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The Heartburn Medication Myth

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 04/08/2024

Is your heartburn medication not working? Let me explain why and tell you the truth behind this acid reflux condition. 

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In this article:

  1. The Alkaline Myth About Heartburn

  2. What Is Heartburn?

  3. What Causes Heartburn?

  4. What Are the Symptoms of Heartburn?

  5. What Happens When You Take a Calcium Tablet for Heartburn?

  6. What Should I Do When I Get Heartburn?

The Truth About Heartburn Medication


The Alkaline Myth About Heartburn

I recently wrote about The Big Myth Of Alkalinity being the key to wellness. In short, all body fluids have a proper pH, and attempting to alkalinize the body in general or manipulate the pH of your body at all is misguided at best and being unhealthy at worst. Like most health trends, the alkaline pitch is not grounded in the complex reality of the human body.

There’s one acid response in the body that most people experience at some point, and just about everyone does the exact wrong thing: When you experience heartburn, I’m willing to bet you take a calcium tablet—Rolaids, Tums, or something similar. Calcium is an alkaline mineral. Well, surprisingly, especially given the prevalence of the alkaline myth, you should be doing the opposite and taking acid.


What Is Heartburn?

Woman Burning in the chest suffering from acid reflux | The Heartburn Medication Myth

Heartburn occurs when waste acid from the bowels (not critically, the stomach) rises up through your esophagus. This is very weak acid. It is uncomfortable and even painful, to be sure, but it is not a strong enough acid to be dangerous. If you have regular stomach acid rising up through your esophagus, though, you may develop an ulcer. The bowels release this lactic acid to compensate when your stomach acid’s pH is getting too high. Heartburn or acid reflux means you’re not acidic enough.


What Causes Heartburn?

Risk factors that contribute to heartburn include the rise of acid production in your bowel. Structural problems in the abdominal area also trigger heartburn and reflux into the esophagus. The following are the common causes of heartburn you should take note of: 

  • Diseases of the esophagus can cause heartburn as their symptoms can include acid reflux. These illnesses may be sarcoidosis and scleroderma. 

  • Being overweight or obese can also contribute to developing heartburn because it increases the pressure in the abdominal cavity, affecting the function of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that can develop into acid reflux.  

  • Hiatal hernia is also another reason for heartburn. It is a condition where a part of the stomach lies in the chest area instead of the abdomen. This affects the LES's function that can increase the risk of acid reflux. Hiatal hernia has no symptoms, but heartburn happens because LES fails to function properly.

  • Some of the foods and beverages we consume can trigger acid reflux. They may contain substances that let acid from your stomach go back up to your esophagus. These foods include carbonated beverages, alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate.

Sarcoidosis Definition: A disease characterized by the formation of collections of inflammatory cells that becomes lumps (granulomas) usually found in the skin, lungs, and lymph nodes.

Scleroderma Definition: Also known as systemic sclerosis, this is a chronic disease in the connective tissues and falls under autoimmune rheumatic diseases. It manifests through the hardening of the skin.

Lower Esophageal Sphincter Definition: A group of muscles located at the lower end of the esophagus, meeting the stomach. It's responsible for preventing stomach contents and acid from going backwards from the intestine.

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What Are the Symptoms of Heartburn?

Beautiful woman suffering from heartache in office | The Heartburn Medication Myth

When you experience heartburn, you start feeling the pain as a burning sensation behind your breastbone, like a sharp pain or spasm. People usually mistake this as pain due to a heart attack. The pain can stay in the lower chest area and can extend to the back of the throat. You may also taste sourness in the back of your throat.  

If the acid reflux reaches the area near the larynx in the throat, it can cause hoarseness or coughing episodes. In some cases where heartburn acid is felt over prolonged periods, it can be severe enough that the acid wears away your teeth's enamel, causing tooth decay.

The heartburn symptoms usually get worse after eating heavy meals, lying flat, or leaning forward. People affected with this condition may awaken from their sleep with heartburn. It's best to take some heartburn medication that works best for you to avoid complications. If left untreated, this acid indigestion can inflame or cause irritation to the esophagus, leading to ulcers.


What Happens When You Take a Calcium Tablet for Heartburn?

Calcium tablets alkalinize and neutralize the acid in your esophagus, and this stops the pain and discomfort instantly. It doesn't fix the problem, however; treating symptoms rarely does. A symptom is never the real problem. It's just a clue.

In the case of taking antacids for heartburn, the treatment actually perpetuates the problem. Your body tries to correct a lack of acid, and it causes discomfort. You treat the discomfort by eliminating even more acid. If you keep doing that, your body will have a very hard time getting your acid levels in line!

Extended use of antacids can contribute to a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). When this happens, the valve that releases lactic acid (like when you get heartburn) never closes. This can cause a whole host of digestive symptoms and diseases, some as serious as Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome.


What Should I Do When I Get Heartburn?

Young woman takes white round pill with glass of water in hand | The Heartburn Medication Myth

When heartburn strikes, you can help your body balance its acids by consuming something acidic. My personal recommendation for this simple heartburn medication is a tablespoon of Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar in a glass of water. This product not only helps acidify your stomach but also contains electrolytes and potassium. 

It’s good to be able to manage your symptoms, but it’s better still to avoid this issue in the first place. If your stomach's pH is consistently off and causes heartburn and discomfort, you may take apple cider vinegar regularly, and you definitely want to clean up your diet. Eliminate junk foods and simple carbohydrates, and eat for your body type. Make sure your diet provides plenty of support for your pancreas, gallbladder, and liver, and never rely on calcium tablets and alkaline water for managing heartburn!

Knowing the truth behind the heartburn medication myth may have been an eye-opener to you, but the solution to acid reflux lies in balancing your body’s acid with another acid. The treatment is purely natural, making it even a great option to fight the symptoms of acid reflux. 

Although I have presented a heartburn remedy for this, if the symptoms are recurrent and get worse over time, it’s best to consult a health professional for proper medical guidance.

Understand heartburn and see more Digestion advice from Dr. Berg Video Blog.

Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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