Heartburn and acid reflux can be both unpleasant and painful – anyone who has had them can testify to that. The truth is that most adults have experienced heartburn at some point during their lives. People spend a lot of money on both over-the-counter and prescription medication to treat these conditions, and yet it is possible to use simple, alternative treatments that are all-natural, less expensive, and just as effective as their more expensive counterparts.
Before we talk about the best alternative treatments for heartburn and acid reflux, let’s talk a little bit more about what actually happens when you experience heartburn.
Understanding Heartburn and Acid Reflux
Heartburn and acid reflux are directly related – as a matter of fact, heartburn is not a condition in and of itself. Rather, it is a common symptom of acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (the LES) fails to close properly. The job of the LES is to keep your stomach acid in your stomach, but when it closes improperly or opens and closes too frequently, acid can escape from your stomach and into your esophagus. The back-up of stomach acid into the esophagus is called reflux, and it can cause the unpleasant sensation of heartburn.
Some of the things that can cause reflux include:
- Certain foods (tomatoes, citrus fruits, chocolate, coffee, garlic, onions, greasy foods, and peppermint) can relax the LES, causing reflux
Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart – although its symptoms can sometimes mimic those of a heart attack. Common indicators of heartburn include:
- Burning pain or discomfort that moves from your stomach up through your chest
- Regurgitation of acid or food
- Nausea after eating
If it is left untreated or worsens, acid reflux can turn into gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD.) If you have chronic heartburn that persists despite using medications, and if the symptoms worsen to include things like laryngitis or a persistent cough as a result of the constant acid in your throat, you might have GERD. A diagnosis of GERD is serious, because if it is left untreated it can lead to:
- An increased risk of esophageal cancer
Common treatments for heartburn and acid reflux include over-the-counter antacid medications, and stronger prescription antacids.
Alternative Treatments for Heartburn and Acid Reflux
Over-the-counter medications may help relieve the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux, but they are treating symptoms, not the underlying causes. Now let’s take a look at some home remedies that may help to stop your acid reflux in its tracks.
Drink baking soda and water. Baking soda is naturally alkaline, so it can help to neutralize the stomach acid that seeps into your esophagus. To take it, simply mix one 1 teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of water and drink it.
Drink aloe vera juice. You are probably familiar with using aloe vera to treat burns and scrapes, but it is a natural remedy for reflux as well. Aloe vera juice is commonly available in supermarkets now – you can find it near the coconut water. To use this remedy, simply drink 2-4 ounces of aloe vera juice before each meal. This juice has mild laxative properties, so be careful not to overdo it.
Begin your day with lemon water. Simply juice one lemon and mix the juice with warm water. The lemon helps to balance out the acid in your stomach, and it’s a natural digestive aid, as well.
Take apple cider vinegar. Vinegar is highly acidic, so this one might surprise you. However, there is a field of thought that says that reflux is actually caused when the body produces too little acid to process the food you eat. Take 1-2 tablespoons of cider vinegar per day, mixed with water or tea.
Drink chamomile tea. If you tend to experience heartburn at bedtime, try drinking a cup of chamomile tea right about a half an hour before you lie down. Mint or fenugreek tea can have the same effect.
Sleep on your left side. While it’s not clear why this is the case, sleeping on your back, stomach or right side tends to worsen heartburn, while sleeping on your left side provides relief.
If you typically eat a lot of the foods that can cause reflux, try cutting them out of your diet or at least reducing the amount you eat. Examples include fried foods, coffee, garlic, onions, citrus fruits and tomatoes.
Chew gum after you eat. Studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum for about 30 minutes after you eat may reduce the chance of reflux. The chewing produces extra saliva, which may help prevent the acid from backing up.
Eat early, sleep late. Lying down too quickly after eating may increase the chances you will experience reflux. Try to eat dinner 3-4 hours before going to bed, and when you do go to bed, elevate your head at least six inches by propping it up with pillows. The elevation will help prevent acid from reaching your throat.
If you eat a meal that contains foods that may cause reflux, try having an apple or banana for dessert. These foods may help to minimize irritation of the LES.
Make ginger tea. Ginger has been used for centuries as a treatment for all kinds of stomach ailments, from nausea to reflux. To make tea, simply cut off a few think slices of fresh ginger root and simmer it in two cups of water for about 30 minutes. Drink the tea about 20 minutes before a meal.
Keep track of your trigger foods. Start paying attention to the foods that trigger attacks of heartburn so you can avoid them in the future. The best way to do this is by keeping a food diary. Write down what you eat and when you ate it, and then keep track of the times that you experience heartburn.
Take a slippery elm supplement. Slippery elm is an herb that will help to soothe your irritated stomach. You can also drink it as tea.
Eat a spoonful of mustard. That might sound gross, but mustard is naturally alkaline and may help to neutralize the acid in your esophagus. This is an especially good – and quick – remedy for when you feel an attack of heartburn coming on.
Eat a few almonds at the end of every meal. Almonds seem to have a soothing effect on the stomach and may help to prevent heartburn.
It may also be helpful to lose weight if you are carrying any extra. Extra weight, especially around the midsection, may apply pressure to the stomach, making reflux more likely.