A History of Antacid

Plop-plop, fizz-fizz, oh what a relief it is. And relief from an upset stomach is not exactly an invention borne from the stresses of modern day life. In fact, people sick to their stomach have been searching high and low for relief from their misery for millennia. A visit to the local druggist or the pharmacy department of Wal-Mart today reveals a dizzying number of choices available for the antacid crowd. When and where did this idea of antacid to relieve an upset stomach originate? We have to go all the way back 3500 years before the birth of Christ and directly to the cradle of civilization. In addition to so many other things, we must also thank the Sumerians for being inventors of antacid to relieve the problems associated with an upset stomach.

Sumerian physicians did not just discover this magic elixir overnight. It took years and years of trial and error before they finally realized the extraordinary ability of certain alkalines to battle the effects of patients complaining of stomach pains. The very first antacid that was recorded on clay tablets as providing this relief were derived from a combination of milk and peppermint mixed with carbonates. The more things change, the more they stay the same: the Sumerians gradually discovered the sublime properties of one carbonate in particular. As you might very well expect, sodium bicarbonate, more commonly known today as baking soda, was the preferred carbonate that gave the milk and peppermint is effectiveness. Contemporary over the counter antacids work through a chemical reaction that involves neutralizing the positively charged ions found in the stomach’s hydrochloric acid by introducing negatively charged ions into the mix. This chemical reaction releases pepsin, a compound found in the digestive juices that can become the prime irritant behind that discomfort. Although they had absolutely no concept about any of this or really understand exactly how their remedies worked, the Sumerian approach to antacid relief worked on the exactly same principle.

For the next several millennia physicians took the lead of the Sumerians and routinely treated upset stomachs with baking soda. It would not be until the late 1800’s, in fact, that a competitor to baking soda’s crown as the kind of antacid appeared. This product was created by a candle maker in Connecticut who came up with idea of combining the baking soda basis of traditional antacid with magnesia, which was used to that point almost exclusively as a laxative. What this product had over baking soda was that it provided a far more soothing manner of relief. Although it seemed at the time to be a completely original idea, in fact it had its basis in the very same concoction conceived by the Sumerians. The primary difference was that magnesia was used instead of milk. Even so, the maker still managed to give a tip of his hat, whether consciously or unconsciously, to the Sumerians. That antacid product invented back in 1873 is still taken daily by millions of people today. It is known as Milk of Magnesia.