Have you ever felt like somebody set a bonfire in your chest? Does the feeling of burning rise up into your throat? Does the burning happen right after you eat one too many tacos or whenever you lie down to finally rest your head? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you could be in the market for some heartburn home remedies.
What is heartburn, you ask? Heartburn, or acid reflux, is caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus (tube that connects your throat to your stomach). The sensation of burning is generally felt in the upper and central part of the chest, just behind the breast bone (sternum). Heartburn can worsen or be brought on by lying flat or on your right side. Pregnant women often also suffer from heartburn or have worsening heartburn, as a growing baby can put added pressure on the stomach (forcing the stomach acid upward).
Heartburn Home Remedies You Should Try
Heartburn happens. A lot. In fact, up to 20 percent of Americans experience heartburn at least once a week, and it is a very common occurrence in pregnant women. That being said, if you’re part of the statistics, there’s good news.
When it comes to acid reflux, you don’t have to simply bear the discomfort. Here are nine heartburn home remedies you can use to put out the fire:
1. Avoid food triggers
If you’re aware of specific foods that trigger your heartburn (e.g., tacos, pizza), try to avoid those foods. Heartburn sufferers should also watch out for peppermint, caffeine, soda pop, chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, onions, and spicy and high-fat foods. Be sure to reduce your portion sizes. Instead of three big meals a day, try eating five or six small meals. Remember to take small bites and eat slowly. To keep your digestive tract moving and healthy, be sure to eat plenty of fiber each day.
2. Keep a food record
Keep track and write down what you’ve eaten and when you experience heartburn. That way you can identify which foods are your primary triggers and avoid them.
3. Designate an earlier dinnertime
Eating late often goes hand in hand with eating too much, as many Americans skip breakfast and eat only a sandwich during a quick lunch break. Therefore, the evening meal becomes the largest meal of the day, and after that meal, we retire to the couch to watch a little TV or lie down in bed. After eating, it’s important to remain upright, as gravity helps control the contents of your stomach. Give your stomach a chance to empty before you lie down. That means you should eat your last meal or snack at least two or three hours before bedtime.
4. Quit smoking
Smoking reduces the effectiveness of the muscle that keeps acids in the stomach. For this reason, and many others, it’s a good idea to never give up on kicking the cigarette habit. While smoking can be a form of coping with stress or discomfort, keep in mind, lighting up will not make that burning feeling go away should you have an attack of heartburn.
5. Improve your posture
Your posture could be contributing to your heartburn, so it’s worth trying to improve it. When you’re slumped over, your internal organs are compressed. If you’re lying down and can’t get up, or are caring for someone who is confined to bed and having heartburn, try raising the upper body (from the waist up). The Mayo Clinic notes that lifting your head isn’t enough, so don’t simply add a pillow. Consider putting wood blocks under your bed to raise the head of it about six inches. An adjustable bed that can be raised to a better angle could also offer relief.
6. Choose chewing gum
Believe it or not, chewing gum can help neutralize acid. Dr. Alain Elian, a general surgeon with Borgess Surgical Specialties, has this to say about it: “gum increases production of saliva, which is alkaline in nature and helps to counteract the acids that cause heartburn. Chewing gum also seems to help push digestive fluids back into the stomach.” A study from the Journal of Dental Research also found that people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms experienced heartburn relief when they chewed a piece of sugar-free gum for 30 minutes following a meal.
7. Watch your weight
It’s true that thinner people can also get heartburn. But according to research, gaining just a few extra pounds can increase your risk of heartburn (as it places added pressure on your stomach), even if your body-mass index (BMI) is within the healthy range. Losing this excess weight, however, may be one of the few lifestyle changes you need to make to find heartburn relief.
8. Skip the skinny jeans
Try to wear clothing that’s looser fitting, as tight clothing can put added pressure on your abdomen.
There are many over-the-counter (OTC) medications for heartburn available, including antacids to neutralize stomach acids (e.g., Mylanta, Maalox, Rolaids, Tums), H-2 blockers like Zantac, Axid and Pepcid that reduce the production of acid, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that block acid production, such as Prilosec and Prevacid. Depending on the strength, H-2 blockers and PPIs are available both as OTC meds and by prescription. If you take any of these medications on a regular or frequent basis, you should tell your doctor, as they can interact with other drugs. This will also help your doctor learn more about the severity of your symptoms.
Herbals and Other Heartburn Home Remedies
There isn’t a lot of research compiled for herbal remedies for heartburn. Most studies have centered on a product called Iberogast, which is made with many different herbs. Some of these studies have shown that Iberogast may reduce heartburn, but it isn’t clear which herb (or herbs) in the mix is responsible for alleviating symptoms.
Before you decide to take any herbal remedy or supplement, check with your doctor, as some of these options can have side effects or can interact with other medications you may be taking.
Dr. Victor Sierpina, professor of integrative and family medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch, notes that aloe might soothe the burn of heartburn for some. He says aloe juice, “quiets down any inflammation that is in the esophagus, as well as the stomach.” Try drinking one-half cup before meals, but be aware that the juice can have laxative properties. Look for brands that say the laxative component has been removed (e.g., Aloe Vera Power).
Milk is good for you, and can temporarily buffer stomach acid. However, the fat in milk can also stimulate the stomach to produce more acid. When reaching for a glass of milk, drink fat-free and don’t overdo it. Drink no more than eight ounces at a time. Overfilling your stomach can increase heartburn.
Baking soda may be an effective choice for heartburn symptoms. Dr. Jacqueline Wolf, author of A Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Stomach, recommends mixing between one-half and one teaspoon of baking soda with a glass of water. If you regularly have heartburn, don’t make this your one-stop solution. Baking soda is high in salt and could cause side effects like swelling and nausea.
The founder and director of the Blum Center for Health in New York reports that licorice could ease heartburn and get to the source of the problem, but research still remains limited. Licorice has some natural stomach healing properties, but eating a lot of licorice can have serious side effects, such as high blood pressure. You should opt for DGL licorice (which does not contain glycyrrhizic acid). Chewable DGL licorice tablets, which can be eaten before meals, are available at most natural food stores.
Although there has been limited research, slippery elm has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries to treat a range of conditions, including GERD symptoms. Slippery elm is thought to offer a coating or protective layer to the tissue of the stomach. This herb has been traditionally prescribed as a couple of teaspoons in water after meals and at bedtime.
Pregnancy and Heartburn Relief
As many as half of all pregnant women will, unfortunately, experience heartburn. Heartburn is particularly common during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. Along with a growing uterus pushing the stomach upwards, those expecting also have higher levels of progesterone, a hormone that relaxes muscles in the body during pregnancy (which means the muscles in the stomach that keep acid away from the esophagus may also be less effective).
Here are some safe heartburn home remedies for use during pregnancy:
As much as you can, try to avoid eating spicy and fried foods
If you can’t give caffeine up cold turkey, reduce the amount of it you consume
Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, but be aware of the acid-triggering ones (e.g., citrus fruits)
Don’t rush through your meals. Chew your food thoroughly and slowly. This will help prevent your stomach from over-secreting acid to digest your food.
Break your meals into smaller, more frequent ones. Try not to eat too much in one sitting.
Instead of drinking a big glass of milk with dinner, sip liquids during meals. Try to get most of your fluid intake by drinking your beverages between, rather than during, meals.
Don’t lie down as soon as you’re finished eating. Allow your food to go down slowly by doing a light activity after you eat (e.g., walking).
Wear loose-fitting clothing
If lifestyle changes don’t work, OTC antacids may suppress your heartburn symptoms. Antacids containing calcium or magnesium should be safe to take during pregnancy. Avoid antacids that contain aluminum due to certain side effects and do not use baking soda, as it can cause swelling. Consider stronger medications (e.g., H-2 inhibitors) if OTC meds don’t do the trick. Be sure to discuss taking these meds with your doctor before doing so.
Heartburn vs. GERD: At a Glance
Heartburn is sometimes also referred to as acid reflux. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is related to acid reflux, but doesn’t mean the same thing. When you have acid reflux, you might taste regurgitated food or sour liquid at the back of your mouth, or more commonly, you will feel the burning sensation of heartburn. Acid reflux like this can (but doesn’t always) progress to a more severe condition known as GERD.
Signs and symptoms of GERD include:
- Frequent heartburn
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
- Difficulty swallowing
- Coughing and/or wheezing
- Chest pain
All of these symptoms are typically exacerbated or happen when lying down at night.
When to Call the Doctor
Occasional acid reflux can usually be effectively treated with lifestyle changes, home remedies and/or OTC medications. If you have frequent heartburn that’s bothersome and won’t go away, or you feel you might have GERD, you should see your primary care doctor. There are prescription medications that may help control your heartburn or GERD symptoms. In some cases, GERD can also be treated with surgery or other procedures.
Left untreated, GERD can cause other serious health problems over the long haul, including esophageal bleeding or ulcers and a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus (which can put you at greater risk for esophageal cancer).
Signs that your heartburn symptoms might have evolved into GERD include:
- You have heartburn at least twice every week
- You take antacids or OTC medications and they don’t relieve your symptoms
- You experience lumps in your throat or food sticking in your throat
- Your frequent heartburn is coupled with weight loss