The year-end holiday is the best time for family and friends to gather around the dining table at home to celebrate and enjoy their favorite foods. However, heartburn after holiday meals often ruins the delicious food and good times. Most people will take whatever over-the-counter (OTC) heartburn medications they can get to relieve their burning pains, but do you know some of the popular OTC heartburn medications have potential cancer risks?
In April 2020, the FDA issued an immediate market withdrawal request for Zantac (Ranitidine) because the drug contains a cancer-causing chemical called NDMA (N-Nitrosodimethylamine). The FDA found that NDMA levels increase in ranitidine even under normal storage conditions. FDA’s testing also showed that the older the Zantac is, the greater the level of NDMA. As its level of NDMA had risen above the acceptable daily intake limit, Zantac was then recalled by manufacturers last year. Do not take old Zantac found in your home. You should consult your doctor for alternative medications to treat your heartburn symptoms.
There are also increased cancer concerns in two other popular OTC heartburn drugs Prilosec (Omeprazole) and Nexium (Esomeprazole). Both drugs belong to the same class of acid reducers called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Unlike Zantac, PPIs don’t contain a high level of NDMA, but a research study published in the journal Gut in 2017 reported that long-term use of the PPIs could increase the risk of developing stomach cancer. For your safety, ask your doctor if you should use or continue to use Prilosec or Nexium for your heartburn relief or acid reflux treatment.
Try This Heartburn Medication Instead
The good news is H2 blockers, another class of heartburn medications such as Pepcid (famotidine) and Tagamet (Cimetidine), are safer alternative medications to the PPIs. The same study using H2 blocks as control medications to the PPIs showed that the stomach cancer risk of PPIs is 2-8 times higher than the H2 blockers.
Interestingly, the President’s health summary published by The White House on November 19, 2021, revealed that the H2 blocker drug Pepcid was chosen by The White House physician to treat President’s heartburn symptoms and acid reflux disease. This decision may be because this drug has not yet been linked with reported cancer risk.
Every medication has indications and side effects, including the H2 blockers Pepcid and Tagamet. You should consult with your doctors to choose the appropriate medication(s) to treat your heartburn and acid reflex based on your conditions.
Prevention is better than treatment. To avoid heartburn, you should:
- eat smaller and frequent meals
- avoid late-night eating and
- not exercise right after meals
We hope these heartburn-smart approaches could prevent or reduce your heartburns during this holiday season.
Additional Reads You May Enjoy:
FDA Recalls Popular Heartburn Drug Ranitidine: What You Need to Know
5 Facts about Esophageal Cancer
Stomach Cancer Warning Signs: Understanding Your Risk
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FDA Requests Removal of All Ranitidine Products (Zantac) from the Market.
Press Release, April 01, 2020.
Long-term proton pump inhibitors and risk of gastric cancer development after treatment for Helicobacter pylori: a population-based study. Gut, October 31, 2017.
President Biden’s Current Health Summary. The White House Statements and Releases, November 19, 2021.