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If you’ve ever come down with a really bad case of heartburn, you know how uncomfortable it can be. Thankfully, there are plenty of over the counter heartburn medications on the market that can put an end to the distress, seemingly by magic. Tums is probably the most well-known antacid of all, but how exactly does it work?
First, a little primer on what exactly heartburn is. When we eat too much fatty or spicy food, drink too much alcohol, or eat right before bed, stomach acids and enzymes (which break down the food we eat) can back up in the stomach, flowing up into the esophagus and causing the irritation we call heartburn.
When you eat an antacid like Tums, Rolaids, or Alka-Seltzer, the gastric acid in the esophagus is neutralized as it works its way to your stomach, where excess gastric acid is neutralized as well. The active ingredient in Tums is the chemical compound calcium carbonate; other antacids use other compounds like potassium, sodium, aluminum, or magnesium bicarbonates. The common denominator here is that they’re all alkaline, the opposite of acidic. When something alkaline comes into contact with something acidic, the acid is neutralized. In this case, the acid that’s neutralized is stomach acid, and voila, the pain is gone.
Keep in mind, however, that just because the excess stomach acid is neutralized, that doesn’t mean that the underlying factors are cured. If you have persistent heartburn, it’s suggested that you see a doctor.