What is Heartburn?
Heartburn affects an estimated 20 percent of people at least once a week. While an occasional heartburn episode may be common, some people have heartburn frequently.
Regular or constant heartburn is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Symptoms of GERD include:
- Chest pain, especially while lying down at night
- Sour taste in the mouth
- Coughing, wheezing, hoarseness, sore throat
- Regurgitation of food or liquid
With GERD, the acidic contents of the stomach flows back into your esophagus, which can irritate the delicate lining of the esophagus and cause pain.
Natural Remedies for Heartburn
If you are experiencing heartburn, it’s important to see your doctor to be evaluated. If it’s not treated properly, GERD may result in serious problems, including esophagitis, strictures, esophageal bleeding and ulcers, Barrett’s esophagus, and an increased risk of esophageal cancer. Here are seven natural remedies for heartburn.
Avoid heartburn triggers.
Keeping a food diary may help you identify problem foods. Foods and drinks that commonly trigger heartburn include:
- Citrus fruits
- Raw onions
- Black pepper
- Fatty foods
- Spicy foods
- Citrus juice
- Carbonated beverages
- Alcoholic beverages
Don’t go to bed after eating.
Eat your last meal at least two to three hours before lying down.
Eat smaller portion sizes.
Take time to eat.
Try practicing mindfulness while eating. Eliminate all distractions and savor, rather than inhale, your food. Pay full attention to what the food looks like on your plate, how it smells, how it tastes. Chew slowly.
2) Stress Reduction
A survey by the National Heartburn Alliance revealed that 58 percent of frequent heartburn sufferers identify a hectic lifestyle as a factor that contributes to their heartburn and 52 percent say work-related stress makes their symptoms worse.
Although some people report that stress makes their heartburn symptoms worse, scientists haven’t yet established a direct link between heartburn and stress. We do know that stress can disrupt our normal routines and make us do things, like eat the wrong foods, smoke, drink coffee or alcohol, that may trigger heartburn. Stress also slows down the emptying of the stomach, which may increase the likelihood of heartburn.
Here are some natural methods that may help to manage stress:
3) Quit Smoking
Nicotine, an ingredient in cigarettes, can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, a band of muscle at the end of the esophagus, that closes off the esophagus and prevents the acidic stomach contents from entering the esophagus. Learn about Natural Remedies to Quit Smoking.
4) Chewable DGL
DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) is a folk remedy used for heartburn. It is a form of the herb licorice that has had the glycyrrhizin component removed to reduce the risk of glycyrrhizin-related side effects such as high blood pressure and water retention.
Although some research suggests licorice may decrease inflammation, inhibit the growth of potentially harmful stomach bacteria, and help with ulcers, there haven’t been any clinical trials on the use of licorice for heartburn or GERD.
5) Aloe Vera Juice
The juice from the aloe vera plant is another natural home remedy that is used to soothe an irritated esophagus. Although there isn’t any scientific evidence that it might help, aloe vera juice has a long history of use in Europe as a natural home remedy to relive heartburn.
Typically, approximately 1/4 cup of aloe vera juice is taken (by adults) approximately 20 minutes before a meal.
The aloe vera should not contain any aloe latex, aloin, or aloe-emoin compounds, substances in the aloe plant that are very powerful laxatives. Aloe gel should not be taken directly from the plant as a home remedy, as the gel can be contaminated with the latex. Only gel or juice preparations specifically for internal use should be used. For more information about aloe vera, read the Aloe Vera Fact Sheet.
6) Slippery Elm
Slippery elm was once a popular drugstore remedy for sore throats in North America. The herb was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia, a compendium of drug standards, until 1960.
A member of the elm family, the slippery elm tree (Ulmus rubra muhl) grows primarily in the eastern region of North America.
Slippery elm is a folk remedy that hasn’t yet been studied for heartburn. The inner bark contains mucilage, a gel-like substance that swells when it is mixed with water. The mucilage is thought to coat the esophagus and reduce irritation.
Slippery elm is often the primary ingredient in herbal sore throat lozenges found in health food stores or in the natural food section of some grocery stores and drug stores. A popular brand of slippery elm lozenges is Thayer's.
The safety of slippery elm in pregnant or nursing women has not been established.
Like slippery elm, the herb marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) contains mucilage, which is thought to coat and soothe the lining of the esophagus. It is another folk remedy that is used for heartburn.
Herbalists often recommend marshmallow root tea. It is usually made by adding one tablespoon of the dried root to a cup (8 oz.) of boiling water, steeping it covered for at least 10 minutes, and then straining. Herbalists usually suggest drinking up to three cups a day.
Consult a doctor before taking marshmallow if you have diabetes, as it may make your blood sugar too low especially when combined with diabetes medication. Marshmallow may also slow the absorption of other drugs taken at the same time. Marshmallow should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women. For more information about marshmallow, read the Marshmallow Fact Sheet.
Other Natural Remedies
- Food allergy avoidance
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Beil W, Birkholz C, Sewing KF. Effects of flavonoids on parietal cell acid secretion, gastric mucosal prostaglandin production and Heliobacter pylori growth. Arzneim Forsch 45 (1995): 697-700.
Van Marle J, Aarsen PN, Lind A, et al. Deglycyrrhizinised liquorice (DGL) and the renewal of rat stomach epithelium. Eur J Pharmacol 72 (1981): 219-225.
Takahashi T. Acupuncture for functional gastrointestinal disorders. J Gastroenterol. 2006 May;41(5):408-17.