Nexium for Kids with Heartburn
Children ages 1-11 who suffer from heartburn can now find relief in the medication Nexium. The FDA just approved the drug for short-term use in young children after extrapolating data from tests on adult patients, plus running pediatric safety and pharmacokinetic tests. According to an FDA press release, "In one study, 109 patients 1-11 in age, diagnosed with GERD, were treated with Nexium once-a-day for up to eight weeks to evaluate its safety and tolerability. Most of these patients demonstrated healing of their esophageal erosions after eight weeks of treatment."
The most frequent side effects observed in the pediatric studies included headaches, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, constipation, stomach pain, dry mouth and fatigue. The press release points out that children who take the drug should be monitored for adverse reactions.
While it's a relief to hear that no serious complications occurred during the trial studies, the side effect list represents a whole lot of discomfort for some very young people. Also, it's worrisome (or it should be to parents in this case) that Nexium has been implicated in heightened rates of heart failure and heart disease in adult patients based on the results of several long-term studies, although the FDA reviewed those results last December and still decided to recommend that doctors continue prescribing the drug. Also, the ambiguous wording of the release --"most of the patients experienced healing"-- raises a question mark.
But all that said, there remains a giant elephant in the closet, if you will:
Why are kids as young as age one suffering from acid reflux in numbers great enough to result in an FDA ruling?
This is the crucial question, because unless they're getting GERD as a result of a Nexium deficiency, then giving them Nexium merely masks the real problem. I discussed the nature of that real problem in my newsletter of March 12, 2007, but to review quickly...
Our digestive systems are set up to process enzyme-rich food that gets thoroughly chewed, leading to enzymatic pre-digestion so that a minimal amount of acid is required to complete the digestive cycle. Unfortunately, processing and cooking destroy enzymes in food. (Any sustained heat of approximately 118 -- 129 degrees F destroys virtually all enzymes.) This means that, for most of us, the food entering our stomach is severely enzyme deficient. The food then sits there for an hour, like a heavy lump, with very little pre-digestion taking place. This forces the body to produce large amounts of stomach acid in an attempt to overcompensate. This leads to acid indigestion. Bottom line: enzyme dead food leads to acid reflux.
Long term, though, this leads to a quite a different problem. If you spend years forcing your body to massively overproduce stomach acid to compensate for the lack of enzymes in your diet, what do you think the long-term consequences might be in terms of your ability to produce stomach acid? Eventually, your body's capacity to produce stomach acid begins to fade, with a concomitant loss in your body's ability to sufficiently process food in the stomach. The health consequences can be profound. Low production of stomach acid is quite common and becomes more prevalent with age. By age forty, 40% of the population is affected, and by age sixty, 50%. A person over age 40 who visits a doctor's office has about a 90% probability of having low stomach acid. Consequences can include:
- Poor digestion. Not only is there insufficient stomach acid to break down food, there is insufficient acidity to optimize the digestive enzyme pepsin, which requires a pH of around 2.0. This results in partial digestion of food, leading to gas, bloating, belching, diarrhea/constipation, autoimmune disorders, skin diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and a host of intestinal disorders such as Crohn's and IBS.
- It is estimated that 80% of people with food allergies suffer from some degree of low acid production in the stomach.
- Many vitamins and minerals require proper stomach acid in order to be properly absorbed, including: calcium, iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid. Vitamin B12 in particular requires sufficient stomach acid for proper utilization. Without that acid, severe B12 deficiency can result. (Note: ionic delivery systems can bypass this problem.)
- With low acidity and the presence of undigested food, harmful bacteria are more likely to colonize the stomach and interfere with digestion. Normal levels of stomach acid help to keep the digestive system free of harmful bacteria and parasites.
So what does this all mean for kids on Nexium?
It means that yes, you've solved the problem of GERD by giving them Nexium to stop production of stomach acid -- but you've done it by forcing their bodies into "old age." If they're still eating enzyme-dead food and you then reduce the stomach acid that their bodies need in order to compensate, you've aged these kid's digestive tracts 60 years, overnight. In effect, they've exchanged GERD for all of the problems of low acidity described above. As they say in England, "That's bloody brilliant!"
Instead of Nexium, let's start getting our kids to eat more raw foods with enzymes intact. And if you must supplement, then try giving your kids a good digestive enzyme formula that actually supports the body instead of throwing it into old age.