The truth about remedies for heartburn

Who has never suffered from heartburn?

The remedies to treat it are one of the most widely used pharmaceutical products over the counter in the world.

But how effective are these drugs that we usually have in our medicine cabinet? And what impact do they have on our body?

Dr. Chris Van Tulleken of the BBC series "The truth about …" decided to investigate it.

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Indigestion can have various causes, such as too much food, wrong things or very fast.

Often the discomfort is not felt in the stomach itself, but in the chest area.

What causes that pain? Van Tulleken explains that it usually occurs when the acid in the stomach (which serves to dissolve food) escapes to other parts of the body, especially the esophagus, causing inflammation.

To fight it, many of us have a whole range of remedies at hand, usually expensive.

Medicines for indigestion at a pharmacy in Argentina

Products to relieve stomach acid are one of the most popular medicines in pharmacies.

However, the British doctor warns that if we know what kind of food causes indigestion, we can save that money.

Break through myths

Many people who suffer from heartburn, avoid spicy food and acid food.

But Van Tulleken organized a test that shows how little we understand about the relationship between food and the burning problems that we have.

He invited a group of volunteers to eat three dishes:

  • Entry: a salad of tomato and basil seasoned with balsamic vinegar
  • Main course: a spicy rice and chicken curry
  • Dessert: apple crunch with icecream ice cream

He then asked his four guests to determine which of those foods could give them the worst acidity, with each dish receiving a score of 0 to 10.

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All volunteers came to the same conclusion: the combination of the tomato, an acid fruit, with the vinegar, would certainly cause gastric burn. Average score: 6

The spicy main course got an even worse score: an 8.

Instead everyone felt at peace with the dessert. "I'm going to qualify with a zero because there are no chances that I have indigestion," said one.

The reality

At the end of the dinner Van Tulleken analyzed the results and separated the myth from reality.

About the entrance he stated that "the acid in the stomach is thousands of times more potent than the acid of tomato and vinegar, so those juices contribute to dilute the stomach acid".

With regard to curry, which was declared the most harmful dish for the stomach, he pointed out that the power of the spicy does not really reach beyond the sensory.

"What happens is that the spicy acts on your nerves of pain, sending a message to the brain, equivalent to if you had your mouth on fire, but the spicy should have no effect on your stomach," he said.

Finally the dessert, which is the most harmless.

Apple crispy with ice cream

It looks pretty innocent, right? Wrong!

"In fact, it is more likely that this indigestion induces its calorie and high-fat foods," he wondered.

The reason why fat and sugar cause indigestion is because they stimulate the stomach to produce more acid.

"This also applies to alcoholic beverages, so it is best to avoid them if you suffer from heartburn", the expert advised.

And the medicines?

But suppose that temptation wins us, we give ourselves a belly and end with acidity, what is the best solution?

If you have moderate pain, antacids will relieve you, confirms Van Tulleken.

"The tablets that resemble chalk are the fastest because they immediately neutralize the acid," explains the doctor. He adds that they are also a safe medicine that does not cause any other problems.

However, often the severe pain is caused by reflux. For this problem, we usually take drugs called alginates, which act as a protective barrier between the stomach acid and the esophagus.

But do they work? To find out, the doctor has created the model of a stomach.

Van Tulleken reproduced the model of a stomach with the help of this flask

Van Tulleken reproduced the model of a stomach using this bottle to check whether remedies work to combat gastric reflux. Here you can see how a stop occurs in the "mouth of the stomach".

He filled a conical glass jar (officially known as an Erlenmeyer flask) with hydrochloric acid, the acid in our stomach.

Then he knocked down a dose of anti-reflux medication that many people use to treat stomach acid.

The alginates formed a plug in the opening that represented the connection of the stomach to the esophagus.

Van Tulleken turned the bottle to see if the plug was an effective barrier … and that was it!

The medication succeeded in preventing the acid from escaping from the flask.

Conclusion: the two most common drugs for the treatment of indigestion are effective in alleviating pain.

The doctor warns, however, that if someone uses it too often, this may be another problem that must be assessed by a specialist.

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