Omeprazole is commonly prescribed for acid reflux and other disorders related to the overproduction of stomach acids. But its use isn’t without controversy.
As effective as omeprazole may be, there is some concern about possible side effects, leading many to explore natural alternatives . For some people, natural supplements and herbs can relieve these problems while aiding the body’s digestion process.
Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive condition in which stomach acids are regurgitated back into the esophagus. It can result in many symptoms, including:
- A burning sensation in the chest or throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unpleasant-smelling breath
PPIs such as omeprazole are commonly prescribed for treating acid reflux rather than food. Doctors may also recommend lifestyle and dietary changes to relieve symptoms and prevent reflux. Certain supplements and herbal products can also be beneficial in managing these episodes.
In this article, we take a closer look at omeprazole, concerns regarding its use, and some possible alternatives for acid reflux patients.
Overview of Omeprazole
Omeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) class commonly prescribed to reduce stomach acid production. It is used to treat many gastrointestinal conditions, including:
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Peptic ulcers
- Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome
- Erosive Esophagitis
Omeprazole primarily reduces acid levels in the stomach, relieving indigestion (dyspepsia) and heartburn symptoms and promoting the healing of the stomach and esophagus. By helping manage acid levels, omeprazole can speed up recovery from ulcers and inflamed and damaged tissues.
Omeprazole works by inhibiting the activity of proton pumps in the stomach lining, which is why they are called "proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)".
Proton pumps are primarily responsible for producing gastric acid in the stomach. But certain health conditions can cause acid and stomach contents to back up into the esophagus. This can damage the tissues in the esophageal lining, which aren’t designed to withstand contact with corrosive stomach acid.
By reducing acid production, these medications serve as acid blockers that alleviate symptoms associated with excess acidity. Consequently, they allow the stomach and esophagus sufficient time to heal.
Omeprazole is available in capsules and tablet supplements, and oral suspensions. It is typically taken once daily before a meal to manage acid reflux symptoms.
Common Side Effects of Omeprazole
As with any medication, omeprazole can have adverse side effects on users as well as interactions with other drugs.
Omeprazole’s side effects range from common and almost insignificant to more severe symptoms that affect only some people. Researchers have identified the following side effects that may occur in one out of a hundred study participants:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Stomach pain
- Gas or flatulence
Sometimes, these symptoms disappear on their own or can be relieved by drinking more water, avoiding certain foods, or modifying the diet and medication schedules. If the symptoms persist, it may be necessary to see a doctor.
Rare Side Effects of Omeprazole
Omeprazole can also cause a number of more serious side effects, such as:
- Yellowing skin
- Unusually dark urine
- Severe or persistent diarrhea
- Joint pain accompanied by red skin rash
Joint pain accompanied by a rash can indicate a rare disease known as subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus. These symptoms may occur even if you’ve been taking omeprazole without incident for a long time.
These side effects are rare, occurring in less than one in a thousand cases. Call a doctor or emergency medical services immediately if you notice any of these symptoms while taking omeprazole.
A small percentage of the population may also have a severe allergic reaction to omeprazole. Known as anaphylaxis, this would also require immediate medical attention.
Long-Term Side Effects of Omeprazole
Taking omeprazole for extended periods can cause even more severe side effects. This problem is often exacerbated when the drug is combined with certain enzymes and foods such as coffee.
Taking the medication for over three months can reduce blood magnesium levels. This can cause issues such as fatigue, dizziness, and confusion. It may also result in twitching, shakiness, and irregular heart rhythms. Pepcid, another antacid, has similar risks if used long-term.
All these symptoms can result in serious health conditions if not managed correctly. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should contact your primary healthcare provider immediately so that other therapies can be explored.
There are also increased risk factors when taking omeprazole for over a year. These include:
- Bone fractures
- Gut infections
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
Patients who take omeprazole for more than a year will require regular checkups. Their doctor will then decide if they should continue taking the medication or seek alternative therapies .
Some patients may feel that omeprazole is becoming less effective over time or no longer provides any perceivable benefits.
No scientific studies show that omeprazole becomes less effective the longer a patient takes it. However, you should talk to your doctor if you don’t notice any improvement or feel the medication no longer works.
Omeprazole and Stomach Cancer
Some research indicates that medications that reduce stomach acids, such as PPIs and H2 blockers, may increase an individual’s chances of developing stomach cancer. This seems more likely among patients taking such medicines for over three years.
That being said, more information is needed to prove that PPIs and H2 blockers are indeed the reason for stomach cancer. Until the findings are conclusive, there remains the possibility that the issue of cancer among PPI and H2 blocker takers is caused by something else.
The following symptoms may be indicative of stomach cancer:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling sick
- Feeling full soon after starting to eat
- Unexplained weight loss
If you notice these symptoms after taking PPIs or H2 blockers for a while, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Remember that PPIs can cause severe side effects, so it is generally best to take them only as long as necessary.
Natural Alternatives to Omeprazole
Probiotics: Some probiotics have been shown to ease the symptoms of GERD and acid reflux. Probiotic strains can relieve acid reflux symptoms by balancing the microbiome levels in the gut and esophagus.
Apple cider vinegar: Some people relieve acid reflux by taking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. However, most claims are based on anecdotal evidence. There is insufficient research as to the efficacy of apple cider vinegar for treating acid reflux.
D-limonene: This is a compound derived from citrus peel. Proponents claim that d-limonene reduces GERD symptoms without stopping stomach acid production completely. This ensures the continuance of essential digestive functions and maintains the digestive tract’s health.
Baking soda: Half a teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) dissolved in a 4-ounce glass of water may temporarily relieve acid reflux symptoms by neutralizing stomach acids.
Chewing gum: Chewing gum after meals may also have a similar effect as baking soda.
Stress management: Some proponents of acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and meditation claim that these stress management treatments can also relieve acid reflux.
Acupuncture is said to reduce stomach acid and improve lower esophageal sphincter function.
Hypnotherapy, for its part, can promote relaxation, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve mental focus. By aiding in stress reduction, hypnosis therapy can reduce the severity of heartburn and chest pain and help in the management of other health problems.
Keep in mind that the effectiveness of these nonmedical and natural treatment options varies from person to person. Patients are advised to consult with their doctor before stopping PPI medication or switching to a natural substitute.
Herbal Remedies for Acid Reflux
Herbal remedies can relieve acid reflux symptoms such as heartburn or inflammation in the intestines.
Many of these alternative medicine options have a reduced risk of adverse side effects compared to proton-pump inhibitors and other common over-counter medications like Maalox or Cimetidine.
However, some herbal remedies may not be suitable for individuals with specific diseases or conditions. Consultation with a healthcare provider is advisable before exploring these alternative treatments.
Some of the most common herbal remedies for acid reflux are:
Chamomile: Drinking chamomile tea may soothe the digestive tract and provide some degree of relief from acid reflux. However, it may cause an adverse reaction in people allergic to ragweed.
Ginger: Ginger root is well-known for its digestive benefits. It has been used as a heartburn remedy for hundreds of years.
Licorice: Research suggests that licorice root can provide some relief for acid reflux. Ingesting licorice increases mucous production in the esophageal lining, providing a coating that protects it from stomach acid and reduces irritation.
If you don’t like the taste of licorice, you can purchase deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) in pill or liquid form.
Aloe vera: Aloe vera gel has shown some promise in easing GERD symptoms. A study of 79 people in 2015 showed that most GERD patients tolerated aloe vera well without exhibiting noticeable side effects.
Other natural remedies: Other natural home remedies for managing acid reflux symptoms are catnip, fennel, marshmallow root, papaya, tea brewed from papaya leaves, and raw potato juice.
Keep in mind that there is little to no scientific evidence of the effectiveness of these remedies. Furthermore, most herbal remedies do not undergo rigorous FDA testing for safety and efficacy or are subject to established manufacturing and packaging standards.
It is always best to seek expert advice from physicians before trying herbal alternatives to omeprazole.
Dietary Changes for Acid Reflux
Dietary changes may provide some measure of relief for acid reflux. Even if you are taking a PPI such as omeprazole, your doctor may recommend modifying your diet.
Modifying your diet doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding your favorite foods entirely. For most people, it is sufficient to make a few dietary changes.
Changing your diet usually involves avoiding foods that can trigger or worsen your acid reflux symptoms. These include:
- Fatty foods
- Drinks containing caffeine
- Spicy foods
- Carbonated beverages
- Citrus fruits
- Tomatoes and tomato-based foods
Deciding on an appropriate diet also involves determining what methods work for you. Everyone has different triggers and treatments, so what causes a GERD flare-up for some may be harmless for you.
It’s also often just as important to consider when you eat. Foods that may trigger acid reflux when you eat them shortly before bed may be harmless when you eat them earlier.
Alternatives to Acid Reflux-Triggering Foods
Unfortunately, no single diet has conclusively been proven to cure GERD. However, a wide variety of foods can help ease or prevent its symptoms. These include:
Fruits: People with acid reflux are advised to avoid citrus fruits and juices, such as oranges and lemons. However, most can safely eat non-citrus fruits such as bananas, melons, apples, and pears.
Vegetables: Most vegetables are safe to eat for people with acid reflux. But it is best to avoid recipes with high-fat sauces, toppings, and foods such as tomatoes or onions.
Eggs: Some people can consume eggs without incident. But for others—especially those susceptible to Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria—they can trigger discomfort. If yolks cause problems for you, consider getting your protein from just the egg whites, which can be less likely to increase bacterial activity.
Lean meat: Go for lean meats to avoid triggering your acid reflux. High-fat and fried foods can cause the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax, slowing down the emptying of the stomach and increasing the chances of an attack.
Complex carbohydrates: Oatmeal, whole grain bread, rice, and couscous are excellent sources of complex carbs. You may also eat whole grains and brown rice to supplement your diet with fiber, which benefits the digestive system.
Root vegetables: Potatoes are also excellent sources of healthy carbs and fiber. It is best to avoid eating them with onions and garlic, which are known irritants.
The Right‒and Wrong‒Types of Fat
Fat is a necessary component of a healthy diet, but you must distinguish between the types to consume and those to avoid. It is best to minimize saturated fats, typically present in meat and dairy, and trans fat found in processed foods, margarine, and shortenings.
Consider replacing these with unsaturated fats from plants or fish. A few alternatives to examine are:
Monounsaturated fats: Oils such as olive, sesame, canola, and sunflower are much less likely to trigger GERD symptoms. Most people can also consume avocados, peanuts, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds without issue.
Polyunsaturated fats: Oils such as safflower, soybean, corn, flaxseed, and walnut are generally safe to ingest in reasonable amounts. Additionally, you can eat soybeans, tofu, and fatty fish such as salmon and trout.
Lifestyle Changes for Acid Reflux
Aside from dietary changes, you can reduce acid reflux symptoms or prevent an attack from worsening by making lifestyle modifications. Consider the following changes to your lifestyle and habits:
Avoid lying down immediately after eating or drinking acidic liquids: It is best to wait at least two hours to prevent these foods from re-entering your esophagus.
Elevate your head while sleeping: Some people avoid bouts of acid reflux by placing an extra pillow or two under their heads before they sleep. For others, raising the legs under the head part of the bed and sleeping at an incline provides similar beneficial outcomes.
Eat smaller meals: It is generally best to eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day instead of large ones.
Wear looser clothes: This reduces pressure on the stomach area and may control heartburn and reflux.
Quit smoking: Smoking tobacco increases stomach acid production. It also makes the lower esophageal sphincter less effective at preventing acid from re-entering the esophagus.
Lose weight: It's generally beneficial to maintain a healthy weight. But losing excess fat around the midsection via exercise can be especially advantageous for acid reflux patients.
Over-the-Counter Medications for Acid Reflux
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications might be a feasible alternative for people who prefer not to take prescription-strength acid reflux medicine due to side effects and other complications. For many, they are the first course of treatment for easing GERD symptoms.
Some OTC drugs offer immediate relief from acid reflux. Others can effectively prevent recurring symptoms.
Antacids are some of the most common OTC treatments for acid reflux. These are generally more effective for soothing minor heartburn and mostly work by neutralizing stomach acids.
Some examples of antacids are:
- Aluminum hydroxide gels
- Calcium carbonate (Alka-Seltzer, Tums)
- Magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia)
- Gaviscon, Gelusil, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids
Most heartburn medications work within minutes. They generally provide quicker relief than other medications.
Over-the-counter antacids contain varying amounts of aluminum, magnesium, calcium, or all these ingredients. They usually come in tablets or lozenges that can be chewed or dissolved in saliva. You may also purchase them from a pharmacy in liquid or gummy form.
Keep in mind that antacid pills may cause side effects such as diarrhea and constipation. These are usually more common among people who take antacids frequently.
OTC H2 Blockers and PPIs
H2 blockers and PPIs come in OTC versions as well. These are generally lower dosage versions of prescription medications intended for short-term relief of moderate discomfort.
One example is Tagamet (cimetidine). This is a histamine receptor antagonist that treats and prevents some types of stomach ulcers. It also treats conditions that result in the overproduction of stomach acid.
Prescription Medications for Acid Reflux
If OTC medications do not provide relief, your physician may prescribe higher-dose versions of PPIs or H2 blockers.
Prescription-strength PPIs include:
- Esomeprazole (Nexium)
- Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
- Pantoprazole (Protonix)
- Rabeprazole (Aciphex)
- Dexlansoprazole (Dexilant)
These prescription drugs are generally well tolerated by most people. However, they have been known to cause diarrhea, headaches, and nausea. In rare cases, they may also reduce vitamin B-12 or magnesium levels.
Prescription-strength H2 blockers include medications such as
Unlike prescription-strength PPIs, these are usually well tolerated and produce only mild side effects.
Omeprazole and similar medications can be quite effective at reducing stomach acid and treating acid reflux. But the risk of side effects makes natural remedies a more feasible and attractive alternative for some people.
Combining natural treatment solutions with lifestyle adjustments, dietary changes, weight management, and stress reduction can be even more effective. Some herbal supplements and home remedies also show promise in alleviating acid reflux symptoms without the negative effects of pharmaceutical drugs.
Even so, it’s important to seek medical advice before implementing significant changes to your current treatment plan. Remember: individual responses to natural remedies can vary, and some “solutions” are supported only by anecdotal evidence.
For people diagnosed with acid reflux, a treatment program based on informed choices and medical consultation is always best. This will help ensure the safest and most effective approach to managing acid reflux.
Disclaimer: The above is a sponsored post, the views expressed are those of the sponsor/author and do not represent the stand and views of Outlook Editorial.