborted, these can gain a foothold, leading to a range of potentially life-threatening infections, especially in the elderly, many of whom are receiving proton pump inhibitors as part of their ration of daily medications. This has been demonstrated by an upswing in the incidence of pneumonias and gut infections in those who are consigned to this regimen.

While research demonstrates that taking probiotics or the so-called beneficial bacteria might mitigate the immune-lowering effects of proton pump inhibitors, this has yet to be embraced by the wider medical community, who have a limited appetite for digesting the potential benefits of natural medicines.

Recent evidence also points to the ongoing downside of these medications with studies now surfacing showing that these cause kidney damage.

Aside from this litany of devastation, what seems to elude doctors is the elemental notion that simply avoiding certain foods might alleviate indigestion.

Rather than suppress stomach acid, it might be more advantageous to take natural remedies to enhance the production of this vital substance. If putting a lid on stomach acid is indeed necessary, there’s a host of natural substances that can achieve the same ends as proton pump inhibitors without leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.


The seismic disturbance caused by proton pump inhibitors might be dwarfed by the tectonic shift caused by statin medications, drugs used to lower cholesterol, whose annual expenditure in the US alone tops $11 billion. Statins used to be indicated to lower cholesterol and prevent further heart attacks in those who had already sustained one of these life-threatening events. They were also advocated for those with a high risk of having a first heart attack, such as overweight people or those who suffered from diabetes. But now, with a clever realignment of the data, they are now deemed to be appropriate for a much larger group, including those who have a high cholesterol plus a family history of heart disease, thereby significantly broadening the ranks of those who would qualify.

While the benefits might outweigh the risks, in a minority of users statins increase the risk of diabetes, damage the liver, cause muscle aches and lead to fatigue and forgetfulness. Some of these side-effects might be prevented by taking coenzyme Q10, but most doctors aren’t even aware of this.


To balance the ledger, early in 2016 one of the major television networks in the US aired a documentary titled Supplements and Safety, which effectively cauterised the vitamin industry. Aside from headlining the herbs that caused liver damage, albeit a rare event, the show also highlighted experts who scoffed that there were scant human trials of any substance documenting the efficacy of natural remedies. At the same time, research scientists in Sydney uncorked evidence that chromium, a substance widely used in blood-sugar-lowering formulations, might have the potential to cause cancer, at least in a test tube.

While the vitamin industry scrambled into damage control, asserting that the test tube is a far cry from the human body, the battle for our allegiance looms large. Americans are the most medicated nation on the planet and, as we ominously catch up with their appalling sickness statistics, which we choose to trust — the vitamin lobby or the pharmaceutical conglomerates — will assume even greater ramifications for our future and even our survival.


Michael Elstein

Michael Elstein is a Fellow of the Australian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine. Anti-ageing medicine is his current passion and he is the author of Eternal Health and You Have The Power, which are available as e-books through his website.

Dr Elstein has just attained a Masters in Nutrition from RMIT university located in Melbourne. He treats those who suffer from fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders and menopausal dysfunction. He utilises diet, nutritional therapy, hormonal interventions and herbal remedies.