Few things ruin mealtime like acid reflux or heartburn. Fortunately, there are ways to get rid of heartburn –– including several over-the-counter medications. You may also want to try some home remedies for heartburn. They can not only help you when you eat and drink, but for the rest of the day as well.
Your Angry Stomach
The esophagus is a muscular, eight-inch long tube connecting your throat to your stomach. Every time you swallow, it opens. When you eat or drink, esophageal muscles contract (a process known as “peristalsis”). This contraction pushes whatever enters your mouth toward your stomach. A valve (“sphincter”) separating the esophagus from the stomach opens to allow food to pass through. Afterward, the sphincter closes. If it opens when it shouldn’t, everything from digestive juices to food can flow backward into your esophagus. This is acid reflux. Heartburn is a burning sensation in the middle of your chest––especially after eating. This lingering acid reflux symptom can occur long after mealtime is over. Some sufferers even report interrupted sleep as a result.
Regurgitation caused by acid reflux is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. This is a very severe form of acid reflux where the backward flow of your stomach contents becomes a serious disorder. It may be increasingly prevalent in North America and East Asia, with GERD prevalence reaching 25% or more in North America and Europe with slightly lower prevalence in South America.
Most people have occasional episodes of acid reflux or heartburn. If it occurs regularly, there are ways to get rid of heartburn. Most bouts are caused by the foods we eat and the beverages we drink. So it makes sense that some of the best home remedies for heartburn start with our diet.
Heartburn Prevention Diet
Raw onions have been linked to acid reflux while older studies have shown a connection between chocolate or mint and the condition. Spicy foods have also been linked to GERD or heartburn. The best advice is to pay attention to your body. If certain foods seem to trigger acid reflux or heartburn, then avoid them. Because sodas and carbonated waters––including alcoholic seltzers––cause belching, they relax the lower esophageal sphincter which can trigger acid reflux. Alcoholic beverages––even low-proof alcoholic beverages––can trigger GERD. Caffeinated coffee has been shown to trigger heartburn in some people while decaf can reduce acid reflux. Citrus beverages can also trigger heartburn. Excess gas can cause heartburn, so carbonated beverages, which are full of bubbles that cause more gas, can affect it. Foods high in fat content which sit in the stomach longer, such as whole milk, also contribute.
One popular home remedy for heartburn has been chewing gum. Recent studies suggest that gum containing bicarbonate was especially helpful. One examination of a gum invented mainly as a way to get rid of heartburn or GERD showed that its proprietary blend of licorice extract, papain, and apple cider vinegar was better than a placebo gum in alleviating the main symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. However, sometimes chewing gum can cause you to swallow more air (aerophagia), and that can cause heartburn, too.
A holistic approach is ideal. Overeating can trigger heartburn as can heavy meals. Because belly fat exerts pressure on your stomach––pushing the lower esophageal sphincter upward and away from the diaphragm’s support––being overweight can trigger heartburn, acid reflux, or GERD. Losing weight can reduce the number of incidents. So can diets higher in fats and lower in carbohydrates. A recent study showed that women following this type of diet reduced GERD symptoms.
Considering how it affects your sleep, you might be surprised to learn that changing your sleep position is one of the best ways to get rid of heartburn. Because your esophagus enters the right side of the stomach, if you sleep on your left side it may keep the lower esophageal sphincter above the level of stomach acid. This can help reduce heartburn; however, it will only work if you go to bed at least 3-4 hours after eating. If you have just eaten, then try this remedy, you may cause all the food to pile up on the left side and make your heartburn worse! Raising the head of your bed about 6 inches can help. Use a foam wedge under your mattress or put the legs of the head of your bed on a brick or board about 6 inches thick. Another easy home remedy for heartburn is to avoid eating three hours before going to sleep.
Not every tip works for everyone. Just try a few changes, and you may soon find a pleasant reduction in an unpleasant mealtime accompaniment.
- What’s the difference between heartburn, acid reflux and GERD?
- Update on the epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review
- Ingestion of a carbonated beverage decreases lower esophageal sphincter pressure and increases frequency of transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation in normal subjects
- Foods Inducing typical gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms in Korea
- Effect of low-proof alcoholic beverages on duodenogastro-esophageal reflux in health and GERD
- Effect of GutsyGum(tm), a novel gum on subjective ratings of Gastro Esophageal Reflux following a refluxogenic meal
- Dietary carbohydrate intake, insulin resistance and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a pilot study in European- and African-American obese women
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.