Americans spend in excess of $2 billion a year on antacids. That’s a lot of acid reflux, which makes sense considering the Standard American Diet (SAD) is, pardon the pun, hard to swallow.
But are those that take antacid medication or over-the-counter remedies doing themselves more harm than good?
Before answering this question, let’s get the following medical disclaimer out of the way: if you are taking an antacid medication, do not stop taking it without first consulting your doctor. This advice is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure or substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Now then, let’s take a look at the potential shortcomings of antacids.
The “Band-Aid” Approach Of Antacids
Let’s say you’re getting in touch with your inner caveman, feasting on a huge T-bone steak. Or perhaps you’re celebrating an anniversary at an Italian restaurant, feasting on a huge bowl of pasta with Italian sausage, bell peppers and onions. (Not that you would be likely to do that, considering you’re reading this on the blog of the leading brand of ultra-low-calorie noodles; excuse the shameless promotional plug.)
Within an hour or so after this heavy meal, you feel a toxic cauldron of noxious gases bubbling up like a Yellowstone geyser, working its way up your esophageal tract, ultimately spewing out of your mouth in the form of a most hideous liquidy belch.
Sorry for the unappetizing picture. But for millions of Americans, this is an everyday reality: the inability to fully digest a meal and suffer acid reflux symptoms such as heartburn, dysphagia (the sensation of food being stuck in the throat), bloating and unrelenting hiccups and burping.
The most common solution for acid reflux is an antacid remedy.
And it makes sense. If you are suffering from one of these symptoms, you would most likely want the symptoms gone as quickly as possible. Like a Band Aid offering relief for a blister, antacids offer comfort for acid reflux.
Too Much or Too Little Stomach Acid?
Antacids work by reducing stomach acid. If you’re trying to be a hero and finish a 72-ounce steak, your stomach secretes acid in an attempt to digest all that protein. Antacids, which contain mineral salts (magnesium, aluminum, calcium and sodium) work by raising the digestive juices of the stomach’s (gastric acid) pH level.
The theory behind antacids is that by raising the pH level of the gastric acid (making it less acidic), the stomach will secrete less acid.
There are two problems with the approach of conventional antacids.
First of all, your stomach should be a bubbling acidic cauldron, with a very acidic pH (approximately 2.0 before eating). Gastric acid needs to be this low in order to break down food into its constituent nutrients. Chronic use of antacids can, overtime, elevate the stomach pH to the point that digestion becomes compromised.
Furthermore, the underlying problem with antacids is that most people may actually have insufficient stomach acid rather than too much gastric juices.
This study, in an integrative medicine journal, says that drugs used to lower stomach acid secretion, may result in “A decrease in absorption of some key vitamins and minerals, gut dysbiosis, rebound stomach acid hypersecretion, increased reflux-like symptoms, and hypergastrinemia.”
Hypergastrinemia is associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer.
Are Antacids Overprescribed?
Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) drugs, which are commonly prescribed to lower stomach acid, are among the most over prescribed medications [SOURCE].
A clinical pharmacist writes in a British pharmaceutical journal that PPIs puts one at a greater risk for developing infections such as C. difficile, Campylobacter and Salmonella gastroenteritis. Antacids can also increase your chances for developing kidney disease, a heart attack and bone fracture. Other infections or conditions that may be associated with low stomach acid include h. Pylori and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
More bad news associated with long-term use of antacids: they may increase your risk of developing an autoimmune disease. If you have low stomach acid, which may be caused by taking antacids repeatedly, you won’t be able to fully digest your food. Consequently, the undigested food particles may escape the mucosal barrier protective lining of the small intestine and leak into the bloodstream. (This is where the term “Leaky Gut” comes from.)
Undigested food particles in the bloodstream are recognized by your immune system as pathogens. Your body’s immune system then starts attacking itself, which can lead to an autoimmune disorder.
How To Manage Acid Reflux Naturally
If you experience acid reflux on a regular basis, you may have low stomach acid or leaky gut (or both). Seek a functional medicine health professional in your area or work with one online.
Unfortunately, you may have to pay out of pocket because not all functional medicine professionals accept insurance. Also, your regular family physician will not diagnose “leaky gut” because it is not a recognized medical condition.
Taking probiotic supplements, taking digestive enzymes and avoiding offending foods (spicy, fried, fatty, citrus, alcohol, coffee) may help, over time, reduce incidences of acid reflux.
Another supplement to consider taking is HCL (hydrochloric acid). HCL activates the gastric juice, pepsin. Having enough HCL in your gut is critical for fully digesting your food.
Eat foods that may help restore the gut’s structural integrity such as bone broth and collagen peptides.
Finally, try not to eat large meals and don’t eat too close to bedtime.
Even More Problems With Antacids
Besides raising your stomach acid pH, thereby lowering your stomach acid, which may be the root cause of your indigestion, there are other reasons to avoid taking antacids. The FDA recalled Zantac and other antacids with the active ingredient, ranitidine, because the ingredient has been found to produce a carcinogenic substance called NDMA. Numerous lawsuits are underway against the manufacturers of these medications. Now that’s a bitter pill to swallow!