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Outsmarting Heartburn Can Be As Easy As Drinking Ginger Tea, Say MDs

Just ask Kat Sivley — the approach cured the extreme heartburn she'd endured for decades

If you’ve ever had heartburn, then you know how unpleasant it can be. Heartburn — also known as acid reflux — is a burning sensation in your chest and/or throat caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. It may be triggered by a particularly rich, spicy, or greasy meal, or by eating too close to bedtime. Certain medications may make you more prone to heartburn, and many women experience heartburn during pregnancy. If heartburn occurs nightly for weeks at a time, doctors consider it a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. It’s estimated that one out of five Americans suffers from GERD. And while there are prescription and over-the-counter drugs available to treat heartburn, those medications often come with serious side effects, leaving people looking for a natural cure.

One natural heartburn cure that’s cropped up anecdotally is ginger tea. Since ginger tea is tasty, inexpensive and easy to make, we wanted to dive deeper into the science behind its efficacy. So we tapped some top doctors as well as a woman who healed her chronic heartburn by drinking ginger tea. Here’s what they had to say:

5 ways ginger root heals the gut

For centuries, ginger has been used to heal a number of GI concerns, from nausea and stomach upset to bloating, gas, motion sickness and more.

1. Ginger eases ‘I ate too much’ discomfort

You know that button-about-to-burst feeling after you eat a big meal? Ginger can help alleviate that fast. “Ginger may aid in digestion by promoting the movement of food through the digestive tract,” says Bahar Adeli, MD, a Philadelphia-based gastroenterologist. “It may also enhance gastric emptying, which is the process of moving food from the stomach to the small intestine. This can help alleviate feelings of fullness or discomfort after a meal.”

2. Ginger soothes gut inflammation

A compound in ginger called gingerol can help alleviate chronic inflammation in the digestive tract for some patients with conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, Dr. Adeli says. And gut inflammation has been linked to a number of GI symptoms, including constipation, pain, diarrhea and more.

3. Ginger calms an upset stomach

“Several studies have supported the effectiveness of ginger at reducing nausea and vomiting,” Dr. Adeli says. “Ginger also helps reduce symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating and gas.” (Click through to see ginger tea can also help with weight loss.)

4. Ginger makes it easier to digest fatty foods

Ginger can help to stimulate pancreatic enzymes that play an important role in digestion, explains Rudolph Bedford, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “It may actually help in the digestion of fatty foods,” Dr. Bedford adds, nothing that may be beneficial for anyone who tends to experience heartburn after eating high-fat meals. 

5. Ginger helps balance the microbiome

“Ginger has a positive influence on gut bacteria composition,” says Lindsay Malone, MS, RDN, LD, an instructor in the Department of Nutrition at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “Some of the anti-inflammatory effects of ginger may be due to its influence on the gut microbiome.” In other words, ginger helps ensure there’s a good balance of healing bacteria in your gut — a factor that’s been linked to better digestive health.

Related: These Home Remedies Help Stop Burning Stomach Pain in Its Tracks, Doctors Say

Ginger and heartburn: a little can help a lot

“Ginger can be a digestive stimulant, and helping digestion can help with heartburn,” says integrative physician Dana Cohen, MD, author of Quench. “For most people, ginger can help with heartburn.” A recent study found that ginger can help reduce symptoms of dyspepsia (the medical term for an upset stomach) including heartburn. Another 2014 study found that consuming ginger eased heartburn with few side effects. Combine that with the gut benefits listed above, and you have an impressive gut healer. A little ginger tends to help heartburn a lot.

But more ginger is not necessarily better: “Too much ginger is usually not a good thing,” cautions Dr. Bedford. “I’ve had patients who take various ginger supplements, and they have horrible heartburn because ginger tends to relax the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, which is one of the causes of heartburn.” Indeed, studies show consuming more than 5 grams of ginger a day can lead to side effects. (That’s the equivalent of about 5 teaspoons of grated ginger or 5 store-bought ginger tea bags.)

“Individual responses to ginger can vary, and what works for one person may not work the same way for another,” says Dr. Adeli. So to get the benefits, you’ll want to start with no more than a teaspoon a day so you can feel out what’s right for you.

(Think you may be sensitive to ginger? Click through for the best at-home food sensitivity tests.)

How to get the benefits of ginger

One of the easiest — and most effective — ways to add ginger to your diet is to make ginger tea by steeping peeled slices of ginger root in water for about 10 minutes, then removing the ginger before enjoying.

“I come from a Jamaican family, so ginger is a big staple,” Dr. Bedford says. “I can remember my mother peeling ginger roots and boiling them in water. Ginger comes in over-the-counter supplements, but personally I believe that fresh ginger is always the best. If you can get the root and make it into thin slices, then boil it in water, that seemingly helps with indigestion.” (Click through to our sister publication to learn how to store ginger in the fridge or freezer to keep it fresh.)

If you don’t like tea, you can also try cooking with fresh or powdered ginger, sucking on ginger chews or supplementing with ginger extract.

But there’s one type of ginger that won’t help: ginger ale. “While it may have a pleasant ginger taste, it’s important to understand that commercial ginger ale often contains very little real ginger, and the ginger flavor is usually derived from artificial or natural flavorings rather than fresh ginger root,” Dr. Adeli says.

Two add-ins to make ginger tea for heartburn more powerful

Ginger tea with lemon: Does ginger help with heartburn?

Lemon juice: “The combination of lemon juice and ginger may have a symbiotic effect,” Dr. Bedford says. “Ginger helps to increase the motility of the stomach, and lemon juice helps to neutralize stomach acid, so the combination may very well be beneficial in patients who have indigestion or who are prone to nausea.” Just be careful not to overdo it, he says. “Lemon juice does contain a lot of citric acid, which may stimulate more heartburn because you’re increasing the acid output from the stomach. As with everything, it’s all in moderation.”

Honey. Animal studies show honey eases acid reflux. The thick, sweet liquid adds a protective coating to the esophagus, a factor that may help keep acid from creeping back up and causing heartburn, according to research in BMJ. Jamie Kaufman, MD says her patients report improvement in reflux symptoms after consuming manuka honey, a potent type of honey made by bees in Australia and New Zealand. She advises consuming 1/2 teaspoon of manuka honey after dinner to ease reflux.

Success story: Kat Sivley, 54

Kat Spivey, who used ginger to help with heartburn

Kat Sivley woke with a start, with what felt like lava bubbling up in her throat. Being awakened in the middle of the night with heartburn was nothing new for the Portland, Oregon, 50-year-old. She’d suffered with severe acid reflux since childhood, sometimes so extreme that the acid came all the way up into her nose. This is no way to live, she despaired.

But as she took some over-the-counter medication, Kat knew if it worked, it would only result in short-lived relief. She had tried drinking milk, which would also work for a short time, but she discovered that dairy, in general, made the acid reflux worse overall.

Even prescription medication worked only if she ate bland foods, such as cottage cheese and pudding. Kat couldn’t imagine sticking to a diet like that forever. Plus, she’d read about serious side effects linked to long-term use. I can’t risk it. I’ve got to find something natural, she decided.

How Kat discovered ginger tea for heartburn

Searching the internet, Kat came across lemon water and ginger as a possible remedy. Sinc high school she’d been drinking lemon water for its other purported health benefits, such as cleansing, aiding in digestion and weight loss. She also loved the calming ginger tea that an old boyfriend had turned her on to years ago. But she had never thought about drinking them together or for heartburn relief. Will this work? she wondered.

Looking deeper, Kat learned that the phenolic compounds in ginger work to relieve gastrointestinal irritation and lessen gastric contractions, helping prevent stomach acid flowing up into the esophagus. And while lemon juice has an acidic pH, once it’s metabolized by the body, it produces alkaline byproducts, which can help neutralize the acid in the stomach.

Ginger tea eased Kat’s heartburn overnight!

Having nothing to lose, Kat sliced some fresh ginger she had on hand and added it to a cup of boiling water, letting it steep for a few minutes before squeezing in fresh lemon. She drank it before bed, and that night, she didn’t wake up once due to acid reflux. Hopeful, Kat began drinking the ginger and lemon tea before bed each night. She also changed her diet to include more whole foods and fewer refined carbs.

All at once, Kat’s reflux disappeared — and hasn’t returned. On the rare occasion she eats something too acid-forming, like a heavy restaurant meal, she simply grabs some cold ginger tea that she keeps in the fridge, adds some bottled lemon juice and sips it until the episode subsides.

Today, age 54 and 70 pounds lighter, Kat couldn’t be happier. “I’m the type of person who if I find something that is lifechanging, I will scream it from the rafters. If you have acid reflux, ginger and lemon will change your life!”

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

For more heartburn remedies:

9 Natural Ways to Get Rid of Heartburn Fast at Night — And Wake Up Happy

MD: Your ‘Heartburn’ May Be Caused By *Low* Stomach Acid — The Easy At-Home Test

These MD-Approved Heartburn Remedies Dial Down The Burn By As Much As 74%

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