Updated: December 30, 2012 1:23AM
Q. My wife says I take too many antacids and it’s not good for me. Is there really a problem?
A. Heartburn is no fun, and sometimes you need to get your hands on a fire extinguisher ASAP. But if you’re taking over-the-counter heartburn meds for more than a few weeks in a row, you’re treating your symptoms instead of your problem.
There are three types of heartburn medications: antacids, H2 histamine blockers and proton pump inhibitors, PPIs. Antacids neutralize stomach acid, H2 blockers reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces, and the heavy-duty PPIs block the enzyme system that produces gastric acid — reducing secretions by up to 99 percent.
They all temporarily reduce stomach acid. That seems like sweet relief, but over the long haul, this could cause big trouble for your gut.
Want a safer way to extinguish the flames? Cut back on salt and fat; eat more fiber (in whole grains, fruits and veggies); avoid your trigger foods, like chocolate, chili, alcohol and colas; chew sugar-free gum after meals (it represses acid reflux), and, if you’re overweight, lose 10 percent of your body weight. You also might want to keep a food diary to help you identify which foods are causing problems.
Q. What is a compounding pharmacy, and how could one have released a medication that infected so many people with meningitis?
A. A compounding pharmacy is a customized-drug provider that supplies people with individually tailored medications. They put together versions of all types of Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs for people who may be allergic to certain dyes or fillers, or who need alternative delivery methods to pills, sprays, creams or powders. They also provide customized drugs for many treatments, from bioidentical hormone therapies (Bio-HT) to individually designed chemotherapy treatments.
Since the 1990s, compounding drugs has become a $3 billion industry that accounts for 37 million prescriptions a year — big business. There may be as many as 7,500 compounding pharmacies in the country; no one knows the exact number.
The Massachusetts compounding pharmacy associated with the spread of fungal meningitis through contaminated steroids seems to have exceeded its state license when it mass-produced a drug and sold it around the country. It has since recalled all of its products, and a congressional and FDA investigation is in the works.
So don’t hesitate to ask your doctors where they get their medications. If they’re from a compounding pharmacy, ask how long the doc has been using it, and ask to see the label before you take an injection. But remember, compounding pharmacies play an important part in our health-care system, and the ones that play by the rules help a lot of people.