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 or another problem like peptic ulcer 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.
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:
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.
Melatonin, a supplement used to aid sleep, has been suggested to help relieve heartburn. But the research is conflicting as to whether it is effective for this or any other gastrointestinal symptoms.
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.
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.
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.
A few simple strategies can help soothe the burn of heartburn:
American Gastrointestinal Association: “Heartburn.”
Richter, J. Gastroenterology Clinics of North America, September 2007.
Nilsson, M. Gut, December 2004.
Pereira, R. Journal of Pineal Research, October 2006.
Moazzez, R. Journal of Dental Research, November 2005.
Klupinska, G. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, November 2006.
Kligler, B. American Family Physician, April 2007.
Rakel, D. Integrative Medicine. Saunders Elsevier, 2007.
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