Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, or “heartburn”) and related diseases caused by excess stomach acid affect more than a quarter of Americans, but existing therapies often don’t work. About 60 percent of patients still experience symptoms while taking commonly prescribed proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as omeprazole (e.g., Prilosec).
These drugs have been linked to the depletion of zinc, an essential nutrient that protects the stomach lining and heals ulcers. In a new study led by John P. Geibel, M.D., D.Sc., professor of surgery and of cellular and molecular physiology, a team of Yale and Swiss researchers found that zinc itself is significantly better than omeprazole at combating stomach acid. As reported online August 24 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, adding zinc to sections of stomach tissue immediately abolished acid secretion triggered by the compound histamine, and oral zinc treatment in rats prevented acid secretion.
The researchers also found that zinc treatment in healthy humans is faster and more effective at lowering gastric acid levels than omeprazole: a single dose works within seconds and lasts for about three hours. “This opens a promising new avenue of treatment for suffering patients,” says Geibel, “especially the many who continue to have symptoms of acid-related illness even after a standard dose of PPIs.”