The truth about remedies for heartburn

The truth about remedies for heartburn


Heartburn is a very common problem, but how effective are the over-the-counter remedies we buy to relieve it?

Who has never suffered from heartburn?

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

But how effective are these medications 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.

Indigestion can have several causes, such as eating too much, wrong things or very fast.

Many times 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, particularly the esophagus, causing inflammation.

To combat it, many of us have at hand a whole series of remedies, usually expensive.

Drugs for indigestion at a pharmacy in Argentina
Image caption Products to relieve heartburn are one of the most popular drugs in pharmacies.

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

Breaking myths

Many people who suffer from heartburn avoid spicy foods and acidic foods.

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

He invited a group of volunteers to eat three dishes:

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

Then, he asked his four guests to identify which of those foods could give them the worst acidity, rating each dish with a number from 0 to 10.

A hot pepper with smoke coming out
Copyright of the ISTOCK image
Image caption Do you avoid spicy foods because you think they cause you acidity? Next we tell you if that is true.

All the volunteers reached similar conclusions: the combination of the tomato, an acid fruit, with the vinegar, would surely cause stomach burning. 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 it with a zero because there are zero chances of it causing me indigestion,” said one.


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

About the entrance, he clarified that “the acid that is in the stomach is thousands of times more powerful than the acid of tomato and vinegar, so those juices do contribute to dilute the stomach acid”.

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

“What happens is that the spicy acts on your nerves of pain that send a message to the brain equivalent to if you had your mouth on fire, but the spicy should not have any effect on your stomach, ” he said.

Finally the dessert, voted the most innocuous.

Apple crispy with cream ice cream
Copyright of the ISTOCK image
Image caption It looks pretty harmless, right? Error!

“In fact, what is more likely to induce indigestion are high caloric and fatty foods,” he surprised.

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,” advised the expert.

And the medicines?

But supposing that temptation wins us, we give ourselves a bellyful and finish with acidity, what is the best solution?

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

“The tablets that look like chalk are the quickest because they neutralize the acid immediately,” explains the doctor. He adds that they are also a safe medicine, which does not cause other problems.

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

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

Van Tulleken reproduced the model of a stomach using this flask
Image caption Van Tulleken reproduced the model of a stomach using this flask to check if remedies work to combat stomach reflux. Here you see how a stopper forms in the “mouth of the stomach”.

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

Then, he overturned a dose of anti-reflux medication that many use to treat heartburn.

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

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

The medication managed to prevent the acid from escaping from the flask.

Conclusion: the two most common medications to treat indigestion are effective in relieving pain.

However, the doctor warns that if one is using them too often it could indicate another problem, which should be reviewed by a specialist.

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.


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