Alginates are a type of compound found in seaweed. They have benefits for suppressing GERD symptoms.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition characterized by stomach acid and (sometimes) your stomach contents rising into your esophagus.

This can cause symptoms like heartburn or regurgitation.

Your esophagus is not able to handle the highly acidic gastric juices found in your stomach. Over time, GERD can damage your esophagus and cause further health complications.

Making lifestyle adjustments and taking medications like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are often typical first-line GERD treatments.

Alginates are another GERD treatment gaining attention. Let’s discuss more about alginates and GERD.

What are alginates?

Alginates are a specific type of carbohydrate. They’re naturally found in various species of brown algae or seaweed.

Different types of seaweed, and even different parts of the same plant, produce different versions of alginates.

Alginates have many uses in medicine due to their unique properties.

If you have GERD, your stomach contents can flow backward into your esophagus, causing damage and irritation. This is especially true after consuming food or liquids, a time when especially strong acids float to the top of your stomach, forming what’s called an acid pocket.

Typical antacids work to neutralize stomach acids so they’re not harmful to your esophagus, but alginates work differently.

When you take alginates, they interact with the acids in your stomach to form a gel-like substance called a raft. The raft acts as a physical barrier. It’s buoyant enough to float on top of your stomach acids but strong enough to keep them from rising into your esophagus.

In a 2017 research review, researchers looked at several studies comparing alginates to other GERD treatments like antacids, PPIs, histamine-2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs), and placebos.

The results suggest that alginates were an effective treatment for GERD.

In general, the data from the available clinical trials show that alginates are effective in treating symptomatic GERD. They were more effective than placebos and antacids but less effective than PPIs and H2 blockers.

Larger randomized controlled trials of alginates with PPIs and H2 blockers are needed to test their effectiveness.

For many reasons, some people may want to limit the number of medications they take. Because alginates are a physical treatment (barrier) instead of a pharmacological one, you might prefer to try it first over other GERD treatments.

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) is similar to but distinct from GERD. It’s sometimes called silent reflux.

LPR is also caused by stomach contents moving backward into your esophagus, but with this condition, they might reach the back of your throat and vocal cords, causing irritation and damage to those areas.

Because the mechanism is the same, alginates are an effective treatment for LPR in addition to GERD.

A 2021 review of research suggests that alginates should be a first-line treatment for people recently diagnosed with LPR.

Other research in 2021 indicates that alginates may be helpful for people with non-acid and mixed reflux who do not respond to PPIs.

Alginates are considered a safe treatment for GERD, with no known serious side effects.

Researchers conducted a 2020 review of randomized controlled trials dated between 2000 and 2010 to evaluate alginate treatment. They found that there was no significant difference in the rates that alginates caused adverse side effects compared with other treatments, including PPIs, antacids, and even placebos.

There was also no significant increase in negative outcomes when alginates were combined with PPIs compared with taking either one by itself.

While alginates are considered a safe treatment for GERD, more research is still needed in this area.

One important thing to keep in mind is that in different alginate formulations, sometimes the listed active ingredient contains magnesium or aluminum, which can decrease the absorption of some medications like Neurontin (gabapentin).

Because of this, medication timing is important and other medications should be taken at intervals apart from sodium alginate. Furthermore, because of the potential mineral content, sodium alginate may not be recommended in those with kidney disease.

Alginates can be a first-line treatment for most people with GERD, but some people might find it more beneficial than others.

Alginate treatments have been shown to be safe in children, pregnant people, and people who are lactating, as discussed in a 2019 study.

GERD can be either erosive or nonerosive. People with nonerosive GERD may find PPIs to be less effective and might then benefit from trying alginates.

Who should avoid them?

Alginates are often sold as a component mixed with other supplements. Although the alginate itself is safe, other components might not be safe for children or pregnant adults. Check with your doctor if you are unsure.

There are no specific groups who are known to be at risk from alginate therapy, but it’s still a good idea to check with your doctor before taking any new medication or supplement, including alginates.

You may still have some questions about alginate therapy for GERD. We answer some of the most common ones below.

Are alginates safe for GERD?

Yes, alginates are considered a safe treatment for GERD in adults, children, and people who are pregnant or lactating.

What do alginates do in GERD?

Alginates form a barrier called a raft that floats above your stomach acids. This prevents the acids and other stomach contents from rising into your esophagus.

How do you use alginates for acid reflux?

Alginates are available over the counter in many forms, including supplements, powders, and liquids. They act very quickly and can be used for GERD symptom maintenance or immediate relief.

What is the best alginate for acid reflux?

The active ingredients in effective alginates are:

  • sodium alginate
  • sodium bicarbonate
  • calcium carbonate

Sodium alginate, in particular, is found in the stems of the seaweed species Laminaria hyperborea. Alginates from other species are not as effective.

When is it best to take alginates?

Alginates start acting within a few seconds after taking them. They interact with the acids in your stomach, so you can plan to take them shortly after eating or when you begin to notice symptoms of GERD.

Alginates are a type of compound found in seaweed. They interact with your stomach acids to form a gel-like raft that floats at the top of your stomach, suppressing stomach contents from entering your esophagus, where they can cause damage and irritation.

GERD is very common, but many treatments are available.

If you think you may have GERD, speak with a doctor about treatment options that may work best for you.