Rolaids were developed in the 1920s by Irvine Grote, an American chemist, to help relieve the discomfort of indigestion, commonly referred to as heart burn. Rolaids belong to a family of drugs known as antacids, because of their ability to neutralize the acidity of the digestive juices produced by the stomach. They derive their name from the foil roll in which they were originally packaged. Other brands of antacids include Maalox, Milk of Magnesia (MOM) and Pepto-Bismol.
Causes of Indigestion
Indigestion occurs when stomach acids overflow from the stomach into the esophagus (the tube that leads from the throat down to the stomach) causing a burning sensation in the chest, hence the term "heart burn." Normally, stomach acid should not be able to pass from the stomach back up into the esophagus, but weakness in the esophageal sphincter muscle, consumption of foods that cause the sphincter to relax (for example, caffeine, alcohol, chocolate), or overeating can allow this barrier to be breached. The esophagus does not have the same kind of protective lining as does the stomach, and the pain that is felt during indigestion is a result of stomach acids slowly breaking down the tissues of the esophagus.
How Rolaids Work
The active ingredients in Rolaids are calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide. Both of these ingredients are basic, meaning they are on the opposite end of the PH scale from the hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach. When bases and acids meet, they neutralize each other's effects. Antacids do not necessarily stop stomach acids from going up into the esophagus (although there are claims that they can help the esophageal sphincter retain a better seal), but what they do accomplish is to make those acids less acidic, and thus less corrosive (and therefore less painful) to the lining of the esophagus.
Long-term Use Not Recommended
In neutralizing the acids that cause heartburn to occur, antacids also reduce the effectiveness of those acids to properly digest food. And since the stomach is designed to digest, it will compensate by producing more acid. This usually does not pose problems in the short term, but with long term use of antacids, the stomach can become accustomed to producing ever-increasing amounts of hydrochloric acid in order to keep up, causing an unfortunate circle of dependency; the very treatment used to reduce stomach acidity will have ended up increasing it instead.
Trading Symptoms for Side Effects
There are a number of other potential side effects that anyone who makes more than occasional use of an antacid such as Rolaids should be aware of, such as an impaired ability to absorb certain drugs and nutrients, and an impaired ability to destroy food-borne bacteria due to the reduction of acidity levels in the stomach. A full discussion of the side effects of antacids, as well as alternative methods of addressing indigestion, is outside the scope of this article, so if you have any concerns, do further research and always consult your doctor.