The Dangers of Antacids as it Relates to Heartburn

Modern medicine has reformed not only the quality, but the longevity of our lives. With that said, while the medical field strives to provide the best in healthcare, they have many hurdles and challenges to face in the process. For instance, obtaining the necessary funding for research and programs, yet balancing the influence that goes hand in hand with financial support.

Enter the world of heartburn relief. The Statistics Say it All

One of the most common over-the-counter medicated ailments is heartburn, also referred to as Acid Reflux for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in it’s more exacerbated forms. With “60 million Americans” experiencing symptoms once a month and a suggested “15 million Americans” experiencing symptoms daily , heartburn has quickly progressed to epidemic proportions. Yet, heartburn medication is relatively new. In the 1960s, as this common health issue grew, pharmaceutical companies stepped in to create an easy access medication to relieve sufferers.

Hello to the invent of Tagamet and over-the-counter antacids!

While the initial heartburn statistics seem staggering, the true surprise is that “one-half of American adults” — more than those actually diagnosed or experiencing heartburn — have taken antacids. On top of that , “twenty-seven percent of adults take 2 or more doses per month,” and “seventy-five percent of total antacid consumption is by heavy users,” meaning those taking more than “six doses per week.”

The human component is compelling, yet financial statistics are even more daunting.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) — a popular treatment for exacerbated forms of heartburn — are “one of the best-selling classes of drugs int he U.S., with sales of nine and a half billion dollars in 2012,” alone. Furthermore, Americans have spent “over two billion dollars annually on liquid and tablet antacids,” while “in 2016, private-label sales of antacids reached almost eight hundred and sixty million dollars.” This includes two of the most popular labels, Nexium 24HR and Zantac, which “totaled over half a billion dollars more.”

This means, if you’re reading this article, it’s very possible that you’ve consumed antacids at one point in your life or are currently using them. Yet, how much do you know about this medication, about the ingredients used to create them, and the potential health risks of long-term use?

If you’re curious, stick around and I’ll dive into all the details about antacids! A Theory to Consider: The Allopathic Treatment Cascade

Before we launch into specifics, let’s take a look at how these medications have a way of intervening in negative ways. While antacids and acid blockers have provided a wealth of relief for sufferers, studies into long-term use of these medications have revealed growing health concerns specifically in relation to the “potential consequences of prolonged acid suppression.”

In an extensive article from Dr. Christopher Amuroso published by the Weston A. Price Foundation , a theory called the allopathic treatment cascade is argued. The allopathic treatment cascade refers to two avenues of heartburn treatment that coincide in more serious health issues: firstly, a series of medications that bandage instead of treat the condition, and, secondly, an avoidance of treating the root cause of the condition.

Per Dr. Amuroso, the cascade begins with self-medication using OTC antacids (think Tums and Rolaids) and, when symptoms persist, is followed with OTC or prescription medication for hyperacidity — referring to a “set of symptoms caused by an imbalance between the acid-secreting mechanism” and those mechanisms meant to protect your digestive system from acid. These next step medications include “HS (histamine 2) antagonists” such as “Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac,” which block acid secreting H2 receptors and prevent “the production of hydrochloric acid.”

When you get to this point, for those regularly consuming these medications, one of the major problems is digestion. Unfortunately, per the National Institutes of Health , “HS receptor blockers decrease stomach acid secretions over a twenty-four-hour period by 70 percent,” which means your body is unable to properly digest the food you eat during this time period. If you’re taking an antacid daily, this means your digestive system isn’t able to appropriately digest food on a regular basis.

If HS antagonists fail, the last medication step of the cascade , before other interventions such as surgery, is typically a prescribed or OTC gastric proton pump inhibitor referred to as a PPI . The most common is Prilosec or the prescribed version called Omeprazole. Gastric proton pumps “essentially shut down the pumps that make hydrochloric acid for the stomach.”

While you may have relief from symptoms, antacids, HS antagonists, and PPIs may have long-term risks and side-effects such as bacterial overgrowth, “kidney disease, decreased calcium, iron and vitamin B12 absorption, magnesium deficiency,” as well as “pneumonia, dementia,” life-threatening infections, and even cardiovascular disease.

With that said, it’s very important to note that for some these medications boost the quality of life and are necessary due to other health conditions. Yet, it’s important to understand that these medications should not be consumed lightly. Getting to Know Your Antacids

Where does the cascade start? With over-the-counter antacids.

While it’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor about HS antagonists and PPIs, antacids are generally freely consumed without consultation. Most of us have a bottle of Tums or Rolaids in our medicine cabinet. I used to have a bottle of antacids in the house, in the car, and in my backpack. Whenever I felt a twinge of stomach upset, I’d pop three of these chalky treats. That was until I learned what’s in these colorful, tasty tablets. What are Antacids

You’ll most likely recognize antacids by their branding names such as Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, and Gaviscon. So, how do they work? Antacids reduce “excess stomach acid to relieve heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion, and stomach upset,” and are also used to “relieve the pain of stomach and duodenal ulcers,” as well as reduce gas.

While antacids all work in relatively the same way, most brands use different active agents. If you take a look at the ingredients list for these medications, you’ll see a host of terms that need deciphering. For instance, Alka-Seltzer uses sodium bicarbonate (also called baking soda), Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia uses magnesium compounds , Tums uses calcium carbonate , and Amphojel uses aluminum .

So, what’s safe? Which of these active agents have negative side-effects? How do you decide which one to choose, if any at all?

In order to determine whether to consume antacids or not, it’s beneficial to take a closer look at their inactive ingredients along with the active ones. These are the little extras generally added for visual appeasement, coloring, and taste. Here are a few of the most common and oftentimes dangerous inactive ingredients in antacids. Dextrose

This ingredient is found in both Tums and Rolaids, as well as many popularly purchased, highly-processed foods. If you’re a bit of a health nut, the word “processed” already raises a red alert.

Dextrose is a “simple sugar that is made from corn and is chemically identical to glucose, or blood sugar.” Simple sugars are carbohydrates which can be found naturally — such as in fruit and milk — but are also created artificially , such as dextrose. Generally, simple sugars are incredibly low in nutritional content and they can spike blood sugar levels. This is why one of the most popular uses for dextrose is in the medical field as a way to “increase a person’s blood sugar.” Yet, you’ll also see dextrose on the label of processed foods as it’s an integral component of corn syrup and sweeteners, including “white bread, pasta, and in refined sugars.” Overconsumption of dextrose in its raw form can lead to negative side effects including dehydration, dry skin, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, shortness of breath, and even cognitive issue such as confusion. Magnesium Stearate

This is one of the more benign ingredients, yet, when combined with the list of other ingredients, can complicate the heartburn healing process.

Magnesium stearate is a white powder that is widely used to coat vitamins and medications. What’s in it? In short, it’s a “simple salt made up of two substances, a saturated fat called stearic acid and the mineral magnesium.” While mineral magnesium is a little more obscure, stearic acid is very common and is found in popular plant-based foods including coconut, cotton, palm oils, walnuts, chocolate, as well as animal products such as salmon, cheese, and chicken.

When it comes to medications, such as antacids, magnesium stearate prevents individual ingredients from sticking to each other, improves quality of medication capsules, and delays the “breakdown and absorption of medications” which means the medication makes it to the right place in the body.

All seems good, right? The other side of magnesium stearate is not so sunny.

For those that are regularly consuming magnesium stearate, such as people who take chalky antacids every day, it can begin to “irritate the mucosal lining of your bowels” which “causes your bowels to spasm, triggering a bowel movement.” In short, overconsumption can have a laxative effect . Those suffering from heartburn most likely already deal […]

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