Do you reach for tums or pepto for heartburn relief? You are not alone. Heartburn is awful, but worse is the long-term consequences if left untreated. But what is heartburn?
Heartburn is a form of indigestion caused by acid reflux. Many of us get it regularly.
Read on for tips and remedies for instant heartburn relief.
Is Heartburn Ruining Your Life?
Acid reflux is the mystery cause of heartburn. If you’ve had ‘that burning sensation’ in your chest, then you’ve had some form of acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
Acid reflux occurs when undigested foods or liquids mixed with stomach acid regurgitate up your esophagus. Some refer to this as simply indigestion.
This mix of food and stomach acid works its way into your throat, causing pain and discomfort.
When stomach acid spills into your esophagus, it irritates the tissues and cells. This can cause further damage and serious health implications if you get heartburn regularly.
You’re probably wondering what causes acid reflux? Acid reflux and heartburn is usually caused by eating certain foods that do not agree with you.
Here are a few other possible causes of heartburn
- Food combinations
- Certain medications
- Eating too much in one sitting
- Too much food before certain activities like sleep or exercise
Any movements that put pressure on your abdomen will push what is in your stomach up. For example, those who are obese or pregnant are at a greater risk for heartburn or GERD (1).
Other lifestyle factors that increase your likelihood of heartburn include: smoking, chronic stress, older age, anxiety and depression.
Those of you who do not fall into any of the above might notice heartburn in the evening after a large meal. I certainly do.
Common Heartburn Symptoms
- Pressure or aches in your stomach after eating
- The ‘churning’ sensation in your stomach
- Feeling that your chest or stomach is burning
- The uncomfortable feeling that food is very high in your esophagus or throat
- Feeling or tasting stomach acid in your throat or mouth
- Frequent acidic belching
Should You be Concerned About Your Heartburn?
If you get heartburn occasionally, there is no need to worry. It is a common annoyance among adults.
However, chronic heartburn is certainly something to be concerned about. Heartburn is implicated in many chronic diseases and health disorders.
Heartburn episodes more than twice per week means you may have GERD (1). Chronic GERD can weaken your esophageal tissues so much that you may get Barrett’s esophagus. If left untreated, Barrett’s esophagus can lead to cancer in your esophagus (2).
What to do for Heartburn Relief
Most heartburn is fixed by eating less or identifying your heartburn trigger foods and avoiding them.
Many of you may take antacid tablets like tums. While these provide temporary relief, they are not something you should rely on taking weekly.
How can you find heartburn relief naturally? Here are some remedies you can try at home.
1. Practise These Stress Reduction Techniques
Maybe not what you expected? Let me explain. Stress affects everything within your body, especially your digestive system and thus, heartburn.
Your brain is connected to your gut by the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the reason why you get butterflies when you’re nervous (3).
Studies show that acid reflux disorders are connected to stress levels (4). How?
Chronic stress increases the amount of stomach acid your body produces. This excess stomach acid is a trigger for heartburn.
Stress also delays gastric emptying: how quickly your stomach breaks down and processes food into the rest of your digestive system.
If you need heartburn relief, consider a few things:
- Your sleep quantity and quality.
- Are you stressed at work in your personal life?
- Do you feel overwhelmed?
Stress relieving techniques for heartburn relief include:
- Deep Breathing: simply breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly. 6 seconds in and 6 seconds out is a great starting point. Longer exhales in particular stimulate your vagus nerve and your parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ nervous system. Deep breathing is directly shown to decrease heartburn symptoms (5).
- Sleep hygiene: the basics include avoiding caffeine and alcohol intake close to bed (note: this could be as much as 10 hours), going to bed at the same time every night, getting direct sunlight into your eyes upon waking, avoiding screens and stimulation close to bed, sleeping in a dark and slightly cool room.
- Massage or acupuncture
- Meditation: Look for a basic vipassana style meditation. Or use one of the apps for a guided meditation.
2. Avoid These Acid Forming Foods
Before adding any fancy foods or supplements, you must avoid what causes heartburn in the first place. This is the easiest way to heartburn relief.
So… what foods should you avoid?
- Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruit)
- Vinegar, for example, in salad dressings (apple cider vinegar included)
- Garlic and onions (allium family)
- Fried foods: especially those cooks in vegetable oils.
- Processed foods with added sugar, preservatives or artificial sweeteners.
You don’t need to avoid all of these foods. Experiment with a few food groups at a time. See which foods trigger pain and heartburn for you. Then adjust your meals accordingly.
We all react differently to different foods, especially acidic foods.
3. Eat These Heartburn Soothing Foods
You already know this, but a whole foods diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is a good starting place.
You need to prioritize foods that are gentle on your digestive system. For example, some amino acids like Glycine (found in bone broth) have been shown to heal damaged cells in your digestive system.
Foods for heartburn relief include:
- Cultured dairy products including kefir and yogurt (if you tolerate dairy).
- Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, coconut yogurt or sugar free kombucha.
- Prebiotic rich vegetables including: asparagus, pumpkin, squash and artichokes.
- Bone broth. Gelatinous bone broth is full of gut healing amino acids like glycine, proline and glutamine to soothe your digestive tract.
- Some teas, but be careful. You could try ginger or fennel tea to start. Peppermint tea should be avoided.
- Ginger: one of the best foods for digestion.
- Aloe vera: a secret digestive aid.
4. Change Your Body Position
There are two things you can do with your body position while sleeping to reduce heartburn.
- Sleep on your left side: Research shows that sleeping on your left side is the best way to reduce heartburn or acid reflux symptoms (6).
- Prop up your head position: Raising the head of your bed by at least 6 inches (pillows don’t count) can reduce acid reflux symptoms while lying down (7).
5. Adjust Your Dinner Time
Avoiding late night meals is one of the easier lifestyle adjustments you can make for heartburn relief.
Aim for at least three hours between your last bite of food and when you go to sleep. This gives your stomach time to digest your dinner before bed.
6. Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Similar to adjusting your dinner time, small meals will allow your stomach to digest your meals properly. Large meals overload your system all at once, making it difficult for your stomach to digest. This causes acid reflux and heartburn.
Similarly, try to avoid drinking fluids while you eat. It is ok to drink a few sips here and there to help move things down.
However, you do not want to be drinking cups of water or any other beverage at meal time.
7. Quit Smoking
As if you needed another reason? Tobacco weakens the muscles in your esophagus. When these muscles are weak, food and stomach acid can easily make their way up your esophagus.
8. Take Stock of all of Your Medications and Supplements
There’s a chance that some of your medications are contributing to heartburn. Medications that can produce heartburn include birth control and some drugs used to treat high blood pressure.
Consult your doctor about whether your existing medications may be contributing to heartburn.
9. Consider Digestive Supplements
I realize that you may not be interested in lifestyle changes to fix your heartburn. Can’t blame you. When it’s bad, you’ll do anything for heartburn relief.
There are some digestive aids and supplements that are shown to help with heartburn relief.
Glutamine is an amino acid that is a critical part of your immune system. It has many clinical uses including recovery from surgery and fighting infections.
Glutamine is also a potent source of nutrition for your stomach and intestine cells (8).
If you’re on a plant based diet and have heartburn, you may want to consider a glutamine supplement.
Start with a conservative dose of 5 grams per day with your meals.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria for your digestive system. Studies show that probiotics can help with heartburn relief.
They also help to repair any changes to your gut flora due to medications like PPI (proton pump inhibitors).
It is best to consume a probiotic with 5-8 active strains and at least 50 billion CFUs.
Iberogast is a combination of 8 herbal extracts that you can buy over-the-counter. It is commonly used to treat gastrointestinal issues including GERD, heartburn, acid reflux and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
So what’s in it? Peppermint, milk thistle, licorice root, chamomile and a few others that you probably haven't heard of.
I am not acutely familiar with this one, but the research is strong. A review of all the research on iberogast showed it to reduce heartburn symptoms very quickly (10).
Digestive enzymes are great for indigestion. I personally use them if I’m going to be eating a large or ‘unhealthy meal’ with things I know will upset my stomach.
They help you break down and digest the nutrients in food. Digestive enzymes also prevent acid buildup because they help you digest food properly.
Heartburn relief for pregnancy
What can ease heartburn during pregnancy? Check the recommendations above. Mainly changing your body position.
Try to elevate your head and neck at least 6 inches while you are sleeping. Also, try sleeping on your left side.
It’s that burning sensation in your throat caused by acid reflux or GERD. Heartburn happens when stomach acid is regurgitated back up into your esophagus.
There are many at-home ideas for heartburn relief, including: stress reduction techniques, adjusting your body position, removing acid forming foods, adding healing foods, changing lifestyle factors and eating habits and trying supplements.
What have you done to get heartburn relief? Leave a comment and let me know.
Disclaimer: this information is for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the FDA or CFIA. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult your primary care physician for advice on any of this.