This month I wanted to write about a unique and little known supplement for heartburn and GERD. Digestive enzymes, probiotics, and DGL licorice are all helpful for managing GERD, but there is another supplement ingredient I’ve discovered and have been doing some research on which I believe could be a great help for GERD and heartburn sufferers.
The ingredient I’m talking about is called alginate, also known as algenic acid. It’s an extract from brown algae that absorbs many times its weight in liquid, making a natural gel substance. When that algae gel is combined with natural buffers like sodium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate and used after a meal, it is actually able to make a gel-like raft that blocks acid reflux into the esophagus.
When the alginate reaches the acids in the stomach, it makes a pliable gel. At the same time, the calcium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda) produce bubbles in the algae gel which make it rise to the top of the stomach, so it is literally floating on top of the contents of your stomach.
By making this floating stomach acid raft, it prevents those stomach acids from coming back up the esophagus, which is what happens in acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn.
It sounds a little strange, and but if you think about it, it makes sense. One of the main reasons so many people suffer from acid reflux is that naturally as we age, the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus known as the esophageal sphincter can weaken, so it doesn’t close all the way. When this happens, it allows acid to begin to travel back up the esophagus from the stomach, causing pain and damage over time.
When this gel raft is formed, it can last several hours in the body (which means that it is effective for that amount of time) before passing through the intestines and being digested like any other fiber.
Research has been done on alginate and its gel barrier method for preventing acid reflux, and when compared with PPIs, other acid blocking drugs, and antacids, it’s been found superior in both safety and effectiveness (here’s a link the abstract of one of those studies on Pub Med). There are no side effects, drug interactions, or toxicity that has been found from using this method since you are not actually taking a drug or anything that is necessarily changing what the body naturally does, but are just preventing acid from going where it shouldn’t be going anyway. It’s very much like fencing a dog in your yard- you aren’t stopping Fido from doing whatever he likes to do in your yard, you’re just preventing him from running in the street.
This alginate combination has been the subject of over fourteen different studies as well as a meta-analysis that examined each of the studies done on these nutrients at Duke University. The results showed that the alginate based supplement was more effective than placebo or antacids. In the studies, the people who took the alginate supplement were 4.42 times more likely to have a complete resolution of their symptoms than the placebo group.
I don’t know why alginate based supplements aren’t more well known, since the research is sound, but I’m happy to be able to share the information I’ve come across, since I think it could help a lot of people.
The supplement we’ve found that has this impressive alginate combination that we carry at the store is called Nutrisec by a company called Nature’s Plus. It’s a chewable tablet that is meant to be taken after a meal or 30 minutes before bedtime to prevent reflux when lying down to sleep at night, which is a very common issue for people with GERD. If you use it before bed, wait a half hour before laying down so the raft has time to get into place so it can work properly.
I’d very much recommend trying it, especially since it has been shown to cause no harm, and that it seems like something that might really help if you’re dealing with acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn. It’s definitely worth a try!