If you’ve ever had heartburn, you know how uncomfortable it can be. It is generally associated with a burning sensation in the chest or throat.
Up to 20 percent of people living in Western countries suffer from this problem. Thankfully, several natural remedies can help calm the burn.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is a common and unpleasant problem triggered by acid reflux, a condition in which the stomach acids back up into the esophagus.
The passage between the food pipe and the stomach is usually closed. It opens to let chewed food and saliva enter the stomach.
After the food has entered the stomach, it closes again to prevent the contents of the stomach from flowing back.
Sometimes, when the stomach gets stretched after a large meal, the sphincter at the entrance of the stomach can become loose.
Gas and some contents of the stomach may leak into the food pipe in such a situation.
When the digestive fluids enter the food pipe, they irritate the lining of the food pipe and cause heartburn.
The food pipe might get inflamed if the stomach juices stay in it for a long time.
What does heartburn feel like?
The symptoms of heartburn include –
- Burning feeling in the chest, below the breastbone.
- General discomfort in the upper abdomen
- Chest pain, especially after you bend over, lie down or eat
- Burning in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Foul, acidic taste in the mouth
- Feeling of food getting stuck in the middle of the chest or throat
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn is a common health problem that affects Americans. Some of the most common causes of heartburn are –
- Eating large portions
- Eating shortly before bedtime
- Eating certain foods like tomatoes or tomato-based products, spicy food, citrus foods, garlic, and high-fat food
- Drinking alcohol, citrus drinks, carbonated drinks, and caffeinated drinks
- Wearing tight clothes and belts
- Being overweight
- Hiatal hernia
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Use of anti-inflammatory drugs and aspirin
Natural remedies of heartburn
You can relieve the symptoms of heartburn by making dietary and lifestyle changes.
1. Portion control
Having big meals can set off heartburn. When you eat a heavy meal, the stomach gets stretched, and the valve that keeps the stomach acid down can open up.
According to a 2014 study by the National Food and Nutritional Institute, Poland, participants with GERD were more likely to have one large evening meal than divide their intake equally between all meals (2).
Instead of having three large meals every day, you can opt for 5 to 6 small meals.
2. Lose weight
The diaphragm, which is located above the stomach, helps strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
The LES is a circular muscle that prevents stomach acid from leaking into the esophagus.
Excessive belly fat can cause the LES to get pushed upwards and away from the diaphragm. This condition is called hiatus hernia.
Losing weight can help prevent this condition and prevent heartburn. Several studies have shown that losing weight can lead to the resolution of heartburn (3).
3. Avoid food near bed time
Eating late at night can increase the chances of acid reflux and heartburn. A cross-sectional study in 4763 adults, a long meal to sleep interval was inversely associated with GERD (4).
According to the International Foundation of Gastrointestinal Disorders, stomach acid production is the highest during the first three hours after eating.
So, eat your dinner earlier to avoid heartburn.
4. Elevate your upper body
Lying down can worsen heartburn. Lying down makes it easier for the content of the stomach to flow back into the esophagus. This condition is known as nocturnal reflux.
According to a study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, bedhead elevation reduced acid from leaking into the esophagus and acid clearance time in nocturnal refluxers and led to some relief from heartburn and sleep disturbance (5).
Inserting a triangular wedge-shape underneath the head of the bed and keep the food pipe raised above the stomach and prevent heartburn.
5. Wear loose-fitting clothing
Wear loose-fitting clothing around your abdomen. Tight clothes can squeeze your stomach area and push up the acid in your esophagus.
Opt for stretchy and comfortable clothes instead.
6. Control your stress
Several studies have shown that stress can also be a trigger for acid reflux and heartburn.
According to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, people who had work-related stress were at a higher risk for GERD symptoms (6).
Researchers believe that stress can cause changes in the brain that turn up brain receptors, which makes you more sensitive to increases in acid levels.
You can opt for various techniques like massage, deep breathing, meditation, and journaling to help you relax.
7. Herbal remedies
The following herbs are very effective in treating heartburn.
Chamomile – A cup of chamomile tea can have a soothing effect on the digestive tract and prevent heartburn.
Licorice – Licorice increases the mucosal coating of the esophageal lining and prevents it from getting irritated by the stomach acids.
Ginger – Ginger is a well known digestive aid and has been used as a remedy for heartburn for centuries.
Catnip, fennel, marshmallow root, and papaya tea are also known to reduce heartburn.
8. Baking soda
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a natural antacid. It can neutralize the acid in your stomach and calm the episodes of heartburn.
Dissolve one teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in a glass full of water and drink it.
9. Chewing gum
Chewing gum can stimulate saliva and swallowing. This helps to dilute the stomach acid that may have reached the esophagus.
10. Avoid smoking
Studies have found that smokers are much more likely than non-smokers to have acid reflux (7).
Nicotine relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, which can cause acid to leak into the esophagus. Quit smoking to avoid heartburn.
Foods to eat
Some foods can reduce the symptoms of acid reflux. These include –
Vegetables are low in fat and sugar and can help reduce heartburn. Add vegetables like broccoli, green beans, asparagus, leafy greens, potatoes, and cucumbers to your diet to reduce heartburn.
2. Non-citrus fruits
Fruits like melons, bananas, apples, papayas, and pears can help reduce heartburn.
Oatmeal is an excellent source of fiber and can absorb the acids in the stomach and reduce heartburn.
4. Healthy Fats
5. Lean meats
Chicken, fish turkey, and seafood are low in fats and reduce heartburn.
Foods to avoid
Although the foods that may trigger heartburn can differ for different people, some foods can cause problems for many people. These include:
1. Fried and fatty food
Eating a high-fat diet can put at a higher risk for acid reflux. So, avoid eating fatty foods like French fries, onion rings, full-fat dairy products, oily and greasy foods, fatty cuts of bacon or pork, and desserts like ice-cream.
2. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, pineapple, and grapefruits can worsen GERD symptoms.
Tomatoes are highly acidic and can cause heartburn in people prone to it.
4. Garlic and onion
Garlic and onion can trigger heartburn in some people.
5. Spicy food
Chilli, pepper, and spices can trigger heartburn in some people. Avoid such foods.
Alcohol can interfere with the functioning of LES and increase the production of stomach acid.
Caffeine is a well-known trigger of acid reflux.
Chocolate contains methylxanthine which can relax LES and lead to reflux.
Many people think peppermint is soothing for the stomach, but that is not true. Peppermint can relax LES and which can lead to heartburn.
10. Carbonated drinks
Carbonated drinks can cause gastric distension, which increases the pressure on the esophageal sphincter, promoting reflux.
When should you see a doctor?
If you have heartburn fewer than two times a week, and efficiently respond to home remedies, you need not worry.
However, if you have any trouble swallowing, chest pain, or hoarseness, you should seek medical evaluation.
These symptoms could indicate Barrett’s esophagus( a narrowing in the esophagus), which can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.
You must contact your doctor if –
- Your heartburn symptoms become more frequent or severe
- You feel pain while swallowing
- You have nausea or vomiting
- You are losing weight
- You have been taking antacids for more than two weeks, and your symptoms persist
- You are experiencing bloody bowel movements.
Heartburn is a common problem triggered by acid reflux, a condition in which the stomach acids back up into the esophagus. Prolonged acid reflux can cause GERD.
You can manage heartburn by making some lifestyle and dietary changes and following some home remedies.
These include portion control, losing weight, avoiding food near bedtime, elevating upper body while sleeping, wearing loose fitted clothes, and controlling stress.
However, if your heartburn symptoms persist or get worse, you must consult your doctor.