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What’s in This?: Alka-Seltzer

All three ingredients in this hangover and indigestion cure, explained (yep, even anhydrous citric acid)

We’re often told that you should never eat anything if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum and potassium benzoate are— or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on) themselves with the help of an expert. This edition: Alka-Seltzer, which is made from just three separate ingredients, which we’ve broken down in the exact order they appear on the box.

The Ingredients

1) Anhydrous Citric Acid: “Citric acid [which we discussed in our exploration of all 26 ingredients in Doritos Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips] is a weak organic acid that’s often used as a pH-adjusting agent, a flavoring agent or a preservative [although it’s mainly added to Alka-Seltzer to instigate a chemical reaction with sodium bicarbonate, which we’ll touch on momentarily],” explains Dagan Xavier, ingredient expert and co-founder of Label Insight. “Anhydrous citric acid is simply citric acid that contains no water, and therefore, comes in a dry, powdered form.”

2) Aspirin: Aspirin, as many of us know, is an anti-inflammatory drug that relieves pain and reduces fevers. This ingredient is why drinking Alka-Seltzer water might help with that headache.

3) Sodium Bicarbonate: Better known as baking soda, sodium bicarbonate can be used to treat heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux by reacting with and neutralizing excess stomach acid. “In the case of Alka-Seltzer, sodium bicarbonate also reacts with the citric acid [see #1 above], which creates the effervescent bubbles present when the tablets dissolve in water,” Xavier explains. According to a 2002 study, these effervescent bubbles do indeed help provide relief from both indigestion and constipation.

The Takeaway

Alka-Seltzer does what it’s meant to do — that is, calm the unfortunate effects of too many late-night tequila shots, or negate the effects of that third helping of summer barbecue cheeseburgers — and that’s all it does. It doesn’t contain any mystery ingredients that will slowly chew away at your insides (unlike some of the other consumables we’ve covered). For that, and for making our hangovers just a bit more bearable, Alka-Seltzer wins our hearts (and our stomachs).