The Antacid Epidemic:
The Real Truth Behind the Pills
© 2014 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Every year, millions of Americans are prescribed strong antacids to treat common conditions such as heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastritis, indigestion among many others. Generic Prilosec, an antacid drug, was actually the sixth most-prescribed drug in the United States in 2010, with over 53 million prescriptions written that year alone (and that does not include over-the-counter sales!).
Not only are over-the-counter and prescription antacids NOT the only answer for your digestive upset and heartburn, but they may be causing more harm than good.
Though many medical professionals argue that antacids are necessary for serious conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), there are several serious consequences that result from their frequent use or overuse -- and in many cases these consequences can impact your health and quality of life seriously.
To truly understand why antacids may not be as good for you as you might think, you need to understand how they work.
What is an Antacid?
Antacids generally come in pill form and are used to balance the pH levels in your stomach. Often when people are afflicted with heartburn, gastritis, and GERD or indigestion, it is conventionally blamed on an excess of acid in their stomach. To re-balance the stomach’s acid levels, a base (an acid reducer) is needed – which is exactly what antacids are.
How do Antacids Work?
Antacids rebalance your stomach’s acid levels by using various base chemicals to balance your pH levels. The four most popular types of antacids usually use at least one of the following chemicals or elements:
While these ingredients work, they also carry along with them a bevy of risks that can seriously affect your health.
What are the Risks?
One of the biggest drawbacks to antacids is that they affect your body’s ability to digest vitamin B12, minerals, and in particular, calcium. Without proper amounts of minerals, B12 and calcium in your system, not only are you at risk for decreased bone density but your immune system can be compromised too.
In an article featured in John Hopkins Medical Alerts, experts warned that:
“When taking an acid blocker for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), bacteria that would normally be killed off by stomach acid may now thrive. If bacteria-containing stomach juice refluxes into the trachea and upper airways, it can lead to pneumonia.”
They also added that:
“Taking acid blockers long term for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also deplete your body of vitamin B12, as stomach acid is necessary for the proper digestion of this important vitamin.”
As if that weren’t enough, antacids also affect an important bodily function called phagocytosis – which is essentially your body’s ability to mobilize white blood cells to kill pathogens and bacteria and prevent viruses.
This important defense mechanism requires adequate amounts of calcium to stimulate the white blood cells to fight against dangerous bacteria and diseases. However, if your body is depleted of calcium due to excessive use of antacids, then your white blood cells might not be able to do so.
While it’s true that some antacids are made from calcium, this can still deplete your calcium levels.
How? While some antacids have large quantities of calcium in them, the calcium is generally a form that is not easily absorbed by the body. In fact, calcium-based antacids are often associated with creating problems such as constipation or kidney stones.
Cheap calcium carbonate found in many over-the-counter antacids requires many times more acid to be absorbed -- serving no value other than to further reduce the stomach acid necessary to pass food through your small intestine.
In contrast, high-quality calcium citrate or preferably calcium lactate (being the highest quality) are easily absorbed.
Are There Alternatives for Treating Acid Issues?
Finding a treatment for the many forms of illnesses associated with excess acid begins with finding out what you are putting in your body.
In our age of highly processed foods laden with unnatural chemicals, additives and pesticides, it’s no wonder that we often feel ill. In general, the more chemicals in your food the bigger chance you have of being afflicted by some sort of side effect or bodily discomfort. This is your body’s natural defense system telling you that the food you are ingesting is not good for you.
While many doctors may try and cure your pains with pills that simply provide a quick fix, they do nothing to really find a way to prevent the condition indefinitely. Instead, they tell their patients to continue prolonged use of antacids.
Though antacid companies would like you to believe that their pills can cure your ailments, what they don’t tell you is that prolonged use of the antacids may make your body dependent on them, and may also worsen the problem too.
How? The constant reflux of acid into your esophagus can be caused by many factors including food allergies, poor diet, diaphragm problems, or by fermenting foods in your gut that are not digesting properly.
Instead of eating natural foods like traditionally made, unsweetened yogurt, which have natural supplies of good bacteria in them, many people opt for antacids. Because they neutralize your stomach acid, these antacids may keep the food you eat fermenting in your stomach for hours, until there is a gas buildup, and the acid erupts into your esophagus.
This keeps the cycle of acid buildup and antacid use continuing, and can lead to a never-ending spiral of problems and pain.
Is Your Problem Actually Too Little Stomach Acid?
Many commercial antacids contain toxic ingredients such as aluminum and artificial colors and sweeteners. These chemicals not only disrupt digestion, but they also alter the structure and function of stomach lining cells and may cause side effects like headache, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
In her book ‘Gut Solutions’ author Brenda Watson explains the dangers of this issue when she states:
"People take antacids to lower the amount of acid in their stomach but many are misdiagnosing themselves and shouldn't be taking antacids at all...Ninety percent of people with heartburn or acid reflux symptoms actually don't have enough acid in their stomach."
What Brenda is referring to is a condition called hypochlorhydria where, with age, stomach acid production declines to problematic levels, thereby causing stomach pain. This pain often can be mistaken for heartburn, indigestion or a plethora of other antacid-dependent conditions, thereby resulting in many people taking medicine that actually harms them.
So despite the temporary relief, medications designed to reduce acid may exacerbate the underlying causes of acid reflux and one of its most annoying symptoms. By neutralizing what little acid your stomach may produce, the stomach acid insufficiency is made worse. Then, in a desperate attempt to correct the problem, the stomach occasionally produces a surge of too much acid, causing the uncomfortable burning sensation.
Also, reduction of acid in your stomach reduces your primary defense mechanism for food-borne infections, thereby increasing your risk of food poisoning.
Watson recommends that people refrain from antacid use and take a "Heidelberg" test to determine if their problem is too much or too little acid. She continues:
"Many doctors don't test for it or know how to treat it, so acid blocking medications are being over-prescribed in the same way antibiotics have been…It's a big concern because hypochlorhydria can be reversed by changing your diet. The condition should never lead to cancer.”
Additionally, medical-strength antacids can cause other problems far more severe than the discomfort. Among some of the side effects regularly listed on warning labels are:
There are many medical professionals who will recommend you take antacids because prolonged damage of acid on your esophagus may cause cancer of the esophagus. While this is a very true and serious situation, that doesn’t mean that you have to take antacids to find a cure.
There are several natural alternatives to antacids that you can try instead of relying on chemicals, and they have been proven to be just as effective as chemically enhanced antacids – and they don’t come with any harmful side effects!
What are Some Healthy Alternatives for Antacids?
For starters you can try changing your diet. Among some of the most common foods for causing digestive problems are:
Night Shade vegetables such as tomato, eggplant, peppers, potatoes
Diet foods as they may also be full of sugar, salt and artificial sweeteners
While you may not need to eliminate all of these at once, it may prove beneficial to try and reduce your intake of them one at a time, to see if one in particular affects the way you feel.
In addition you can also try natural digestive enzymes, which will help you digest your food and prevent fermentation in your gut, excess acid or gases. Some natural digestive enzymes can be found in:
Aloe Vera juice
Bragg's brand apple cider vinegar
If you determine that too little stomach acid is your problem, taking supplements with Betain Hydrochloride may also be helpful.
In addition many doctors advise their patients to:
Elevate the head of their beds (by about one of two inches) so that their heads are higher than their feet when sleeping (this keeps acid from going up and out of your stomach).
Eat and drink food and beverages at room temperature, as food that is too cold or too hot, or a combination of both, can irritate your stomach.
While the antacid industry makes millions of dollars every year by telling consumers that they need these chemically enhanced products to find relief for their heartburn, indigestion, GERD or other digestive problems, they rarely mention the extremely serious side effects associated with their potentially unsafe medicines.
Though finding relief is important, you shouldn’t have to risk your health to do so. As the rise of natural medicine is becoming more prominent, people are beginning to realize that there are other ways to heal your body without using chemicals.
With personal health and wellness assistance, you have the right to choose natural means that are effective, and that don’t come with harmful side effects. Plus you’ll also improve your health, energy level and quality of life.
John Hopkins Health Alerts. ‘Pros and Cons of Daily Medication for GERD’. February 8, 2010.
Brenda Watson. ‘Is That Antacid Killing You?’
Renew Life Press Gut Solutions: Natural Solutions for Your Digestive Conditions.
IMS, The Use of Medicines in the United States, Review of 2010, Released April 2011