Reliance on Antacids: Not a Good Thing - dummies

Reliance on Antacids: Not a Good Thing

By Patricia Raymond, Michelle Beaver

You’ve probably taken antacids at some point in your battle with acid reflux. The effectiveness of antacids varies from person to person. Although antacids may eliminate all discomfort for some people, other people get no relief from antacids. Either way, antacids are the most common way people deal with heartburn and reflux symptoms. In fact, antacids are one of the most widely used and best-selling pharmaceutical drugs in the world.

Antacids are not designed to cure acid reflux or address the root cause of it. They’re intended to relieve the discomfort and pain associated with stomach acid by temporarily neutralizing it.

A large variety of antacids are on the market, but all of them work by neutralizing or absorbing stomach acid. This makes the overall symptoms, especially heartburn, less severe. If you have occasional acid reflux, your doctor will likely recommend antacids. Antacids are so common that it’s easy to think they’re harmless. However, antacids do have some risks associated with long-term use:

  • Antacids may prevent you from addressing the actual cause of your reflux. Because antacids only treat the symptoms, some more serious conditions may go undiagnosed. And long-term, untreated acid reflux can lead to serious health complications that may even result in death.

  • Most antacids contain either aluminum hydroxide or magnesium hydroxide, to help neutralize and absorb stomach acid, and these compounds can have serious side effects. There are concerns that large quantities of either compound have been linked to memory loss and early-onset senility. Both of these potentially permanent side effects can have a terrible impact on quality of life.

    The chemicals aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide have also been linked to:

    • Diarrhea

    • Excessive tiredness

    • Loss of appetite

    • Muscle pain

    • Swelling

    • Weakness

    Long-term use of these chemicals may contribute to kidney stones, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Antacids can play a role in reducing your body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins and nutrients. This happens because stomach acid plays an integral role in the absorption of substances such as vitamin B12, magnesium, and calcium. Because antacids neutralize stomach acid, you absorb less of these essential nutrients.

    Over the long term, a lack of B12 can damage your central nervous system. This leaves you more likely to develop dementia, neurological damage, or anemia.

  • Antacids may make your reflux worse. In some cases, antacids can actually lead to a phenomenon called acid rebound, which happens when your stomach reacts by producing more acid, which in turn magnifies the severity of your reflux symptoms.

Despite all the potential side effects, antacids can be an effective and safe treatment for many people who suffer from acid reflux. Taking antacids for the occasional bout of heartburn is very unlikely to lead to any of these complications.

However, frequent, long-term use or abuse of antacids can have significant health risks. Be sure to discuss antacid use with your doctor, especially if you use antacids for more than two weeks.