press release tileAccording to the American Society of Nephrology (ASN), kidney disease has been steadily rising with more than 20 million Americans now having some level of chronic kidney disease (CKD). That’s 1 in 10 Americans!

Based on two 2015 studies presented at the ASN Convention, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) may be contributing to the increase.

Prescription and over-the-counter sales of PPIs in 2009 reached nearly $14 billion. While short-term efficacy has clearly been demonstrated, dangers of long-term use have been surfacing for years and can include hip fracture, Clostridium difficile infection, pneumonia and cardiac issues (including a significant increased risk of heart attack). As a result of this new research, kidney disease can be added to that list.

The first study, conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, followed 10,482 adults with normal kidney function from 1996 to 2011. The researchers found that PPI users were 20–50% more likely to develop CKD than individuals who did not use PPIs. These same researchers did another larger study that followed 240,000 patients from 1997 to 2014 and found the same effect.

Researchers from SUNY found that among the more than 24,000 people they followed from 2001 to 2008, those who took PPIs were 10% more likely to have CKD and 76% more likely to die prematurely.

While short-term use of these medications can provide relief, many patients are using these drugs chronically. Chronic use can lead to physiological dependence. This is also concerning because some versions of these drugs (Nexium, Prilosec) are now available over-the-counter without a prescription, which may lead to self-treatment and chronic use. Patients should be informed of the dangers of these drugs and advised about safer, natural alternatives.

In addition to diet and lifestyle recommendations, use of deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) has been proven to be effective. Although DGL research is limited, a review in the November 2009 issue of the Natural Medicine Journal, Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO, reported that DGL also has the ability to repair the stomach lining, so it is getting at the root cause, rather than simply masking symptoms. Other natural agents that may be effective for reflux include zinc carnosine, mastic gum, d-limonene and even hydrochloric acid with meals.