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Antacids: Not healthy over the long term

There are these advertisements that feature individuals gulping down food in excessive amounts, leading to indigestion (also known as heartburn and acidity). This discomfort is often shown to be eased by the branded antacid, and invariably has a funny and loud burp as an accompaniment. The portrayal is funny but doing this – that is, resorting to the antacid – on a long-term basis can lead to serious health concerns. Such advertisements trick the consumers into believing that one can stuff their stomach with large amounts of food and subsequently ease the discomfort by popping an antacid. And trick it certainly is, for too much consumption of antacids is unhealthy. Find out why.

It is important to know that apart from gulping down an antacid to ease the discomfort, one must understand the cause of it and address it. One’s long-term health may be determined by this. Taking antacids doesn’t actually solve the problem; it merely affords immediate relief.

Heartburn happens when acidic contents of the stomach reflux back into the oesophagus (long, muscular tube that connects your mouth to your stomach) and inflame its sensitive lining. This leads to a burning sensation in the oesophagus. Antacids contain alkaline chemicals that neutralize the action of excessive acid produced in the stomach.
 

Excessive Production of Acid

Our stomach naturally produces acid to properly digest the food we eat. The production of this acid is dependent on the type of food and the quantity in which we eat it. Unhealthy lifestyle habits – such as an imbalanced diet and low physical activity – may contribute to an imbalance in the production of this acid.

Foods that can cause heartburn:

  • Products that contain caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Sodas and carbonated beverages
  • Table salt/Salty foods
  • High-fat foods
  • Spicy foods

Too much acid production can lead to ulcers and other serious health concerns. Any long-term stomach discomfort must be reported. In any case, antacids should never be consumed for the long term without consulting a physician.
 

Type of Antacids

Antacids can be divided into systemic and non-systemic antacids. Systemic antacids are absorbed mostly from the gut into the bloodstream, whereas non-systemic antacids are not.

Type of Antacids

Antacids

  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Sodium citrate & potassium citrate
  • These are also known as fruit salts

Non-Systemic Antacids

  • Magnesium hydroxide
  • Aluminium hydroxide
  • Aluminium phosphate

Complex Antacids

  • Magaldrate
  • Almagate
  • Hydrotalcite

Source:  Antacids and alginate*-containing preparations: What is their mechanism of action and their place in the management of GERD? C. Scarpignato, G. Gimbo (Parma)

*What are alginates?

Alginates are also used commonly to treat indigestion issues. Preparations containing alginate are very effective in easing acid refluxes. A combination of both is considered to be an apt solution for acid refluxes.
 

Indigenous preparations in the Indian market

There are many indigenous preparations that are known to relieve the symptoms of indigestion. These are marketed as ‘ayurvedic proprietary medicines’. Yet, despite being labelled as ‘ayurvedic’, quiet often these preparations are not completely ayurvedic. Also, to stabilize the ayurvedic ingredients, additives are added to these preparations.
 

Key Findings

  • Many clinical studies have associated consumption of antacids with nausea and headache.
  • Consumption of antacids (aluminium-containing antacids) is known to cause constipation. This is because of the impact of aluminium on gut motility.
  • Due to the same reason, antacids that contain magnesium are known to cause diarrhoea (impact of magnesium on gut motility).
  • Milk-alkali syndrome is a condition in which the level of calcium and alkali (opposite of acidic) raises in the blood levels. This is caused by consuming either dietary supplements (to correct calcium deficiency) or antacids (which contain calcium) in excessive amounts. If it isn’t treated, it may lead to kidney failure or even death.
  • Excessive consumption of antacids (containing bicarbonates) can lead to increased bicarbonate levels in blood, leading to metabolic alkalosis.

 

Extra Caution Needed

Antacids are alkaline (basic) in nature. This is why they shouldn’t be taken along with acidic medicines (such as digoxin, phenytoin and chlorpromazine). The reason is simple. Antacids will react with these medicines and will limit the absorption of these drugs. Antacids containing magnesium reduce the absorption of antibiotics. Antacids also impact the elimination of some drugs from the body.

Liquid forms of antacids work faster than tablets.  If you are taking a tablet, chew it slowly. Do not gulp down the whole tablet with water. If you are taking liquid, it is advisable to take it undiluted or with very little water.

Antacids may impact the nutrient absorption in the body and their regular use may lead to depletion of essential vitamins and minerals in the body.

Patients suffering from kidney disease/heart disease/liver disease must not consume antacids without consulting a physician. Some antacids have sodium bicarbonates, which can lead to adverse effects.
 

Some Remedies to Prevent Indigestion

  • Avoid consuming large meals, which can lead to excess production of acid and thereon to acid refluxes. Small meals ensure that the stomach is not overfilled with food.
  • Some individuals find spices and condiments – for example ajwain (carom seeds), pink salt, cardamom, heeng (asafoetida) – to be relieving when they experience indigestion. Scientifically, too, they have been found to aid in indigestion.
  • Curd has probiotics that help in keeping the gut healthy. Its consumption can aid in maintaining a healthy gut flora.

Other foods that you can add to your diet to help relieve heartburn include bananas, melons, oatmeal, grains, potatoes, ginger and green veggies.

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