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Ranking Over-the-Counter Stomach Medicines by How Effective They Are

TUMS? Pepto-Bismol? Rolaids? Which will best unknot my Thanksgiving belly balloon?

As the sun begins to rise on the morning after Thanksgiving, you awaken to what can only be described as an intestinal tornado comprised of turkey gravy and creamed corn. You rapidly stumble toward the nearest bathroom, where you collapse into the fetal position, clutching at your bloated belly and praying for sweet relief.

Now you knew damn well that going back for thirds was a bad idea, so now you’re paying the price. But who are we to judge? We did the exact same thing, and we’re also looking for a cure. That’s why we asked gastroenterologist Marc Makhani, founder of LA Digestive Health and Wellness, to help us rank popular antacids by how effective they are on what we’re calling Brown Friday — from “more-turkey-please!” to “I-need-to-puke-immediately.”

Let’s soothe that tummy…

1. Gaviscon, Mylanta, Amphojel, Gelusil and Maalox (tied): These are basically variations of the same medication, since aluminum hydroxide — a naturally occurring mineral that works quickly to lower the amount of acid in the stomach — is an active ingredient in all of them. (Gaviscon, Mylanta, Gelusil and Maalox also contain some form of magnesium, which provides virtually the same alleviating effect as aluminum hydroxide.) “The aluminum and magnesium combination coats the stomach to provide some temporary relief from acid irritation,” Makhani explains. “We tend to use these for indigestion — if someone says they had a heavy meal that was a little bit acidic, or maybe they were just sensitive to what they were eating.”

Makhani goes on to explain that these antacids also provide gas relief, which means they might soothe more symptoms of indigestion than the following medications. “They hit the dyspepsia [indigestion] spectrum a little more broadly than, let’s say, TUMs or Rolaids,” he says.

Hot tip: While these antacids come in various formulations, at least one study has found that liquid antacids typically provide quicker relief than their tablet counterparts.

6. TUMs, Rolaids and Alka-Seltzer (tied): The main active ingredient in TUMs and Rolaids is calcium carbonate, which relieves heartburn and acid indigestion by neutralizing the acidity in the stomach. In other words, these are pretty similar to the antacids listed above; however, Makhani mentions that these might be better used to reduce heartburn than alleviate a stuffing-stuffed stomach. “If someone feels like they’re having more heartburn […] I’d say go for the Tums, Rolaids or Alka-Seltzer,” Makhani says. These also come strictly in tablet form, meaning they might not provide relief as quickly as the medications mentioned above.

Speaking of Alka-Seltzer, it’s a little different from the other two in that it contains a combination of aspirin, sodium bicarbonate and anhydrous citric acid. “It’s really the sodium bicarbonate that provides the neutralizing factor,” Makhani says. Similar to TUMs and Rolaids, Alka-Seltzer is best used to soothe heartburn. That said, the inclusion of aspirin might also help massage that holiday hangover away if you drank your way through Thanksgiving dinner.

9. Pepto-Bismol: Bismuth subsalicylate is the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol. “It works by suppressing some of the bacteria [in the stomach],” Makhani explains. “I tend to use this more for somebody who gets traveler’s diarrhea or an upset stomach, not really for indigestion or upper heartburn symptoms. I mean, you could use it — it actually says, if you look it up online, that it can treat occasional heartburn — but I use it more for lower gastrointestinal symptoms.”

10. Milk of Magnesia: “Milk of magnesia is good for constipation,” Makhani explains. “You probably won’t need this unless you get constipated from your turkey meal a few days later.”

It’s worth knowing that none of these medications are, as far as we know, indisputably more effective than the others. The better takeaway should be that the winning medications (Gaviscon, Mylanta, Amphojel, Gelusil and Maalox) provide broader relief for the basic symptoms associated with eating way too much on Thanksgiving; the second-place medications (TUMs, Rolaids and Alka-Seltzer) are better used to tackle heartburn; the third-place medication (Pepto-Bismol) might make more sense as a preventative defense against diarrhea while you fly out to see your family; and finally, the last-place medication (Milk of Magnesia) is best for helping you shit out that entire Thanksgiving dinner three days later.

So for now, take a Maalox and lie down until that gravy-nado calms down.