Over-the-counter antacids, like Mylanta and Tums, can be lifesavers. Their fast-acting ability to deal with heartburn and other digestive issues mean that they’re staples in medicine cabinets everywhere. While antacids are more or less safe, they do have side effects, just like any other medication.
The most serious side effects aren’t an issue unless the antacids are used frequently, or in large amounts. That’s because over-the-counter antacids are really only intended for occasional, short-term treatment of minor digestive issues. Here are 7 of those side effects you’ll definitely want to know about:
Increased Risk of Infection
Research is learning more 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 change the level of stomach acids, they also alter this biome. This can leave us more susceptible to dangerous infections like salmonella, Clostridium difficile, and pneumonia.
Problems with Medications
Since antacids change stomach acid levels, they can also impact the way your body absorbs any other medications you take. So, if you are taking any medications for long-term or short-term reasons, you should talk to a doctor about which antacids are safest for you to use, or whether you should avoid them altogether.
Antacid products containing aluminum (including ones like Mylanta and Maalox) or calcium (like Tums and Rolaids) can both cause constipation. Some products will actually also contain a source of magnesium (a laxative) to help counteract the problem. Still, you’ll have to ask yourself if you want to risk trading one digestive problem — heartburn, for another — constipation!
On the other hand, antacids that contain magnesium can actually cause the opposite problem! Since magnesium is a laxative, it may cause diarrhea when used in large amounts, or frequently, or by people who are sensitive to the product.
High levels of calcium can increase the risk of kidney stones — hard mineral deposits in your urinary tract. These can cause abdominal and back pain, blood in the urine, vomiting, and other symptoms. Definitely a good reason to avoid over-using antacids that contain calcium!
People who have kidney disease, by the way, should also avoid taking antacids with aluminum. That’s because kidney failure actually makes it hard for your body to flush the aluminum out of your system.
Ironically, antacids that contain aluminum have the opposite problem as those that contain calcium. Overusing them can actually contribute to osteoporosis because they cause calcium and other minerals to leech from your bones over time.
This condition, also known as milk-alkali syndrome, causes the lining of the stomach and/or small intestine to break down. Kidney problems can be another symptom. Misusing antacids containing sodium bicarbonate (such as Alka Seltzer) is one risk factor for hypercalcemia.
Lesson learned? While it seems like over-the-counter antacids are perfectly safe — and in most cases they are — we definitely want to think twice about using them too much. If anyone is bothered by heartburn or a related issue often enough that they’re frequently reaching for an antacid, then it’s worth seeing a doctor.
What’s been your experience with using these products?