Have you ever experienced a burning feeling in your chest (just behind your breastbone) that lasts for a few minutes or extends to several hours? Does this symptom manifest whenever you finish a meal? Watch out: It may be chronic heartburn.
Heartburn, which is a symptom of acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs when stomach acid moves up into your esophagus. It can bring a lot of discomfort to those who experience it. It may also come with other symptoms, such as sore throat, long-term cough and voice hoarseness.1
The good news is that chronic heartburn can be addressed with simple home remedies — allowing you to avoid the need for pharmaceutical interventions. Below is an exhaustive list of tips that you can use to help get rid of heartburn — try them to see which one will work best for you.2,3,4,5
What Causes Heartburn?
As mentioned above, acid reflux typically occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter irregularly relaxes, causing acid to move backward into the esophagus.6 This is what causes painful heartburn.
While most people think that reflux occurs because of an overproduction in stomach acid, it's actually the contrary — it's having low amounts of stomach acid that leads to this problem. It's only in rare cases when heartburn occurs because of excessive stomach acid, particularly when you have Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.7
However, there are other possible causes of acid reflux aside from low acid. One is hiatal hernia, which is when a part of your stomach protrudes upward through the hiatus, an opening located in your diaphragm.8
How to Get Rid of Heartburn: Natural Solutions That May Work for You
If you want to get rid of heartburn fast, the remedy may be sitting right in your kitchen cabinet. Here are some effective methods that may help relieve heartburn quickly or even prevent it from occurring at all.
• Try organic raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) — Because acid reflux actually occurs due to having very small amounts of acid in your stomach, ACV may actually help keep it from occurring. Simply dissolve a tablespoon of it in a glass of water and drink it to improve your acid levels.
However, more research still needs to be done on this. One study found that ACV alleviated heartburn symptoms for some individuals, but the effects only lasted between 60 and 75 minutes.9
• Use baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) — While this is not recommended as a regular solution, it may come in handy whenever you're experiencing extreme pain due to heartburn. Simply dissolve half a teaspoon of baking soda in one-half cup of water and drink it. This will help neutralize stomach acid and ease the burning sensation heartburn brings.10
• Sip on aloe vera juice — Drinking half a cup of aloe vera juice before mealtimes may ease heartburn, as it actually helps reduce inflammation. A study found that this plant may help ease the effect of GERD.11 Aloe vera juice has a laxative component,12 however, so make sure the brand you use has removed this effect.
• Enjoy a cup of fresh ginger root tea — If you know that you're going to be consuming a huge meal, it may be helpful if you drink a cup of ginger tea at least 20 minutes before you start eating. Simply steep a 2-inch piece of ginger root in two cups of boiling water for five minutes, and then drink.13 Ginger not only has an anti-inflammatory effect,14 but also tightens your lower esophageal sphincter, thus preventing acid from refluxing.15
Certain foods and herbs may also help with acid reflux and ease heartburn if you incorporate them in your diet. Here are some examples:
• Fennel — This crunchy vegetable with a mild, licorice-like flavor may help improve stomach function,16 thus making it ideal for people with acid reflux. Try mixing it in vegetable salads or snack on it raw.
• Papaya — A study found that the enzyme papain may help promote better digestion, providing positive effects for people with heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation.17
• Fermented foods like cultured vegetables — These will help reseed your gut with good bacteria, to help balance your bowel flora and aid in good digestion. A high-quality probiotic supplement is also a viable option.
• Licorice root — Licorice may provide some benefit as it can actually block inflammatory prostaglandins. However, use this with caution, because it contains the active metabolite glycyrrhetic acid.19
Large amounts of glycyrrhiza can lead to hyperaldosteronism,20 a condition that affects the adrenal glands, producing symptoms like high blood pressure, numbness and muscle weakness.21 As an alternative, try deglycyrrhizinated licorice, which eliminates this problem ingredient.
If you're on diuretics or taking stimulant laxatives, refrain from using licorice. Take note that it may also reduce your potassium level, and may affect the hormone activity in the body, making it ill-advisable for women on hormone therapy, or who have estrogen-dependent cancers, endometriosis and other reproductive conditions.22
• Slippery elm — It has antioxidants that may help ease inflammatory bowel problems.23 According to Penn State Hershey, slippery elm coats and soothes your mouth, throat, stomach and intestines, as well as stimulates nerve endings located in your gastrointestinal tract. This helps produce more mucus, which then keeps your gastrointestinal tract protected against ulcers and excess acidity.24
• Chamomile — Try drinking a cup of chamomile tea before bedtime, and see if it can help alleviate heartburn. Chamomile can help soothe inflammation and help you sleep better.25
Finally, you can optimize your intake of certain nutrients to help relieve heartburn. These include:
• Astaxanthin — This marine carotenoid was found to help better reduce acid reflux symptoms as compared to a placebo, especially in those with severe H. pylori infection.26 Consult your physician to determine the right amount for you. The only side effect documented when high doses of this supplement are taken is a slight reddening of the skin, which most people tend to find attractive.
• Folate and other B vitamins — Getting enough of these nutrients may help reduce your chances of getting acid reflux.27 You can get these nutrients from foods like asparagus, liver, spinach and okra.
Heartburn may sometimes be triggered by certain habits. Simple changes to your routine may be essential in alleviating it as well. Here are some lifestyle tips to help get rid of heartburn:28
1. Maintain a healthy weight — If you are obese or overweight, consider losing weight. Extra pounds can place pressure on your stomach, causing more acid to forcefully move into your esophagus.
2. Wear loose clothing — Clothes that are too tight can put pressure on your stomach and trigger heartburn.
3. Eat smaller, more frequent meals at intervals — This allows your stomach to digest food more efficiently, and may help regulate digestive enzyme production. Excessive food in the stomach causes the LES to open as well, so this is a good strategy.
4. If possible, avoid taking unnecessary medications — Some over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can trigger heartburn. These include antidepressants, anxiety medications, blood pressure drugs, antibiotics, osteoporosis drugs, nitroglycerin and pain relievers.
5. Sleep on your left side — This causes acid to pool farther away from the esophageal sphincter, reducing the risk of it going back up.
6. Stay upright, especially after meals — This will help prevent digestive acids from moving up and out of your stomach.
7. Quit smoking — The LES relaxes and opens up when you smoke, causing acid to reflux. It may also affect stomach acid production.
8. Identify your food triggers — Certain foods may trigger acid reflux. Try keeping a food diary to help you figure out which ones are yours, so you can actively avoid them.
Heartburn Can Be Painful, but It Is Manageable
Heartburn can be a bothersome and painful condition, but take note that resorting to pharmaceutical interventions is not a viable solution. Rather, the answer lies in restoring the natural gastric balance and function of your gut.
Eating real, wholesome foods is the best way to address gut health. Remember that processed foods contain sugar that can alter your microbiome, hence promoting overgrowth of harmful microbes. By being more proactive in eating a healthy diet, you may be able to alleviate this condition — or even keep it from happening to you.