Heartburn is very common -- and very unpleasant. It's triggered when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. It can make you feel as though someone has lit a small bonfire in your chest, and it's burning its way up to your neck.
You're probably well aware that medications can help calm the burn, but natural heartburn remedies and lifestyle changes may be another way to get relief.
One commonly used "natural" heartburn remedy is calcium. It's also the active ingredient in many over-the-counter antacids.
If you find yourself popping antacids like candy and you're having heartburn more than a couple of times a week, or if you are using antacids for longer than two weeks, it's time to see the doctor. You may have a condition called GERD -- gastroesophageal reflux disease. Frequent heartburn can lead to long-term problems. It can cause inflammation and strictures in your esophagus. In rare cases, it may even lead to cancer. But stopping the acid reflux can help prevent complications in the future.
Here is a rundown of some other commonly used home remedies for heartburn, and the evidence for their effectiveness.
Do Herbal Heartburn Remedies Work?
There isn't much research into herbal remedies for heartburn. Most of the research has centered on a product called Iberogast. It is made with 9 different herbs, including:
- Clown's mustard plant
- German chamomile
- Greater celandine
- Lemon balm
- Milk thistle
Some studies have shown that Iberogast may reduce heartburn. It's not clear, however, which herb in the mix relieves symptoms. Plus, peppermint oil can actually worsen heartburn, so it's not a good idea to take it if you have GERD.
Are There Any Other Natural Treatments for Heartburn?
Before you decide to take any herbal remedy or supplement, check with your doctor. Some supplements can have side effects or can interact with medications you're already taking.
Can Drinking Milk Help My Heartburn?
You may have heard that drinking a glass of milk can relieve heartburn. While it's true that milk can temporarily buffer stomach acid, nutrients in milk, particularly fat, may stimulate the stomach to produce more acid.
Even though milk might not be a great heartburn remedy, however, it's a rich source of bone-building calcium. Try fat-free skim milk and don't overdo it. Drink no more than 8 ounces of skim milk at a time -- as a snack in between meals. Overfilling the stomach may increase heartburn.
Is Chewing Gum an Effective Way to Get Heartburn Relief?
It may sound strange, but gum stimulates the production of saliva, which is an acid buffer. Plus, chewing gum makes you swallow more often, which pushes those nasty acids back out of your esophagus. When you pick a pack of gum, just make sure it's sugar-free so you also protect your teeth.
Finding Heartburn Relief at Home
A few simple strategies can help soothe the burn of heartburn:
- Watch what you eat. Avoid specific foods that trigger your heartburn, but also watch out for peppermint, caffeine, sodas, chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, onions, and high-fat foods. Eat more fiber to keep your digestive tract moving and healthy. Also, reduce your portion sizes. Try eating five or six small meals a day, rather than three big ones. Eating too much at once is a big heartburn trigger.
- Watch when you eat. Push away the plate at least two or three hours before bedtime so your stomach has a chance to empty before you lie down.
- Watch how you eat. Eat slowly, taking smaller bites.
- Lose weight. Excess abdominal fat can press against the stomach, forcing acids up into the esophagus. Follow a diet and exercise program to shed extra pounds.
- Keep a diary. Write down what you've eaten and when your heartburn symptoms occur so you can pinpoint which foods are your triggers and avoid them.
- Toss the cigarettes. Smoking can reduce the effectiveness of the muscle that keeps acids in the stomach. For this, and so many other health reasons, it's always the perfect time to quit.
- Loosen your belt. Ditch the skin-tight jeans. Tight clothes put added pressure on the abdomen.
- Tilt up. Put wood blocks under your bed to raise the head about 6 inches. Don't bother raising your pillows, though -- it's not effective for heartburn.