Have you seen those commercials with the funny, slightly corpulent guy with an engaging Southern accent who takes the acid reflux pill daily for “zero heartburn” and wants you to do the same while you ignore the small print at the bottom of the screen? He seems so endearing that you want to give him a hug and invite him over for dinner, beers, football, and arm wrestling. Don’t be charmed, though. Acid reflux drugs might as well be crack cocaine or heroin. They work so well and so quickly that you can become addicted to them, but you shouldn’t take them long term. Thats why you should follow our guideline for choosing the supplement for acid reflux.
Acid reflux drugs increase the risk of vitamin B12 and magnesium deficiencies, which can (in rare cases) cause muscle spasms and irregular heartbeats. They can also reduce the absorption of iron and increase the risk of pneumonia, bone loss, fractures, and a nasty bacterial infection ( Clostridium difficile ) that can cause terrible diarrhea and lead to hospitalization or worse. Some people who quit these drugs after becoming dependent on them develop higher levels of gastric acid, which then requires another prescription and leads to further dependency! I have also personally seen several cases of people taking acid reflux medications long term who have had false positive tests for a rare cancer marker for neuroendocrine/pancreatic tumors.
Do you get my not-so-subtle drift here? Prescription and over-the-counter acid reducers work very well and are very necessary in some cases, but too many people are becoming reliant on them. In most cases, you should take the lowest dose for the shortest period of time. In fact, based on multiple studies, 75 percent of users could reduce their dosage or stop taking these pills altogether if they made some heart-healthy lifestyle changes (like losing weight, increasing fiber intake, and reducing stress).
WHAT IS IT?
Acid reflux occurs when some of the stomach’s acidic contents move up into the esophagus (some people refer to this as heartburn, but that’s only one symptom). It can be caused by weight gain, lifestyle changes, genetics, and medications (antibiotics, antidepressants, cancer treatments, steroid or immune-suppressing drugs, OTC and prescription pain drugs, and long-term antacid use). Regardless, the acid irritates, inflames, and erodes the esophageal lining over time, which can increase your risk of esophageal cancer.
Chronic acid reflux, where it occurs several times weekly or starts to interfere with everyday life, is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. In the United States, approximately 20 percent of the adult population experiences GERD weekly. In addition to a burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), symptoms also include a sour taste, regurgitated food in the back of your mouth, indigestion, and trouble swallowing. Some people don’t realize they’re experiencing acid reflux because their symptoms seem unrelated, but a chronic cough, wheezing, and even mild chest pain (especially while lying down at night) can be signs of GERD.
One thing to keep in mind is that stomach acid is part of your immune system; it kills foreign microorganisms on contact. It’s also critical for breaking down food so your intestines can absorb all the nutrients. Now you can see why shutting down acid production for a long period of time increases the risk of several problems.
WHAT WORKS: Guide for the Supplement for Acid Reflux
1. Calcium carbonate 500 milligrams once or twice a day
Products that contain calcium carbonate— like Tums, Rolaids, and even Os-Cal—can relieve heartburn within 30 minutes and can work for several hours. This mineral neutralizes esophageal acid and can prevent reflux. More recent research suggests that it can also improve esophageal movements (peristalsis), clearing more acid. Nevertheless, even something as benign as this supplement increases your risk for rebound reflux when you quit, so taper your dosage gradually or over several weeks.
As long as you’re taking this product, you don’t need another calcium supplement for bone loss. If you have to be on acid reflux drugs indefinitely, however, and want to take a calcium supplement for bone loss, then opt for calcium citrate because it’s absorbed just as well with or without stomach acid and should not increase your risk of kidney stones.
2. (tie) Artichoke leaf extract ( Cynara scolymus ) 640 milligrams (two pills) three times a day for 6 weeks maximum, primarily for indigestion
Functional dyspepsia, or indigestion, is slightly different from acid reflux or GERD. Symptoms include upper abdominal pain and discomfort with bloating, nausea, and a feeling of uncomfortable fullness. Artichoke leaf extract (ALE) contains a bitter compound called cynaropicrin, which has antispasmodic and other gastrointestinal benefits. In studies, ALE (two 320-milligram pills three times a day for 6 weeks) reduced bloating and fullness and improved overall quality of life, but it didn’t reduce pain and nausea much better than a placebo.
However, six pills a day is a little tough to stomach for a lot of people, especially if you’re taking other pills as well. I get nervous when a supplement only works at high doses because the more you take of anything, the greater the odds that you’ll experience side effects. Also note, ALE comes from the daisy family; an allergic reaction or rash is a common side effect.
2. (tie) Alpha-galactosidase (Beano) follow package directions and use as needed
Bloating, gas, and flatulence (the GI triple threat) are common with functional dyspepsia. And enzyme-based dietary supplements like alpha-galactosidase can help reduce gas in the digestive tract that’s caused by the carbohydrates (sugars) in soybeans and other legumes as well as some veggies. (Soy products—like tofu, tempeh, miso, and soy protein—have been processed and the sugars have been removed, so they’re easier to digest than soybeans.) If you have diabetes, check with your doctor before taking alpha-galactosidase supplements because they might impact your blood sugar. Similar OTC products contain simethicone (like Gas-X), which is an antifoaming agent and a pseudo natural product mixture of silica gel and polydimethylsiloxane.
3. Melatonin 1 to 3 milligrams once a day before bed for acid reflux and heartburn symptoms
Say what? Though melatonin is best known as a sleep aid, it also reduces acid secretion. There isn’t a plethora of clinical research on this yet, but the benefit far outweighs the risk, so it receives my bronze medal. I’ve had people from all over the country tell me they notice a difference with their GERD symptoms while taking melatonin.
This hormone is produced not only by the tiny pineal gland in your brain but also by cells within the gastrointestinal tract that affect movement. In fact, recent research suggests that the GI tract secretes several hundred times more melatonin than the pineal gland, and it appears that melatonin’s role in the GI tract is to protect the esophageal, stomach, and intestinal tissue.
In small studies where researchers used either melatonin alone, conventional proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medication, or a combination of the two, it was found that the combo worked better for pain and heartburn than the drug by itself. Melatonin has a similar chemical structure to some PPIs, such as omeprazole, and in one study it actually beat this acid reflux drug. Some of these trials used 3 milligrams of melatonin at bedtime by itself or with a PPI or other acid reflux medication, but I recommend starting with a lower dose, such as 1 milligram.
The most exciting ongoing research with melatonin is whether it can prevent ulcers or accelerate their healing when it’s combined with conventional medicine. Man, I dig this stuff!
If you want to live longer and stronger then life style change can cure acid reflux. Loosing weight, fiber-rich foods, and kicking the tobacco habit can help reduce acid reflux and your risk of cardiovascular disease. The more you can avoid or reduce your reliance on reflux medications through lifestyle changes, the better off you’ll be. Just try to follow the supplement for acid reflux which is more natural approach.