Regardless of whether you get it on a daily basis or once in a blue moon, heartburn is never fun. More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. And over 15 million people get the strange burning sensation every day. While over-the-counter antacids and prescription medications can help, they can also cause unpleasant side effects. That’s why we’ve rounded up the best fast-acting heartburn relief home remedies to dodge trouble. Read on to learn more, including the answers to questions like who gets heartburn and does popcorn help heartburn.
What is heartburn?
“Heartburn is the sensation caused by reflux of acid and non-acid material such as bile or even food from the stomach to the esophagus,” explains gastroenterologist Yuying Luo, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai West & Morningside in New York, NY. This happens when the valve between your stomach and esophagus reopens or stays open after you eat, allowing those acid substances to travel in the wrong direction (hence the name “acid reflux”). Symptoms include burning or soreness in your chest after eating and/or a bitter taste in your mouth, both of which likely worsen when you lie down.
Note: While the term heartburn is used because you feel the effects in your chest, the condition isn’t related to your heart. But your symptoms might be in some cases. “It’s important to recognize that it’s not always acid reflux causing symptoms,” says Dr. Luo. “If heartburn is associated with chest pain, it’s important to ensure that symptoms are not because of heart disease, especially in women as cardiac disease can present atypically.” (Click through to our sister publication to learn how a quercetin supplement can improve heart health.)
People who are prone to heartburn
Heartburn is often triggered by specific foods and drinks, including spicy foods, acidic foods, alcohol and caffeine. “Some amount of reflux is normal, but certain people are more prone to develop it,” Dr. Luo says. “Some people may also have more hypersensitivity to reflux and feel more heartburn even with a normal amount of reflux or even when there is not reflux at all.”
Certain GI issues, such as hiatal hernias, and disorders that can impair swallowing, like scleroderma and achalasia, can make people more likely to have heartburn, notes Dr. Luo. Likewise, being pregnant or overweight, smoking, or eating too close to bedtime also increases the likelihood that you’ll experience heartburn. (Click through to our sister publication to learn how to get rid of heartburn fast at night and discover how mint toothpaste can be a sneaky heartburn trigger.)
The downsides of OTC and Rx heartburn remedies
Over-the-counter antacids (such as Tums or Alka-Seltzer) and more powerful prescription meds can stop heartburn in its tracks. But they can also cause side effects like constipation, diarrhea, gas, headaches, nausea and stomach cramps.
What’s more, long-term use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) (such as Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid), prescription meds that reduce stomach acid production, have been linked with memory problems. According to a study published in Neurology, regular use of PPIs for more than 4.5 years was associated with a 33% higher risk of developing dementia.
The 12 best fast-acting heartburn relief home remedies
One of the easiest ways to avoid heartburn is to pinpoint the foods that cause your symptoms and steer clear of them. However, that’s not always a feasible or welcome solution, which is where these fast-acting heartburn relief home remedies come in. These simple, natural cures have the power to block flare ups before they even start.
1. Snack on popcorn
Tasty, fiber-rich fare like popcorn, oatmeal, beans, and avocados can help keep heartburn at bay. The proof: Including 15 grams of fiber in your daily diet cuts heartburn risk by 73%, plus makes any flare-ups that you do have disappear in half the time, according to a study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. “By helping move stomach contents along, fiber prevents acid from being pushed back into the esophagus,” explains gastroenterologist Peyton Berookim, MD, FACG. Getting your daily fix is as easy as having steel-cut oatmeal (10 grams per cup) for breakfast and snacking on popcorn (5 grams per 3 cups) in the afternoon. Also smart: Swapping regular crackers for fiber-packed Metamucil Fiber Thins (Buy from Walmart, $9.98).
2. Lounge on your left side
When it comes to fast-acting heartburn relief home remedies, nothing is easier than kicking back and relaxing. When you’re ready to stretch out after eating a big meal — whether you’re catching a catnap, watching a show or reading a good book — Dr. Luo suggests lying on your left side and slightly elevating your head on a comfy pillow. This reduces your odds of a heartburn flare-up by 50%, suggests research from Stanford University. That’s thanks to the way this position helps even heavy meals pass directly and quickly from your stomach into your small intestine.
3. Slip on sweatpants
Feel the telltale signal of heartburn coming on after eating? If you’re at home, try cozying up in comfortable pants or sweatpants. Doing so can stop heartburn in its tracks, according to research published in the journal Gut. “Tight-fitting clothes may put additional pressure around the area where the esophagus meets the stomach and increase reflux,” explains Dr. Luo. Simply donning more relaxed attire helps you sidestep the problem altogether.
Tip: If you’re out and about when heartburn strikes, step into a restroom and undo the top button of your pants. Then slip a spare hair tie around the button and through the buttonhole on the other side to gain an extra inch in your waistband. No one will even noticed it tucked under your top!
4. Consider a citrus extract
If you regularly experience stubborn flare ups, supplementing with citrus can help. A natural compound found in citrus peel and pith called d-limonene neutralizes excess stomach acid, speeds the digestion of high-fat meals and coats and protects delicate throat tissues. No wonder research shows supplementing with 1,000 mg. of d-limonene daily (or even every other day!) ends heartburn flare-ups for 89% of women studied. One to try: Wellness Resources d-Limonene (Buy from Amazon.com, $24.99).
5. Breathe deeply
Taking two minutes to breathe slowly and deeply before digging into a heavy meal reduces your odds of a bout with heartburn by 63%, according to research published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Pre-meal calm activates the enteric nervous system, a branch of nerves that improves intestinal movement, speeding digestion and stomach-emptying. Forgot to pause for a breath break before a meal? Doing so after eating works, too! A separate study in the same journal suggests breathing slowly and deeply for 15 to 30 minutes after eating lowers your risk of heartburn by 88%.
Make deep breathing a daily habit, and you’ll also block recurrent flare-ups. Research in The American Journal of Gastroenterology found folks who practiced deep belly breathing techniques for 30 minutes daily cut their need for heartburn medication by 74%. Breathing deeply strengthens the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscular valve at the base of the esophagus that keeps stomach acid from creeping into the burn zone.
6. Try Siberian pine oil
The burning sensation of heartburn creeping up your throat is unpleasant as it is. But if your throat is already feeling sore or scratchy, it can be unbearable. Fortunately, Siberian pine nut oil can tamp down on pain-triggering inflammation and help heal damage to the throat tissue caused by gastric acid, says women’s health expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD. That’s thanks to a rare compound it contains called pinolenic acid. Gittleman recommends taking 1 tsp. of Siberian pine oil 30 minutes before meals to thwart trouble. One to try: Siberian Treasure Siberian Pine Nut Oil (Buy from Amazon.com, $19.49).
7. Gaze at the sky
Notice you’re more prone to heartburn when you’re having “one of those days”? There’s a reason for that. “There is a definite link between stress and digestive issues and a well-established link between gut and brain,” Dr. Luo says. “Stress, in addition to depression and anxiety, can worsen heartburn symptoms through increased hypersensitivity (i.e. increased perception of esophageal symptoms) and increased awareness of symptoms.” To quash symptom-triggering tension, step outdoors and gaze at a pond or lake for 3 minutes (or simply call up a photo on your phone!). A study in Environmental Research suggests “blue spaces” that give you a view of sky and water are one of the best ways to quickly tame stress, make this one of the most relaxing fast-acting heartburn relief home remedies.
8. Sip aloe vera
It’s no secret that aloe vera can soothe sunburned skin. But it can also cool heartburn. Researchers reporting in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine found sipping 1/3 oz. of food-grade aloe vera juice twice daily slashed heartburn episodes by 76%. That’s an effect that’s better than the acid-reducing drugs ranitidine (Zantac) and omeprazole (Prilosec). Also-smart: Stirring 1 tsp. of honey into your sipper. A BMJ study found honey coats the esophagus to provide fast-acting heartburn relief for a current flare up. (Click through to learn more about how aloe vera can get rid of heartburn.)
9. Try a deep sea cure
Turns out an ocean remedy may be the key to kissing heartburn goodbye. Alginates are a potent type of compound derived from seaweed, especially brown algae. “Unlike acid-blocking medications, alginates create a foam-like barrier that blocks the flow of acid from the stomach into the esophagus,” explains gastroenterologist David A. Leiman, MD. And if you supplement with alginates after eating, research in The Laryngoscope reveals it delivers heartburn relief results on par with acid-blocking meds. One to try: Swanson Brown Seaweed Sodium Alginate (Buy from iHerb.com, $13.59). (Click through to see how another ocean cure, marine collagen, can aid digestion.)
10. Take a fenugreek tonic
The nutty herb has long been a go-to remedy for digestive troubles in India. Now, a study in Phytotherapy Research finds taking fenugreek daily blocks heartburn as well as Zantac. Fiber in the herb pulls food out of your stomach more quickly, preventing acid from splashing up into the esophagus and causing heartburn. To do: Soak 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds in 8 oz. water and refrigerate. Sip the mixture 30 minutes before your two biggest meals of the day to thwart heartburn. Or try a 2,000 mg. readymade supplement such as Piping Rock Fenugreek Capsules (Buy from Amazon.com, $15.99).
11. Chew a licorice gummy
Nibbling a licorice gummy or chewable tablet just after eating prevents heartburn for 96% of folks, suggests research in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. One reason it’s so effective? Licorice speeds digestion by restoring the balance of good bacteria in the gut that a heavy meal can throw off, suggests separate research in the journal Gut Microbes. Tip: Look for deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) licorice on the box, since this indicates the licorice is free of compounds that can raise blood pressure. One to try: Nature’s Way DGL Licorice (Buy from iHerb.com, $11.40).
12. Consider nature’s sleep aid
If you’re getting reflux at night, the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin will do double-duty to quash the discomfort. “Taking melatonin for nighttime reflux accomplishes two things: It reduces symptoms and allows you to sleep,” says gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD, an adjunct assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. Not only does the natural hormone shield delicate throat tissues from heartburn-triggering irritants, as levels of melatonin in the blood rise, the stress hormone cortisol drops off so you can sink into sleep.
To get the benefits, take 4 to 5 mg. of immediate-release melatonin about an hour before bed, since slow-release tablets won’t halt the burn. Indeed, a study in the Journal of Pineal Research suggests that taking 4 mg. of immediate release melatonin 60 minutes before bed relieves nighttime and next-day heartburn better than Prilosec. Bonus: Yale researchers say you’ll fall asleep quicker and sleep more soundly than if you took prescription sleeping pills like Ambien. One to try: Nature Made Melatonin 5 mg. (Buy from Amazon.com, $22.33).
For more ways to outsmart heartburn:
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.
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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