The Dangers of Antacid Drugs—and 7 Alternative Solutions to Heartburn

Monday Feb 24 | BY |
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Studies show that regular use of antacids can cause a number of health problems.

If you’re suffering a little heartburn and you’re on the go, do you pop an antacid or two?

A recent study warns that though a couple of these pills probably won’t hurt you, long-term use can be dangerous. Here’s more on what researchers found, and some natural solutions you can use the next time heartburn strikes.

Study Finds Antacids Increase Risk of B12 Deficiency

A new study published in JAMA on December 11, 2013, looked at the association between the use of proton pump inhibitors (like Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid, Aciphex, and Zegerid) and histamine 2 receptor antagonists (like Pepcid, Tagamet, Zantac, and Axid) and vitamin B12 deficiency.

Researchers examined data from the Kaiser Permanente Northern California population, comparing nearly 26,000 patients having a diagnosis of a vitamin B12 deficiency between 1997 and June 2011, with just over 184,000 patients without a B12 deficiency. Results showed the following:

  • Overall, those who took acid-inhibiting drugs for two or more years were more likely to have a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
  • Those taking proton pump inhibitors were more at risk than those taking histamine 2 receptors antagonists, but both were still at an increased risk of deficiency.
  • In the study, 12 percent of the people taking proton pump inhibitors for two years or more developed a deficiency, compared to 4 percent of those taking histamine 2 receptor antagonists.
  • When people stopped taking these drugs, their B-12 levels rose.

Vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause weakness, tiredness, rapid heartbeat, pale skin, easy bruising and bleeding, and stomach upset. If it’s not treated, it can cause nerve damage, trouble walking, joint pain, memory loss, dementia, mood changes, depression, and blood diseases.

Antacids Can Cause Other Problems

In addition to sapping the body’s B-12, long-term use of antacids can also cause the following health problems:

  • An increase in stomach acid production (called “acid rebound”), which can create more heartburn—causing a vicious cycle.
  • Interference with calcium and protein absorption in the body, which can lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures.
  • Dry mouth, which can lead to tooth problems.
  • Increased risk of food-borne infections.
  • Constipation.

In 2010, the FDA cautioned against prolonged use or high doses of proton pump inhibitors, and ordered revised labeling on these drugs to reflect the fact that they had been associated with an increased risk of fractures of the hip, wrist, and spine. The greatest danger exists for those over 50 years of age.

Natural Solutions

You probably already know the standard recommendations for reducing heartburn symptoms, like avoiding trigger foods, eating smaller meals, and staying upright for at least two hours after a meal.

In addition to avoiding heartburn in the first place, you can also try a number of natural solutions for symptoms once they show up. The important thing is to find a solution that works for you, and check with your doctor, as long-term heartburn can damage the cells in the esophagus, increasing the risk of esophageal cancer.

  1. Low-carbohydrate diet: A 2006 study found that patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD—a form of consistent heartburn) who went on a very low-carbohydrate diet were able to significantly reduce their symptoms.
  2. Probiotics: There is some evidence that heartburn and GERD may be linked with an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut. Consuming probiotics may help restore a healthy bacterial balance. Try fermented foods like yogurt or kefir, or a probiotic supplements. One recent 2013 study found that patients with indigestion who received extra-virgin olive oil enriched with probiotics experienced significant improvement in their symptoms.
  3. Herbs: A number of herbs have shown in studies to help tame indigestion. Some good ones to try—peppermint, licorice, slippery elm, ginger, barberry, chamomile, lemon balm, caraway, dandelion, and milk thistle.
  4. Melatonin: Some preliminary studies have shown that melatonin may help ease the symptoms of heartburn and GERD. A 2010 study, for example, found that persons given melatonin experienced relief of pain and heartburn. The supplement is believed to protect the digestive system from oxidative damage.
  5. Aloe juice: Just as it soothes burns, aloe can also soothe the stomach. It quiets inflammation in both the esophagus and the stomach. Try a half-cup before meals. (Aloe can work like a laxative, so if you don’t want those effects, look for brands that say the laxative component has been removed.)
  6. Alkaline vegetables: These can help tame the acid in your stomach. Try juicing carrots, cucumbers, radishes, or beets, with a little salt and pepper if you like, and consume with meals or when you’re experiencing symptoms. You can also consume these vegetables raw.
  7. Fennel seeds: Fennel was traditionally used to soothe digestive upset, and contains a compound called “anethose,” which can suppress spasms in the stomach. You can try chewing the seeds slowly after your meals, which can also help minimize gas and bloating.

Do you suffer from winter allergies? Please share your tips with our readers.

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Jameson R. Lam, et al., “Proton Pump Inhibitor and Histamine 2 Receptor Antagonist Use and Vitamin B12 Deficiency,” JAMA, December 11, 2013,

Thomas H. Maugh II, “The FDA cautions against high dosages or prolonged use of acid inhibitors,” Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2010,

Austin GL, et al., “A very low-carbohydrate diet improves gastroesophageal reflux and its symptoms,” Dig Dis Sci. 2006 Aug; 51(8):1307-12,

Tharwat S. Kandil, “The potential therapeutic effect of melatonin in gastroesophageal reflux disease,” BMC Gastroenterology 2010, 10:7:

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.

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