Are Antacids the Answer for Reflux?

Antacids (anti-acids) are part of conventional help for GERD, which focuses on control of stomach acid. Treatment also usually involves avoiding irritating medications and avoiding any irritating foods which may cause indigestion. This page shows why GERD occurs, including the list of potential contributing foods and medications. You can see if your symptoms match some of the surprising signs of GERD here.

One medication may work better than another for each individual. (Why? Because we are all unique!) Let’s look at conventional medications, starting with antacids.

How Do Antacids Deal with Stomach Acid and Relieve Indigestion?

The first line of defense in medications used for help with GERD is usually anti-acids.  These medications deal with the stomach acid after it is already produced.

“Neutralization” means taking the acid and making it less acidic so it is a more neutral pH. The neutralization of the stomach acid relieves the heartburn, reflux, indigestion and sour stomach experienced when too much stomach acid seems to cause problems.

Anti-acid manufacturers will have you believe that you can just keep on living the lifestyle you lead, eating the foods that you know cause the GERD, and all you have to do is pop some medication. But is it really that simple? Aren’t there consequences of the medications?

What are the General Side Effects of Antacids?

According to WebMD and other sources, side effects are that:

  • These drugs may interfere with the absorption and action of some prescription medicines, as well as nutrient absorption and excretion (like chromium) and each type has its own drug interactions.
  • Burping after taking an anti-acid is the result of the gases being produced when the it interacts with stomach acid.
  • Since antacids decrease acid levels in the stomach, you should not use these drugs for more than 2 weeks unless you have talked with your doctor about taking them on a long-term basis because stomach acid performs vital functions. (link back to probiotics and GERD page)
  • These drugs can stress the kidneys and/or liver because all drugs are broken down and removed from the body by the combined action of the liver and kidneys. If your kidneys and/or liver are not working correctly, it is possible that too much of the drug will build up in your body.

As mentioned, the goal of these medications is to reduce stomach acidity. Reducing the pH in the stomach can, however, impair proper digestion and set the stage for dysbiosis (unbalanced flora) in the GI tract, which ironically, can make GERD worse.

Additionally, many antacids have less-than-desirable ingredients.

What are Some Common Antacids and Their Ingredients?

Let’s take a quick look at some common, over-the-counter anti-acids medications. The information is current as of the time of this writing. Please always read ingredient labels.

Tums – Comes in 8 varieties with a minimum of 500 mg of the active ingredient, calcium carbonate, to a maximum of 1000 mg per tablet. Other ingredients may be things such as corn starch (probably GMO), maltodextrin (probably GMO), talc, mineral oil (think “baby oil”), artificial colors and flavors, sugar, artificial sweeteners. Tums dual-action product combines calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide as antacids with an H2 blocker.

Some people take a product like Tums and figure that they are also getting calcium and helping their bones. However, calcium carbonate, the active ingredient in Tums, is one of the most poorly absorbed forms of calcium. There are better ways to support bone health than taking Tums.

There is even a Tums product for kids. If your kids have GERD, please take a close look at their diet and lifestyle!

Alka-Seltzer – Comes in 5 varieties. The main ingredients are sodium bicarbonate, anhydrous citric acid, and some have potassium bicarbonate. Alka-Seltzer Gold and Alka-Seltzer Heartburn Relief do not contain aspirin. The other products have aspirin in them. Inactive ingredients may include artificial flavors (including aspartame, a known neurotoxin).

Sodium bicarbonate can cause fluid buildup in pregnant women or in people on a sodium-restricted diet.

Mylanta – There was a recall in 2010 of all liquid Mylanta heartburn products due to the presence of low amounts of alcohol in the products. Their active ingredients were aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide. Note that aluminum is a toxic heavy metal. There were also artificial flavors, sweeteners and parabens in them.

Gaviscon – Comes in 5 varieties, 3 tablets and 2 liquids. This product is advertised to form a foam barrier (raft) when mixed with stomach acid, and is supposed to be followed by drinking half a glass of water.

The active ingredients are aluminum hydroxide (note the toxic metal alert above) and either magnesium carbonate or magnesium trisilicate. No inactive ingredients were listed online.

Pepto-Bismol – Comes in several liquid, chewable, and caplet varieties. The active ingredient is bismuth subsalicylate, a substance related to aspirin. The liquid has artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavor, and magnesium aluminum silicate (see toxic heavy metal alert for Mylanta).

The tablets and caplets may have calcium carbonate, artificial colors, artificial flavors, magnesium aluminum silicate, and artificial sweeteners. The children’s variety is based on calcium carbonate as the active ingredient with artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, sugar and talc as some of the other ingredients.

Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) can do the same thing as the other anti-acids (but much cheaper with less risk!), and because it is so effective, it is included in some medications. Note that people on a sodium-restricted diet and pregnant women may need to reduce sodium intake elsewhere if using it.

So, Are Antacids the Answer for GERD?

Antacids have the advantage in that they are taken on an as-needed basis. You can see that they are not the answer for a cure for GERD, however, since they deal with stomach acid after it is already produced. Additionally, they are not supposed to be taken for more than 2 weeks.

Nearly all of these solutions, with the exception of baking soda, have many questionable ingredients. A better approach is to try to eliminate the cause of frequent reflux and heartburn instead of taking antacids regularly.

Check out these other pages:

Treatment for GERD with proton-pump inhibitors

Treatment for GERD with H2 blockers.

Help for GERD with probiotics, and why you  need stomach acid.

Return to the page about GERD causes.

Return to the page about GERD symptoms, diagnosis and complications.

Return to the Homepage.

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