Q: My wife says I take too many antacids and it’s not good for me. Is there really a problem with taking them? – Scott M., Maitland, Fla.
A: Heartburn is no fun, and sometimes you need to get your hands on a fire extinguisher ASAP. But if you’re taking over-the-counter heartburn meds for more than a few weeks in a row, you’re treating your symptoms instead of your problem.
There are three types of heartburn medications: antacids, H2 histamine blockers and proton pump inhibitors, PPIs. Antacids neutralize stomach acid, H2 blockers reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces, and the heavy-duty PPIs block the enzyme system that produces gastric acid – reducing secretions by up to 99 percent.
They all temporarily reduce stomach acid. That seems like sweet relief, but over the long haul, this could cause big trouble for your gut. When you neutralize or turn off stomach acid, you dull the stomach’s anti-microbial defense system and increase your risk of food poisoning from C. difficile, Listeria, Salmonella and other bacteria. And without enough acid, your stomach won’t properly absorb nutrients like calcium, putting you at increased risk of bone fractures.
Changing your acid balance also can interfere with absorption of other medications that you take regularly, and can mask more serious problems such as stomach and esophageal cancer.
Want a safer way to extinguish the flames? Cut back on salt and fat; eat more fiber (in whole grains, fruits and veggies); avoid your trigger foods, like chocolate, chili, alcohol and colas; chew sugar-free gum after meals (it represses acid reflux); and, if you’re overweight, lose 10 percent of your body weight. (That may happen naturally if you follow the other suggestions!)
You also might want to keep a food diary to help you identify which foods are causing problems. If your best efforts to ease your discomfort don’t work, then turn the diary over to your doc for precise diagnosis of your problems. But chances are, if you follow our advice, you’ll be able to take care of this yourself.
– Dr. Michael Roizen & Dr. Mehmet Oz
© 2012 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.