"What do you do if you have heartburn or indigestion?"
"Take Tums, of course."
Well, it's time to think twice about this answer.
Taking Tums or other antacids for heartburn has become second nature. It has become the adult version of smarties, yes those small little candy tablets you used to eat as a child and pretend they were medicine. Oh, how the times have changed: now we use medicine like it's candy.
Heartburn usually occurs when a muscle, called the lower esophageal spincture, does not close completely, allowing stomach contents to regurgitated from the stomach into the esophagus.This muscle acts like a valve, opening to allow food from the esophagus into the stomach, and closing to prevent the backflow of contents from the stomach into the esophagus, but with every valve comes the potential for leaks, and in this case heartburn. Part of the contents regurgitated include gastric acid (hydrochloric acid), which is usually the main culprit behind that burning sensation. It is this acid that can lead to corrossion and excessive inflammtion, after all as it's name implies it is an acid.
While tums aren't harmful, when taken in excess they can be detrimental to our health. Tums are calcuim carbonate, a basic compound that is used to neutralize gastric acid (the acid I mentioned aboved that is produced in your stomach). Gastric acid is present in our stomach's for a few reasons. One being, it is a main component in digestion and breaking down our foods. Without it, we would not be able to absorb the vitamins and minerals essential for the body to function. The constant neutralization of this acid puts you at a higher risk of vitamin deficiencies and it's sequela such as fatigue, constipation, muscle weakness and pain. Another reason why gastric acid is present is for protection. This acid is the body's first line of defensive against harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, and pathogens. By reducing it, you are making yourselves more susceptible to infections. Tums, as mentioned, also contains calcium which is absorbed into the body. Although calcium is vital for the bones and overall good health, too much calcium is dangerous and can lead to heart and kidney problems. Some symptoms of increased calcium in the body include palpitations, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, headaches, constipation, abdominal pain, fatigue, increased thirst and frequent urination.
Now that we went over some of the basic physiology and mechanisms of action involved in heartburn, lets talk about some risk factors that can be causing or worsening symptoms.
1. Obesity. Extra weight can put unwanted pressure on the esophageal spincture causing it to open when it shouldn't. While loosing weight is, by far, not the easiest of things to do, it is the best thing you can do if you are overweight and suffering from heartburn.
2. Smoking. Once again is it not the easiest to stop smoking, but it is one of the best things that you can do for acid reflux, amongst many other health concerns.
3. Low levels of physical activity. We all know that exercise has a drastic affect on multiple avenues of our health, but many do not know that lack of exercise can cause heartburn. Increasing daily movement, can help decrease heartburn.
4. Medications. Some of the most common medications that causes heartburn are muscle relaxers. Muscle relaxers can cause the esophageal sphincture to relax worsen that backflow leak.
5. Hernias and pregnancy are also common causes of heartburn.
Seven strategies that can help reduce heartburn and decrease the amount of antacids you are consuming.
1. Allow 2-3 hours after eating before laying down.
2. Eat 4-6 smaller meals throughout the day, rather than 2-3 larger meals. This will help ensure that gastric acid does not go unopposed in the stomach, but rather has food to digest.
3. Eliminate caffeine and alcohol as these are big acid reflux culprits. Other common triggers include chocolate, citrus, mint, tomatoes, black pepper, garlic, onions, spicy foods, and fatty foods.
4. Know your food sensititivies. While the aboved mentioned foods are common causes of heartburn, problem foods can differ from person to person. Food sensitivities can lead to inflammation and a cascade of stomach and intestinal symptoms.
5. Eliminate carbinated drinks. Excess bubbles can lead to an increase in gas and acid reflux.
6. Try DGL (Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice) instead of antacids. Licorice has been show to alleviate acid reflux symptoms. It may also protect the stomach and esophagus from acid by increasing mucus production. DGL is a form of licorice that has substantial amounts of glycyrrhizan removed. Glycyrrhizan is the component in licorice that can increase blood pressure. Always make sure that the DGL bottle has less than 3% glycyrrhizan. Always consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
7. Marshmallow Tea. In the herbal world, marshmallow is classified as a delmulcent, meaning it decreases inflammation by forming a barrier in the gastrointestinal tract against irritants such as stomach acid, ie your very own marshmellow fort against stomach acid. For our organic, physician formulated loose leaf tea visit www.healingessencestore.com.
Lastly, while I do believe that Tums (or equivalent antacids) should be a staple in everyone's medicine chest, they should be used sparingly. Think of them like bandaids; great for short term use. It is important to seek medical help if you are suffering from pronlonged heartburn to figure out the cause, and treat accordingly. Click here to book your appointment today.
P.S. If you are frequently taking Tums or another calcium carbonate antacid, do not forget to tell your doctor, especially before running any bloodwork. Frequent consumption may show an increase in calcium levels on blood work.
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Important Disclaimer: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only; it is NOT meant to substitute professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should NOT use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem/disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Check out our continuation of the heartburn and tums conversation.