The lethal truth behind that little purple lie

American medicine is filled with so many contradictions, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with what’s really true. And truth be told, I think it comes down to the fact that most doctors rely on drug companies to provide them with the information they need.

Big Pharma sets the tone for the conversation. And it’s only when tragedy strikes—or when Big Pharma has decided that they’ve milked a certain cash cow for all that it’s worth—that our long-believed dogma finally gives way to the truth.

Remember yesterday, when I talked about the dangers associated with long-term use of heartburn drugs? Well proton pump inhibitors—or PPIs—are among the worst of the lot. These are the “little purple pills” for acid reflux that doctors like to dish out like candy.

But I’m going to guess that they’re not telling their patients that these drugs are potentially lethal. Though that may be about to change if anybody bothers to take the latest research seriously.

That’s because a new study from Sweden — where they’re not concerned with Big Pharma’s bottom line — is reporting that long-term PPI therapy is linked with esophageal cancer.

Nothing about this study shocks me. But let’s take a closer look at some details, anyway.

This study used data from four different national medical databases in Sweden. Researchers identified nearly 800,000 cancer-free patients who took PPIs routinely between 2005 and 2014. More than half were women. And more than a third were over age 70.

The participants in this study had been prescribed PPIs for a number of reasons, including stomach problems resulting from aspirin therapy and regular NSAID use, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastroduodenitis, and peptic ulcer disease.

But I think it’s important to point out that these conditions — while indeed serious and uncomfortable — still don’t warrant long-term PPI use. In fact, there aren’t any conditions that warrant it. Because PPIs were designed for short-term use only — not for so-called “maintenance therapy.”

And this study shows why.

The team compared the patients taking PPIs to a similar-sized group from the general population over the same time period. And they discovered a massive increase in overall incidence of esophageal cancer among PPI users.

In response to these findings, the study’s authors are calling for “a more restrictive attitude towards maintenance use of PPIs.” And to that, I say, “Bravo!”

PPIs are not candy. And they should not be used indiscriminately.

To be clear, this study found risks associated with PPIs specifically. An analysis of more than 20,000 patients on histamine-2 receptor antagonists — also known as H2 blockers, like ranitidine (Zantac) — found no similar increase in cancer risk. Though, as I mentioned yesterday, it’s best to avoid heartburn medications altogether. And with a few simple lifestyle modifications, you can.

In fact, if you’re following a proper diet, chances are you’ll never need to take one of these drugs — ever.

Let’s see… eat right or get cancer? The choice seems pretty clear to me.