Natural Remedies for Heartburn: Do They Really Work?
Baking soda, chewing gum, ginger root—if you often experience heartburn, chances are you’ve tried it all. As tempting as it is to dive headfirst into the latest and most-promising home remedy as soon as that burning feeling comes on, not all heartburn remedies are created equal. Below, we investigate some popular natural remedies for heartburn to find out if they really work.
You might already have this aromatic root in your pantry if you’re planning on making a curry or gingersnap cookies. The ginger plant is part of a family of flowering plants called Zingiberaceae, of which popular herbs turmeric and cardamom are also part. The ginger plant’s underground stem—which is called a “rhizome”—is the part of this plant that’s used in cooking and traditional medicine. Ginger root is widely touted as a remedy for digestive issues including stomachaches, diarrhea, and nausea, and is available fresh or dried. Ginger dietary supplements can also be found in tablet, capsule, liquid extract, and tea form.
Is ginger an effective natural remedy for heartburn? No! While some studies have shown that ginger can help alleviate some nausea, it can actually cause side effects including abdominal discomfort, gas, and heartburn.1 So, while ginger as a spice is safe to cook with, turning to ginger root as a natural heartburn remedy might end up making matters worse.
Apple Cider Vinegar
A mainstay of every health food store, apple cider vinegar is extolled for a number of health benefits, from immune support to weight management. Apple cider vinegar is made by crushing apples, squeezing out the juice, and then fermenting it into a peppery vinegar that is delicious when used in salad dressings, marinades or pickled vegetables. Drinking a small amount of raw apple cider vinegar is also a popular natural remedy for heartburn.
But does it work? There is no conclusive evidence. The idea behind taking apple cider vinegar for heartburn is that stomach acidity controls the lower esophageal sphincter and that if the stomach has not produced enough acid, muscles around the sphincter will relax and let more gastric acid pass through. Consuming vinegar, therefore, is an attempt support the stomach’s acidity levels and prevent this from happening. However, this process relies on more factors than stomach acidity2 and there is no evidence in published medical studies that apple cider vinegar is an effective remedy for heartburn.2 Until we know more, relying on apple cider vinegar to remedy your heartburn is not a good idea.
Experiencing heartburn is always less than fun but feeling that burning sensation right as you’re about to fall asleep is definitely up there on our list of “least favorite times to get heartburn.” One home remedy that people have tried for nighttime heartburn relief is elevating the head of the bed or using a torso wedge so that the body is elevated from the waist up.
Is this home improvement project for your bedroom worth it? Yes! Torso elevation is an effective remedy for heartburn. By raising your torso so that it’s angled downwards, pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter is eased, which can help relieve the heartburn you experience while laying down at night.3 If you share a bed with someone, or don’t want to go through the trouble of elevating your entire mattress, wedge-shaped cushions can be purchased from medical supply companies and work just as well to elevate and tilt your torso.
However, don’t try to achieve the same effect by propping your head up with pillows and cushions, as this can actually make your acid reflux worse.3 Leave it to the medical professionals and consult your doctor if you’re unsure how to effectively use a bed wedge.
Not just for helping freshen your breath, chewing gum is also lauded as a popular fix for heartburn. Popping a piece of gum after a meal sounds too good to be true—is chewing gum really an effective natural remedy for heartburn? Yes! With a catch. Chewing sugar-free gum after eating can help promote salivation, which in turn neutralizes acid and soothes the esophagus, helping wash stomach acid back down where it belongs.4
However, peppermint-lovers be warned: peppermint oil, a flavoring agent used in foods like gum, can actually make heartburn symptoms worse.4 Peppermint oil can trigger side effects including heartburn, nausea, dry mouth, and abdominal pain when taken orally.5 While enjoying a piece of peppermint gum every once in a while may not trigger symptoms, you may want to avoid gum with peppermint oil as an ingredient if you’re sensitive.
On the subject of peppermint oil, it’s also important to note that taking an enteric-coated peppermint oil capsule at the same time as an antacid can cause the enteric coating to break down too fast, increasing the likelihood of heartburn.5
Though natural remedies are effective for some issues, they can sometimes end up causing more problems than they solve. When in doubt, reach for a tried-and-true heartburn remedy like TUMS.
- Ginger. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/ginger.
- Apple cider vinegar… for heartburn? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/apple-cider-vinegar-for-heartburn-2018032813530.
- 11 stomach-soothing steps for heartburn. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/11-stomach-soothing-steps-for-heartburn.
- 8 ways to quell the fire of heartburn. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/8-ways-to-quell-the-fire-of-heartburn.
- Peppermint Oil. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/peppermint-oil.