How Digestive Issues May Increase Risk of Contracting COVID …and What You can Do About It.

A couple cooking together
By Dr. Todd Ferguson and Dr. Cassandra Costa

Let me begin with some good news. Although prescription medications for digestive issues can negatively impact normal gut functions, as I will explain momentarily—your naturopathic treatment specialists are here to help. By addressing the root cause of your digestive issues with some of the most experienced holistic doctors in Minnesota, you can work together to resolve those issues through naturopathic therapies, natural medicines, and lifestyle changes. Covid-19 aside, Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI’s), such as omeprazole, pantoprazole, etc, are associated with all sorts of negative side effects, including gastrointestinal infection, bone fracture, chronic kidney disease, enteric infection, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. PPI’s can also lead to dangerously low levels of magnesium or iron (i.e. PPI’s may cause deficiency).  Utilizing our effective naturopathic approach can decrease or eliminate the need for prescription medications such as PPI’s.

Before I get into the specific solutions we can offer, let’s talk a little bit about the way in which PPI’s can negatively impact normal gut functions and lead to increased risk for infection. PPI’s work by blocking structures called proton pumps in the stomach, thus preventing stomach acid from releasing upon consumption of food. Normally, after we eat, a healthy stomach produces acid causing the pH to dip down to less than 3. However, for someone on PPI’s, the pH level of their stomach hovers around a pH of 6 for up to 24 hours. The lack of stomach acid may reduce the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux—but it can also leave the intestines more vulnerable to infections by reducing the protective barrier. Stomach acid is the first line of defense of problematic microbes consumed in our food and drink.  Prolonged PPI use has been shown to reduce the gut’s microbial diversity, enabling the colonization of enteric pathogens (i.e. microbes that cause disease). Conversely, a healthy stomach’s normal pH impairs the ability of ingested bacteria and viruses to infect the body through the gut. So basically, a healthy digestive tract utilizes substances from the mouth and stomach to keep harmful pathogens out of our system.

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers examined surveys of over 86,000 people and included in their study 53,000 people, of whom 3,386 caught Covid-19.  The results showed that people who took PPI’s had a 2.15% to 3.67% higher chance of catching Covid-19 than people who don’t take the drugs.  The more PPI’s people took the higher risk.

Enter your naturopathic healing specialists. We address each individual’s root causes for digestive issues and personalize our approach to care. We address heartburn, reflux, bloating, constipation, or abdominal pains by improving digestion and gut ecology as opposed to PPI’s which worsen digestion and gut ecology.  In other words, we correct disease by building health rather than blocking symptoms! To address the underlying causes, we conduct a thorough history, a comprehensive exam, run the appropriate tests and then prescribe therapy, natural medicines and lifestyle changes all of which is aimed at correcting your body’s function. For naturopathic therapies, we may prescribe hydrotherapy, physiotherapy or visceral manipulation. Hydrotherapy uses varying temperatures of water, both internally and externally, and includes contrast, saunas, and colonic cleansing (i.e. colonics). All the water we utilize for therapy has been purified for optimal effect.  Hydrotherapy has the effect of activating circulation and immune response.  We often combine hydrotherapy with the use of electrical stim to activate the nerve activity to the organs that need strengthening.  The combination is a powerful way to build health.  Visceral manipulation aims at restoring your organs to their proper movement and function, thus increasing proprioceptive communication within the body for greater internal harmony.  Lifestyle changes include removal food intolerances and food sensitivities, guidance on nutrient dense foods to restore nutrient levels, stress management, and introduction of a regular exercise regimen. Excessive consumption of sweets, for example, can really sour the stomach weakening the digestive function and feeding problematic flora.  Too little or too much protein and the stomach does not perform well.  Therefore, doing therapies to build better function and the proper food intake to avoid weakening function is key.  By making lifestyle changes along with our therapies, we are maximizing the natural function of the stomach and the esophageal sphincter muscle to keep acid in the stomach where it is needed for digestion. Finally, we also typically prescribe herbs, vitamins and/or minerals as indicated and modify the supplement regimen you are already on.  The correct dose, frequency, and combinations are required to get results.  For example, deficiency of iodine, zinc, and B vitamins can lead to poor stomach performance and may need to be replenished.  DGL (licorice root extract) can be healing by coating and protecting the lower esophageal and stomach tissues from acid, however by itself typically will not correct the problem because it doesn’t address all of the causes.  While DGL is good, and doesn’t have many of the negative side effects of PPP’s, and we often prescribe it, a more holistic approach is required for lasting results.

If you are currently taking Proton Pump Inhibitors in any form, or if you suffer from digestive issues, I urge you to make an appointment with one of our naturopathic doctors; we will prioritize your digestive health and greatly improve your body’s ability to fight off infection.

The doctors at Prairie Naturopathic wish you wellness throughout the holiday season and into the new year.


Almario, Christopher V., Chey, William D., Spiegel, Brennan M. R. (2020). “Increased Risk of COVID-19 Among Users of Proton Pump Inhibitors.” The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Volume 115 - Issue 10 - p 1707-1715. DOI: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000000798

January 15, 2021

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