If you’ve had a bout of heartburn, you know how painful (and annoying!) it can be. And when you’re suffering from a flare-up, you want fast, effective relief. If you’re like us, you’ve probably perused your kitchen for something to help quell the burn when you ran out of antacids. And that may leave you wondering, does yogurt help heartburn? Surprisingly, the answer is yes! Find out how the creamy treat works, how to maximize the benefits, plus more natural ways to get relief from a flare-up.
What is heartburn?
Although it has heart in its name, heartburn doesn’t actually affect your ticker — though it sure feels like it does. “Heartburn is a symptom of a burning behind the chest that can be due to acid from the stomach refluxing back into the esophagus,” explains Linda Nguyen, MD, a gastroenterologist and clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Most people experience heartburn at some point in their lives due to overeating or eating acid reflux-inducing foods.”
Heartburn is typically infrequent with known triggers. For example, having heartburn on Thanksgiving day or following a late dinner is common, Dr. Nguyen says. The condition can be mild to severe and often makes itself known when you’re lying down or bending over. Along with the burning sensation, heartburn is frequently accompanied by a sour, bitter or acidic taste in your mouth or throat.
Why? It has to do with the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscles that form a valve at the bottom of your esophagus. When closed, the LES keeps stomach acid (and food) from rising back up. But when it’s weakened and/or doesn’t close completely, acid can inch upwards into your throat and cause irritation and other heartburn symptoms.
How acid reflux differs from GERD
Heartburn is most commonly caused by acid reflux (stomach acid rising into your esophagus) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which a chronic form of reflux. “GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease is more serious and chronic, hence the emphasis on the word disease,” explains Dr. Nguyen. GERD affects about 20% of folks in the US and is one of the most common gastrointestinal disease.
“Patients with GERD experience symptoms of heartburn two or more times per week for several weeks,” Dr. Nguyen says. “This can lead to complications of esophagitis [inflammation], esophageal ulcers, strictures, Barrett’s esophagus and/or esophageal cancer.” She adds people who suffer from GERD may also experience symptoms such as regurgitation of food and/or liquid back into the mouth, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, chronic cough and a chronic sore throat.
3 common causes of heartburn
While you already know that heavy meals or eating late at night can trigger heartburn, those are far from the only triggers. Here are other common culprits that may lead to reflux or GERD:
1. Spicy, high-fat foods
“The fundamentals of helping to prevent acid reflux are avoiding fried, spicy, high fat or acidic foods,” says Shad Marvasti, MD, MPH, an integrative physician and director of the culinary medicine program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
The reason? “Fatty and spicy foods can both take longer to digest,” says Dr. Marvasti. “That slows gastric emptying and increases the time that food sits in the stomach, which increases the risk for acid reflux. Additionally, spicy foods can irritate the esophagus and worsen acid reflux symptoms. Fatty or fried foods can also can prevent the lower esophageal sphincter from fully tightening, thereby creating a bit of an opening for acid from the stomach to flow upward.”
Some other common food and drink triggers include caffeinated beverages, alcohol, carbonated drinks, tomatoes, onions, garlic, bell peppers and even chocolate, says Dr. Nguyen.
2. Certain medications
Dr. Nguyen says there are multiple medications that can cause acid reflux. “Opiates, weight loss medications such as Ozempic and Mounjaro, calcium blockers and some blood pressure drugs can slow the stomach emptying or decrease the lower esophageal sphincter pressure,” says Dr. Nguyen. “If food isn’t leaving your stomach, it’s more prone to come back into your esophagus.” (Click through for more meds that make acid reflux worse.)
3. Lifestyle habits
Some lifestyle habits can also up your risk of acid reflux and GERD. These include smoking, moderate to high alcohol consumption, overeating, being overweight or obese, or a lack of regular physical exercise.
Tip: While it’s true that staying active reduces your risk of GERD, just be sure not to exercise too soon after a large meal. “Exercising after eating can give you reflux, especially if it’s an activity where you’re putting pressure on your abdomen, such as rowing, biking, yoga or Pilates, where you’re doing a lot of core crunching,” says Dr. Nguyen. She advises waiting to exercise at least one to two hours after larger meals to let food digest, and at least 30 minutes after a small snack like a protein bar or hard boiled egg.
Why women are prone to heartburn
Both men and women suffer from GERD, but there’s often an increased frequency and intensity of symptoms in women. “Women in general experience more GI symptoms than men,” says Dr. Nguyen.
The prevalence of GERD in women significantly increases with age, especially in women over 50, reports a study published in Oncology Letters. “Studies are mixed when it comes to pointing to menopause as the culprit,” says Dr. Nguyen. “Some people do feel reflux gets worse after menopause, and some feel it gets better. Sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone can slow gastric motility which can contribute to GERD.”
Another reason GERD is more common during and after menopause may be weight gain in your midsection, sometimes called menopause belly. Declining estrogen levels can slow your metabolism, causing unwanted belly fat. This excess weight can increase pressure on the stomach, causing acid reflux, Dr. Nguyen explains.
Why heartburn flares up at night
While heartburn can strike at any time, it’s often a bother when you lie down for the evening. The reason: Many of us go to sleep too soon after eating. Dr. Nguyen says it’s typically best to wait at least 3 hours after eating to lie down or go to bed to avoid reflux.
“When you’re upright, gravity keeps your food in your stomach and not in your esophagus,” says Dr. Nguyen. “But if you lie down too soon, you lose that effect of gravity. That means your stomach and esophagus are on the same level, making it easier to experience acid reflux.”
Another reason behind nighttime heartburn may be because dinner tends to be our largest meal of the day. You’re eating more in addition to enjoying more reflux triggering foods and drinks, says Dr. Marvasti. And finally, acid reflux and GERD can be worse after going to bed because you’re swallowing less. This reduces the important force that pushes stomach acid down where it belongs. (Click through to learn how to get rid of heartburn fast at night.)
How yogurt can help with heartburn
While medications like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can help treat severe heartburn, they can come with unwanted side effects such as an increased fracture risk, nutrient deficiencies and a higher risk of infection such as pneumonia. So it makes sense that many people are seeking out natural alternatives. And while yogurt for heartburn help may not be top of mind, the creamy treat is a top pick for quelling the burn. (Click through to learn why yogurt is one of the best potassium-rich foods, too.)
Yogurt contains probiotics, which help increase the diversity of the gut microbiome when enjoyed daily. This aids digestion, curbing your reflux risk. Yogurt is also a good source of calcium, another reason it’s potentially beneficial for acid reflux, says Dr. Nguyen. “When you take an antacid like Tums, it’s a calcium carbonate. And calcium can help to neutralize the acid in the stomach so it’s less likely to come up,” she says.
How to enjoy yogurt to help with heartburn
Simply working a serving size (about 3/4 cup or 6 oz.) of yogurt into your daily diet can help thwart heartburn symptoms before they even start. In one small study in Pharmaceuticals, folks who had been taking PPIs but did not experience relief started eating yogurt with the probiotic strain Lactobacillus gasseri OLL2716 daily. Within 3 months, they saw a significant improvement in their GERD symptoms.
What’s more, savoring yogurt can help calm a flare-up when heartburn strikes. It coats the lining of the esophagus to reduce irritation. “Yogurt is slightly alkaline, and this can help neutralize acid in the esophagus and soothe the burning,” adds Dr. Nguyen.
It’s no wonder yogurt is often paired with spicy foods. “When you look at certain cultures and traditional cuisines, yogurt is often combined with spicy foods as a kind of balancing agent, for instance, using it as an ingredient in a curry or a sauce,” says Dr. Marvasti. (Click through to learn how to make yogurt at home.)
The best types of yogurt to help with heartburn
To maximize the benefits, opt for low- or fat-free yogurt made with low-fat or skim milk. Whole-milk yogurt is higher in fat and may be harder to digest. You’ll also want to choose a low-sugar or sugar-free yogurt to help with heartburn. “Sugar is not good for the microbiome because it can decrease its diversity, and a diverse microbiome is considered healthy,” says Dr. Nguyen.
To cut down on sugar, you can opt for the plain unsweetened kind such as Greek yogurt, says Dr. Marvasti. But if that’s too bland for your taste buds, you can add a teaspoon of honey, he says. Not only will honey satisfy your sweet tooth, it also boasts a multitude of health benefits, including containing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. “There’s also some research that suggests honey can help coat the esophagus, helping to soothe acid reflux that way,” adds Dr. Marvasti.
If you’re lactose intolerant, you may be thinking yogurt isn’t in the cards. But there are lower-lactose options out there, for example, Greek yogurt made with plant-based milks such as almond, cashew or coconut milk. Brands such as Oatly, Siggi’s, Silk and Kite Hill offer yogurts made with non-dairy milks.
How to get rid of acid reflux in the throat fast
Along with incorporating yogurt into your diet, consider these 3 doctor-approved remedies to tame heartburn.
1. Try an apple cider vinegar ‘shot’
“Apple cider vinegar has gained popularity as a remedy for acid reflux and many of my patients swear by it,” says Dr. Nguyen. “It may sound counterintuitive, but the theory is that the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar may balance out the acidity of the stomach.”
Some studies have shown taking 1 to 2 tsp. of apple cider vinegar mixed with water alongside your meals can help relieve acid reflux symptoms, reports Dr. Marvasti. He adds that you can try apple cider vinegar as both a preventative measure or as an in-the-moment cure. “Everyone is different, but this is a trial and error type remedy that people can experiment with and see if it works for them,” he says. (Click through to learn if apple cider vinegar goes bad — and how to store it to maximize shelf life.)
2. Drink after eating
“Sometimes if you’re drinking too much liquid with your food, there’s just too much in there for the stomach,” Dr. Marvasti says. “That can cause an overflow, making it easier for the contents to go back up.” A guideline is to limit liquids to 6 to 10 oz. before you eat, then wait to drink anything again until about 30 to 45 minutes after your meal, Dr. Marvasti advises.
3. Try a seaweed supplement
Alginate, a compound derived from brown seaweed, can help with reflux. “The thought is if you eat and then take the seaweed, the alginate forms a barrier or seal [think of it like plastic cling wrap] over your stomach’s contents, preventing acid or anything else from coming up,” explain Dr. Nguyen.
This formed barrier lasts for up to 4 hours, she adds. During that time, food has the chance to be adequately digested and emptied from the stomach. “It’s most effective in individuals who experience reflux after eating,” Dr. Nguyen says. She suggests Gaviscon Double Action Chewable Tablets with Sodium Alginate (Buy from Amazon, $9.99) and Reflux Gourmet Alginate Therapy (Buy from Amazon, $28).
Yogurt for heartburn help success story: Priska Diaz, 47
Staring at the clock in the middle of the night, Priska Diaz, 47, sat in bed wishing and hoping the burning in her throat and chest would subside. It was so intense that she was having trouble breathing. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take, she despaired.
For nearly eight years, Priska had suffered with acid reflux. She tried to pinpoint foods that could be causing it. But what triggered an attack one time might not another, and a food she’d always eaten might suddenly cause a problem.
Then one time, panic set in when Priska also began experiencing difficulty swallowing, vomiting, abdominal and chest pain and even pain and pressure in her ears. And Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, who finally diagnosed her with GERD, explained pain in the ears can occur in severe cases where stomach acid comes up so high in the esophagus. He also explained that, during a flare, the esophagus lines itself with thick mucus to prevent acid burns (ulcers). That must be why I’ve had trouble breathing, she thought.
Traditional medications failed Priska
Her doctor prescribed two weeks of prescription-strength Prevacid, which eased her symptoms. But to her dismay, once she stopped taking the antacid, they returned. A few months later, another flare resulted in her taking Prevacid for 45 days. Again, the relief was temporary.
This is no way to live, Priska thought, concerns over taking the medication for prolonged periods and, likely for life, mounting. Desperate, she started reading everything she could about GERD.
She learned while certain foods like fried and takeout can exacerbate acid production and regurgitation, others help neutralize the acids and calm reflux symptoms. One option that sounded delicious was mixing 1 tsp. of honey with 1/2 cup of plain yogurt each day. The research indicated that the active lactobacillus probiotic in the yogurt helps to normalize bowel function. And the honey coats the stomach and esophagus, healing any damage in the existing tissue and lining.
I love both those things! Priska thought. With her symptoms flaring, she decided to try the mixture that night.
How Priska finally experienced sweet relief
The yogurt-honey mix was tasty. And better yet, Priska’s reflux symptoms calmed immediately. For the first time in a long time, she was able to sleep through the night. She was so pleased that she also began keeping the ingredients on hand at work in case of a lunchtime flare. The coolness of the yogurt instantly put out the fire in her throat, while the honey erased the bitter taste of acid in her mouth. The mix also cleared the excess mucus as it went down.
Today, Priska no longer has sever GERD episodes. “I just eat my yogurt and honey mixture at the first sign of discomfort,” she says. “I’m no longer spending money on prescriptions and visits to the doctor. For me, yogurt and honey was the best home remedy. I still can’t believe the remedy was in my kitchen!”
For more natural ways to ease heartburn:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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