Home Remedies For Heartburn (And When You Need A Doctor)
That unpleasant feeling of your last meal coming back into your throat. That uncomfortable, even painful, burning sensation in your chest. Heartburn has returned.
Heartburn is the feeling you get when the contents of your stomach back up into the esophagus toward the mouth. It's common to experience it from time to time.
And it seems everyone you talk to has a different home remedy they swear by. But are these remedies safe? According to Mary Rouzer, DNP, a nurse practitioner specializing in gastroenterology with Franciscan Physician Network, "Unless your esophagus has damage we've seen on a scope and requires medication, it's fine to try natural remedies for acid reflux."
Find out which home remedies for acid reflux are safe to try and are most likely to help provide relief and when you should seek medical care.
Home Remedies For Acid Reflux
The effectiveness of the various home remedies differs from person to person. Home remedies for heartburn, also called acid reflux, include:
Apple cider vinegar
"Apple cider vinegar works for some, but makes it worse for others," reports Rouzer. Swallowing a small amount (about a teaspoon) of unprocessed apple cider vinegar mixed with water may reduce the acidity level in the stomach. But there's no scientific evidence to back up those claims.
Bottom line: Apple cider vinegar is safe to try for acid reflux as long as you use a small amount and the cider vinegar's diluted.
"I recommend probiotics for a variety of gastrointestinal issues – like diarrhea, bloating and gas – but not usually for acid reflux," says Rouzer. She cautions that it's important to purchase probiotics from a trusted supplement manufacturer. You want to be sure you're getting a quality product.
Bottom line: Test out probiotics as long as they're from a reputable company.
A small study found that chewing sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after lunch or dinner could reduce acid levels in the esophagus. But for some people, peppermint gum can worsen symptoms. (See information on peppermint, below.)
Bottom line: There's no harm in chewing gum after a meal. You may want to avoid peppermint or spearmint flavors if you can't tolerate them.
Aloe vera juice
The gel from aloe vera leaves is known for soothing a sunburn – but what about a heartburn? Some people take aloe vera internally to reduce stomach acid and calm irritation. However, there's no research to indicate that aloe vera helps heartburn.
Bottom line: Try aloe vera juice as long as you buy it from a trusted source so you can be confident you're getting a pure and safe product.
Bananas are a bland, low-acid fruit that people often find to be gentle on the digestive system. Says Rouzer, "The vitamins in bananas help stop gastrointestinal spasms, but it's not clear whether they can affect acid reflux," says Rouzer.
Bottom line: If nothing else, bananas are a great snack food for most people. Testing whether they help your heartburn symptoms couldn't hurt.
"Peppermint relaxes the stomach," says Rouzer. "You may feel better after taking it. However, peppermint can also increase acid reflux symptoms in some people – because it may loosen the muscle that keeps liquids from flowing back up into the esophagus."
Bottom line: Whether peppermint is useful depends on the individual. You can try sipping tea or taking a peppermint pill, but if it increases your acid reflux, try ginger instead. Ginger is calming and reduces inflammation in the stomach. Both peppermint and ginger can help with diarrhea, bloating and gas, too.
With the popularity of essential oils, some consider using peppermint or ginger essential oil as an aid for digestion. Speak with your healthcare provider before taking essential oils internally or topically. Essential oils can interact with medications, each person's body reacts differently to these oils, and because the oils are not regulated, there can be inconsistencies in what is the actual product purchased.
A little baking soda mixed with water can reduce your stomach's acidity level, says Rouzer. It works like an over-the-counter antacid, but unlike those fruity delights, a baking soda concoction doesn't taste as good.
Bottom line: If you've got baking soda in your pantry, try this home remedy when you're desperate for relief from reflux.
Lifestyle Changes Work Best For Heartburn
The best way to avoid heartburn discomfort is to prevent it. These lifestyle changes can make a big difference:
- Avoid trigger foods: Foods that promote heartburn include fried and fatty foods, caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods and carbonated beverages.
- Lose weight: Being overweight increases the likelihood that you'll experience heartburn.
- Avoid eating late at night: Try to eat three hours before going to bed. At a minimum, you should wait at least one hour after eating. (Read How to stop nighttime eating for tips.)
- Elevate the bed: Physically lift the head of your bed about six to eight inches so you're sleeping on an incline. If that's not possible, use a wedge pillow for lift.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco: These substances increase the chances of heartburn attacks.
- Wear looser clothing: Tight clothing can put pressure on your digestive system.
When To See A Doctor
If you experience the following symptoms, which may be signs of a serious condition, seek immediate care:
- Severe chest pain
- Change in stool color
- Bloody vomit
- Unexpected weight loss
- Trouble swallowing
Is It Just Heartburn or GERD?
Frequent heartburn can be a major issue. If you experience heartburn two or more times a week, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
In this chronic condition, frequent exposure to stomach acid irritates and damages the esophagus. Over time, that can lead to problems such as difficulty swallowing. An estimated 40 percent of Americans report symptoms of GERD – but the condition can significantly improve with lifestyle changes.
If you've tried home remedies and lifestyle adjustments and still have frequent heartburn, consult with your family doctor or a gastroenterologist. There are multiple treatments that can help, including medications and minimally invasive surgery for acid reflux.