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People may use antacids for relief of heartburn
or as a calcium supplement.
The truth is that both of these choices are nutritionally unsound
The Bottom Line
Stomach acid is required for good digestion. Poor digestion produces heartburn. People with heartburn take antacids. Antacids reduce stomach acid. Stomach acid is required for good calcium absorption. Calcium carbonate antacids neutralize the stomach acid needed for their absorption. The stomach’s job is to produce and hold digestive acid and enzymes. When antacids are used regularly, the stomach senses this and over time, increases its acid production rate set point. Taking antacids to reduce acid can lead to the production of excessive acid.
Often, it is a LACK of stomach acid, not an excess that creates symptoms of indigestion. Naturopathic physicians have found that supplementary digestive acid and enzyme supplements can improve digestion and eliminate symptoms of indigestion. Lack of stomach acid can result in food allergies, nausea after taking supplements and rectal itching. It may be indicated by weak fingernails, anemia, chronic parasites, fungal infections and acne.
Heartburn and Gastric Reflux
Most digestive discomfort is a feeling of gaseous bloated fullness. The pain feels like burning that radiates upward. Heartburn is most often the result of gastric juices refluxing up into the esophagus above the stomach. The discomfort of heartburn usually gets worse if you lie down because this makes it easier for gastric juices to back up. Usually overeating or obesity or pregnancy act to displace the contents of the stomach. Smoking, alcohol, coffee, soft drinks, fried foods, etc., may weaken the sphincter muscle between the stomach and the esophagus. This muscle normally forms a one way valve that prevents gastric reflux.
The Problem of Gastric Ulcers
The stomach contains both hydrochloric acid and an enzyme called pepsin which are required for digestion of proteins. These are both normal and desirable but are capable of digesting the stomach, which is made mostly of protein. The stomach normally produces a mucus coating that lines the inside to protect it from being digested. The best healing approach is to help the stomach to produce a healthy protective coating.
What do Antacids do?
Antacids reduce the acidity of the stomach by chemically absorbing or neutralizing some of the hydrochloric acid. Reducing stomach acid can temporarily relieve irritation of a weakened or exposed stomach lining. It can reduce the acidity of stomach contents which become refluxed into the esophagus.
What About Antacids as Calcium Supplements to Avoid Osteoporosis?
Some antacids contain calcium carbonate and are advertised as calcium supplements. Calcium carbonate is an insoluble salt that must be ionized by stomach acid before it can be absorbed. About 40 percent of post-menopausal women are severely deficient in stomach acid and can only absorb about 4% of the calcium in this form. Calcium carbonate may greatly increases the risk of kidney stones, particularly when milk is used regularly.
Here is one for your "haven’t-got-a-clue" file. Hippocrates magazine, May/June 1990 recommends: "Take [antacid calcium] supplements with meals, when there is enough acid in your stomach to aid absorption." There are MUCH better forms of calcium. Although calcium citrate, for instance, is an antacid, it is already in a form that the body can use and is absorbed much more effectively.
Calcium Carbonate and Acid Rebound
Calcium carbonate is especially fast acting. Within a few hours the body will over compensate by producing an extra surge of acid.
Problems with Sodium Bicarbonate
When used for long periods of time, sodium bicarbonate can cause increased acidity throughout the body. Highly acidic body chemistries (systemic alkalosis) are involved in health problems such as arthritis, kidney stones, nausea and mental confusion.
Aluminum Hydroxide and Bone Loss
Antacids containing aluminum can contribute to phosphate deficiency when used for long periods of time. This is because the phosphate in food reacts with the aluminum in the antacid to form a solid material that is simply passed in the stool. In order to keep enough phosphorus in the blood, the body will take it out of bones. Bone demineralization is especially a problem for the older people who tend to use these products regularly.
Aluminum and Impaired Mental Function
The FDA and manufacturers say that aluminum in antacids is not absorbed, studies since 1986 have shown that it is; especially in cases of kidney problems and in the presence of acidic foods such as citrus fruits or soda pop. There is increasing evidence that aluminum's involvement in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and some other nervous system problems.
Magnesium in Antacids
Magnesium salts such as magnesium-oxide, magnesium-hydroxide and magnesium carbonate are often used. They are milder antacids and laxative and can cause diarrhea. They can be a problem for people with poor kidney function.
Other Side Effects of Antacids
Use of antacids can cause bowel irregularities including constipation, nausea and diarrhea with occasional vomiting. They can lead to kidney stones, demineralization of bones, bone pain and muscle weakness with cramping. They can be counted on to produce malabsorption of nutrients.
Diseases Related to Low Stomach Acid
When food, especially protein, is insufficiently digested into very small molecules, larger molecules can be absorbed by the body. These "foreign invaders" trigger the immune system and produce food allergies. When a person doesn’t get full benefit from their foods, even the best diet can be inadequate. You can’t assimilate nutrients until they have been adequately broken down by digestion. The list of diseases that have been associated with low gastric acidity include, but are not limited to: Anemia, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune diseases, celiac disease, dermatitis, diabetes, eczema, gallbladder problems, hepatitis, lupus, osteoporosis, psoriasis and problems with over- and under-active thyroid glands.