If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. We’ve researched some simple lifestyle modifications that just might help prevent heartburn from wreaking havoc on your life.
And when prevention doesn’t work, we’ve also got six natural remedies for heartburn relief. But first, you should know:
What is Heartburn? And Is It the Same as Acid Reflux?
If you’ve ever experienced an unexplainable, painful burning sensation in your throat or chest, you may have had a bout of heartburn (1). But what exactly does that mean? And more importantly, what causes it? To answer those questions we need to understand acid reflux.
Acid reflux occurs when your stomach acid moves in the wrong direction. Rather than moving down through your digestive system, the contents of your stomach instead travel up the opposite way. The acid in your stomach then overflows into your esophagus, resulting in a bitter or sour taste in your mouth (1).
You may also feel a hot, burning pain from the center of your chest all the way up to your mouth, which is where the esophagus sits. This sensation is known as heartburn, and it’s a common symptom of acid reflux.
Once symptoms begin, they can stick around for several hours without proper treatment (2). What causes them?
Greasy foods, chocolate, coffee, tomatoes, foods with tomatoes (like pizza and pasta), spicy foods, and alcohol can all irritate your stomach lining and lead to heartburn symptoms (3). Certain medications and being pregnant can also increase your risk of developing heartburn (1).
On top of that, eating large meals, especially those with fried, fatty foods, may cause your stomach acid to back up and result in heartburn. So if you’re experiencing this, try eating smaller meals to give your stomach acid enough room to digest.
Why Addressing Your Acid Reflux Is Important
While you may have thought your heartburn was just a fluke, it’s likely to happen again if you continue to eat and act the same way (4). Not only will you increase the frequency of your occurrences, but if they get worse, you may find yourself waking up with nighttime heartburn because the pain is so bad (5).
Continue this cycle and you could put yourself at risk for developing esophageal cancer, chronic inflammation of your esophagus (aka esophagitis), or Barett’s esophagus — which requires replacing your esophageal lining with tissue from your intestines (6). You may also develop gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD), which is a chronic form of acid reflux. Instead of getting to that point, take the necessary steps to prevent heartburn and reflux now.
5 Tips for Preventing Acid Reflux Symptoms and Heartburn
You’ll have a better chance of breaking the heartburn cycle if you understand how to prevent it in the first place. Here are some simple lifestyle changes to help you do just that:
1. Avoid Irritating Foods
Change your diet and your stomach will thank you. Because while you may love spicy foods, your stomach probably doesn’t if you’re experiencing heartburn.
Instead of just trying to taper down your spiciness, you’re better off going cold turkey to give your stomach a chance to heal. The same goes for other foods that may irritate your stomach, such as chocolate, peppermint, spearmint, citrus juice, alcohol, carbonated beverages, tomatoes, foods with tomatoes, greasy foods, and even coffee.
2. Reduce Your Coffee Habit
Coffee — even decaf– can be irritating on your digestive system and may increase acid reflux and indigestion. And it’s actually not the caffeine that’s responsible for this. According to one study, it’s other specific compounds in the coffee itself that can cause trouble (7).
The good news is researchers say tea does not have the same effect since it doesn’t contain the uniquely problematic compounds found in coffee. This means you should still be able to have caffeine from tea without irritating your stomach. So you can try making the switch from coffee to tea and see if you feel any improvements to your heartburn.
3. Avoid These Activities
Smoking, being above a healthy weight, lying down after a meal (especially on your right side – more on this below), and eating within 2-3 hours of going to bed may all cause heartburn (2).
On top of avoiding those triggers, it’s also a good idea to prop up your upper body in bed while you’re sleeping, to ensure your stomach contents stay down where they belong (2). Lastly, wearing clothes that are too tight, especially around your midsection (hello, high-waisted yoga pants!) can also make heartburn symptoms worse.
4. Clean Up Your Diet
Cutting down your fat intake may be helpful for preventing heartburn. According to the Cleveland Clinic, fat takes more time to leave your stomach than carbs or protein (8). So by reducing your intake slightly, you may be able to eliminate the overflow.
Take this opportunity to cleanse your diet of sugar and processed carbs as well. Pizza, doughnuts, french fries, candies, and potato chips should all be off-limits if you’re trying to prevent heartburn (8). Weight loss, which may happen as a result of your new healthier diet, may also reduce future heartburn episodes (16).
5. Manage Your Stress
Major life stressors can put you at risk for heartburn, according to one study (9). So if you’ve experienced a stressful situation in the last six months and you haven’t been properly addressing it, this could be why your heartburn persists despite eating healthy and making other changes.
5 Natural Remedies For Heartburn
Hopefully, those prevention techniques will help – but what about when they don’t? You may be able to find soothing relief with these natural remedies:
#1. Herbal Remedies
Licorice, ginger root, and chamomile each carry their own beneficial characteristics, according to research published in Harvard Health.
Licorice, for example, can help your body produce more mucus to line the esophagus so it’s better protected from stomach acid (10).
As for ginger and chamomile, they can help calm your digestive tract and support digestion.
#2. Make a Powerful Acid-Fighting Drink
Many people find heartburn relief by adding an acid like apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to a glass of water, as this will aid digestion and slow your body’s acid production (15). Just 1tbsp added to a glass of water to drink before a meal usually helps.
Also, baking soda has an alkaline pH, so it may neutralize excess stomach acid causing heartburn symptoms. A half teaspoon of baking soda mixed in at least one half cup of water may help symptoms subside, but should only be used temporarily as it may increase acid production if levels get too low (14).
Just keep in mind these homeopathic remedies have not been scientifically proven.
A small study conducted on aloe vera, however, showed it can be an effective treatment for heartburn and other side effects that come with acid reflux. Aloe vera is also considered safe and well-tolerated, as the research highlights (11). You can find pure, distilled versions of aloe or aloe vera juice which can be sipped on before eating at health food stores and online.
#3. Try Fennel Seeds Instead of Chewing Gum After Eating
Researchers from another small study learned people could decrease their heartburn symptoms by chewing sugar-free gum 30 minutes after eating (12).
But since most gums are packed with artificial sweeteners, you’re better off chewing a natural alternative like fennel seeds. You’ll get the same salivatory benefit — increased saliva production — by chewing fennel seeds without having to ingest all the questionable chemicals found in gum. Plus, they’re actually quite tasty!
#4. Learn Relaxation Techniques
If you’re experiencing heartburn due to stressful situations in your life, this tip may be especially helpful. Find relaxation therapies you can try either on your own or with a group to help you unwind and relax. Meditation, journaling, and breathwork techniques may be helpful to start, but you may need to seek the help of a professional if your symptoms persist (13).
#5. Stay Upright Until It Passes
Finally, the easiest tip to alleviate heartburn naturally is to make sure you’re not lying down after eating. This is also why you shouldn’t eat too close to bedtime. When you’re on your back, it’s easier for your stomach contents to move in the wrong direction.
If you don’t have a choice when it comes to eating before bed, at least prop yourself up using pillows or towels to keep your stomach acid downward.
And if you must lie down, it’s said that laying on your left side is preferable to the right. While studies show laying on the right can cause heartburn symptoms to flare (14), laying on your left side seems to help symptoms subside.
Need help remembering which side to turn to? Just think: “right is wrong.”
If you want to avoid using over-the-counter antacids, consider giving these natural heartburn remedies a try. Start with the simple lifestyle changes to prevent heartburn from occurring. And then (if an episode strikes), move on to trying the actual remedies for relief.
Remember, frequent heartburn could turn into something much worse. That’s why it’s in your best interest to take care of this right away. Reading this article is a great first step. You don’t have to live with persistent heartburn, especially since these easy natural remedies and prevention strategies exist.