Heartburn is a common occurrence today, said to affect more than 60 million Americans at least once a month. In 2017, Americans purchased 385 million units of over-the-counter heartburn products (antacids). Heartburn occurs when there is a burning sensation in the chest, just behind the breastbone caused by acid regurgitation into the esophagus. This pain can worsen when eating, bending over or lying down.
Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux (a common condition) and GERD (the chronic, more severe form of acid reflux).
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be caused by being overweight or obese, smoking, alcohol, conditions like a hiatal hernia, and medications that weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that separates the esophagus from the stomach, such as antihistamines, acetaminophen and NSAIDs, and anti-depressants.
With so many Americans affected by these conditions and the amounts of over-the-counter medication being used to treat the symptoms, we may want to take a look at what current research is saying about two solutions, ginger, and over-the-counter drugs.
Let’s take a look…
Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is a rhizome and important spice and herbal medicine used throughout the world.
Ginger is said to have potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-diabetic, and anti-cancer properties, and is used as a cure for diseases.
In a 2017 study published in Nutrition, ginger was found to be preventive in chronic diseases such as hypertension and cardiovascular diseases by increasing intake by just 1 g or 0.035 ounces/day.
Ginger has over 400 identified chemical constituents such as ascorbic acid, caffeic acid, capsaicin, beta-carotene, lecithin, limonene, selenium, and tryptophan to name just a few.
Ginger is well known for its digestive health benefits. Ginger has not been studied extensively as a remedy for GERD. However, many studies do support certain properties of ginger that lend to aiding this disease state.
Ginger contains a protease enzyme, zingibain that aids in the digestion of proteins. Gingers ability to break down proteins helps the body to move the digested food products into the small intestines for absorption.
Ginger contains cinnamic and gallic phenolic acids that inhibit the growth of H. pylori (bacteria) and have potent anti-oxidant properties that prevent ulcers by boosting mucosal defenses and reduce oxidative stress, according to a study published in 2011 in the journal “Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.”
Dr. P. Hanaway in Integrative Medicine (4th ed.) states that the active gingerols in ginger are anti-spasmodic and will improve the tone of intestinal muscles, meaning that ginger can keep the acid from your stomach from flowing back into your esophagus.
As an anti-inflammatory, ginger can protect the esophagus from damage due to inflammation, as this is a key characteristic of GERD.
The many parts of ginger taken together as a whole are better than the sum of their parts, as they work synergistically and support health when we consume this rhizome.
We can add ginger to our daily diets by adding it as a spice to dishes or consuming it as a tea.
To make ginger tea place ginger slices into your teacup, add boiling water, and steep for several minutes. You may want to add some lemon or cinnamon for extra flavor and health benefits.
Antacids are drugs (medication) that are meant to neutralize stomach acid and may come in chewable, liquid, or tablet forms.
These antacids may contain ingredients such as minerals (sodium, calcium or magnesium) or heavy metals such as aluminum (a neurotoxin).
The American Journal of Hospital Pharmacy states that all antacids have side effects, the most serious of which are metabolic.
Several side effects from taking antacids include:
Gastrointestinal disturbances occur such as constipation and gastrointestinal obstruction, secondary to aluminum hydroxide treatment and diarrhea, secondary to magnesium trisilicate treatment, with diarrhea being the dominating effect for most.
Long-term use of antacids has been associated with aluminum (a known neurotoxin) deposits in bone, joints and brain tissue.
Electrolyte disturbance, specifically abnormally low phosphate in the blood, is a metabolic side effect with the use of aluminum hydroxide antacids. When these antacids are used long-term, individuals may experience muscle weakness, the breakdown of muscle tissue, destruction of red blood cells, and difficulty in thinking or concentrating, short-term memory loss and emotional instability as the drug affects the muscle, blood, and brain tissue.
Softening of bone tissue, or osteomalacia has occurred with the use of aluminum hydroxide antacids. When osteomalacia occurs, you may experience bone pain, muscle weakness, and bone fractures.
High doses taken over time of calcium carbonate antacids are associated with a condition called acid rebound in which the stomach begins to produce more acid after food or drinks are consumed.
High doses of calcium carbonate antacids together with sodium bicarbonate can cause a syndrome with symptoms that include headaches, nausea, weakness, and reduced function of the kidneys. This condition, milk-alkali syndrome, can be caused by ingesting milk and antacids together, according to a 2012 published paper in Case Reports in Emergency Medicine.
Of course, while using your choice of symptom treatment to gain relief from the pain, one should also attempt to find the underlying cause of the condition, whether that be excess weight or other medications you may be taking that are causing damage your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) preventing it from its proper function. Making the necessary adjustments to the underlying cause can help to rid the heartburn and begin the healing process.
Isaiah 58:8 “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”
Wang, Y., Yu, H., Zhang, X., Feng, Q., Guo, X., Li, S., . . . Ma, Y. (2017). Evaluation of daily ginger consumption for the prevention of chronic diseases in adults: A cross-sectional study. Nutrition, 36, 79-84. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2016.05.009
Mi-Rae, S., Bu-Il Seo, Chang, G. S., Seong-Soo Roh, & Hyo-Jin An. (2017). Banhasasim-tang treatment reduces the severity of esophageal mucosal ulcer on chronic acid reflux esophagitis in rats. BioMed Research International, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2017/7157212
Lankarani, K. B. (2016). Diet and the gut. Middle East Journal of Digestive Diseases, 8(3), 161 165. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.15171/mejdd.2016.17
Nanjundaiah, S. M., Annaiah Harish, N. M., & Dharmesh, S. M. (2011). Gastroprotective effect of ginger rhizome (zingiber officinale) extract: Role of gallic acid and cinnamic acid in H+, K+-ATPase/H. pylori inhibition and anti-oxidative mechanism. Evidence - Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011 doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nep060
Watson, S. C., Dellinger, B. B., Jennings, K., & Scott, L. A. (2012). Antacids, altered mental status, and milk-alkali syndrome. Case Reports in Emergency Medicine, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/942452
Stoney, B., & Bagchi, G. (2017). Antacid abuse: A rare cause of severe hypercalcaemia. BMJ Case Reports, 2017 doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bcr-2017-219611