Over-the-counter antacids, such as Tums and Mylanta, can be absolute lifesavers. Their fast-acting ability to deal with heartburn and other digestive problems mean that they can be found in medicine cabinets everywhere. However, while antacids are more or less safe, they can have side effects, just like any other drug.
The most serious of these aren’t an issue unless you use antacids frequently, or in large doses. This is because they’re really only intended for occasional, short-term treatment of minor digestive issues. Below are seven of those side effects that you’ll definitely want to know about:
Research is learning a lot about how our gut biome – the complex system of helpful bacteria that live in our digestive system – is important to our immune system and overall health. When antacids alter the level of stomach acids, they also alter this biome. This leaves us more susceptible to dangerous infections such as pneumonia, salmonella, and Clostridium difficile.
Problems with Medications
Since antacids alter stomach acid levels, they can also have an impact on the way that your body absorbs any other medications you take. Therefore, if you’re taking any medications for long-term or short-term reasons, you should ask your doctor about which antacids are safe for you to use, or whether you should avoid them altogether.
Antacids containing aluminum (Mylanta and Maalox) or calcium (Tums and Rolaids) can cause constipation. Some products will also contain a source of magnesium (a laxative) to help counter this problem. Still, you will need to ask yourself if you want to risk trading one digestive problem for another.
On the other hand, antacids that contain magnesium can actually cause the opposite problem. Since magnesium is a laxative, it might cause diarrhea when used in large amounts, frequently, or by those who are sensitive to the product.
This condition, also called milk-alkali syndrome, causes the lining of the stomach and/or small intestine to break down. Kidney issues can be another symptom. Misusing antacids that contain sodium bicarbonate (Alka Seltzer) is one risk factor for hypercalcemia.
High levels of calcium can increase the risk of kidney stones – hard mineral deposits in your urinary tract. These can cause severe back and abdominal pain, blood in the urine, vomiting, and other symptoms. Definitely a good reason to avoid over-using calcium-containing antacids.
Ironically, antacids that contain aluminum have the opposite problem to those that contain calcium. Overusing these can actually contribute to osteoporosis because they cause calcium and other minerals to leech from your bones over time.