Understanding Proton Pump Inhibitors (Part 1)

Last week, I posted about a type of common type of drugs called NSAIDs and their dangerous side effects. This week, we’re going to look at another popular category of drugs: Proton Pump Inhibitors or PPIs.

Like NSAIDs, PPIs are relatively inexpensive, available over the counter, and widely prescribed.  In fact, worldwide, there are 13.5 million people on PPIs (about 1 out of every 9 people) and of those, a quarter have no reason to be on them!

Today, I’m going to explain what they are and how they work.  Then, in my next post, we’ll dive deeper into the parts of the body that they harm and some more natural alternatives.


  1. PPIs Part 1
  2. PPIs Part 2
  3. PPIs Part 3
  4. PPIs Advanced

What are PPIs?

PPIs are also known as acid-suppression medications because that’s their main goal: to suppress the acid that is responsible for “stomach issues” like heartburn, indigestion, and ulcers.  All too often, doctors will prescribe them before trying to determine the actual cause of their patient’s gastrointestinal pain.  You may have heard of some of these medications before.  They go by names such as tenatoprazole, lansoprazole, esomeprazole and dexlansoprazole and are marketed under brands like Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid.

How Do They Work?



Seeing the word “proton” may remind you of your physics class from high school so you may be wondering what that’s got to do with stomach acid.  Here’s how it works:

Everything is made up of atoms and atoms are made up of three types of particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons.  These atoms comprise the cells that are in your body and proton pumps exist in all of them. Just like a water pump moves water from one place to another, proton pumps move protons.  The positively-charged protons cross through mitochondria and generate energy that is converted to the ATP that powers your body.

So, a proton pump inhibitor prevents the proton pump from moving the protons.  When the protons don’t move, then no energy can be generated.  By inhibiting the protons in the stomach, the amount of energy needed to create stomach acid is limited which leads to less stomach acid and fewer stomach acid-related issues.  The PPIs are able to do this by binding to the proton pumps in your cells.

Although PPIs are supposed to be designed to interact with the cells that create stomach acid, their chemistry allows them to bind to other kinds of cells, too.  On top of that, even though the PPIs themselves leave the bloodstream fairly quickly, the damage they do to pumps they have already affected is irreversible.

Why Are They Prescribed?

Some studies show that PPIs have benefits for conditions like asthma, dyspepsia, esophageal cancer, NSAID-induced cancer, some gastric ulcers, and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (when a stomach tumor causes too much acid production).  However, many of these benefits have been reported by studies with questionable ethics, such as studies funded by the pharmaceutical companies themselves.

They are potentially effective in the short term, but their long-term effects are extremely detrimental.  They should never be used for more than two weeks at a time.  Yet, all too often, they are recommended for long-term situations.

TLDR: PPIs are over-prescribed and hurt the cells in your body.

In My Next Post

In my next blog post,I’ll list the ten negative effects of PPIs.  In the meantime, here are some recipes and natural supplements you can try instead (in my last post, I’ll have a more comprehensive list of alternatives).

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