Extinguish the fire you’re feeling from acid reflux with these simple, healthy home remedies.
After a big meal, heartburn (a.k.a. acid reflux) can make it feel like you’re breathing fire.
That’s because the valve between your stomach and esophagus is working like an old dam during a 500-year flood, allowing acid and other digestive contents to creep upward where they don’t belong, says David Levinthal, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Neurogastroenterology and Motility Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
What causes the valve to fail? A common trigger of acid reflux is pressure on your stomach created when you’re overweight or pregnant or have a hiatal hernia. This extra pressure forces stomach fluids to an area of lower pressure—that is, up your esophagus.
Smoking, either direct or secondhand, can also contribute to heartburn, because it weakens the valve, Dr. Levinthal says.
Your meds might also be to blame. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, drugs like antidepressants, antihistamines, asthma medicines, calcium channel blockers, painkillers, and sedatives can cause the value to malfunction.
When You Should See a Doctor
Symptoms of reflux include a burning, aching, tightness, or pressure in the chest. However, these can also be signs of a heart attack. The key difference: With heartburn, symptoms may be relieved by a belch, whereas a heart attack often is accompanied by other symptoms such as sweating or shortness of breath. If you’re not sure, seek emergency help right away.
Other reasons to call your doctor:
You have frequent bouts of heartburn. This may indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can be treated with prescription medicines called proton pump inhibitors (like Prilosec, Nexium, or Prevacid). These block the production of stomach acids.
You’ve had heartburn for many weeks in a row. If months of reflux are accompanied by unexplained weight loss, or if you smoke or have a family history of cancer, you should make an appointment to ensure nothing else is going on, says Yamini Natarajan, M.D., an assistant professor of gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine.
You’ve had years and years of heartburn. While it might feel like the status quo, over time, all that acid in the esophagus can cause a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus. If diagnosed, you may need medicines or extra monitoring.
If the scenarios above don’t apply to you, the best ways to get rid of heartburn are often the simplest—and don’t come from a drugstore. Here, medical experts list their top home remedies for fighting off acid reflux.
1. Find Your Triggers and Avoid Them
One person may be bothered by spicy dishes, but not by orange juice. Another may find the reverse to be true.
“It’s difficult to make sweeping recommendations about diet,” says Dr. Natarajan. “There is a lot of variation.”
If there are foods that you know trigger your heartburn, it’s best to avoid them. Some common offenders are chocolate, coffee, peppermint, spicy food, tomatoes and tomato-based foods, and alcoholic beverages.
High-fat foods also tend to make reflux worse. “The nerves that line the GI tract sense fats, protein, and carbs differently,” says Dr. Levinthal. Your stomach empties at a slower rate when you eat fatty foods, he says. “So if you eat a fatty meal, there is more food in your stomach for longer—and therefore a bigger chance to experience heartburn.”
High-fat foods are often also high in calories and sugar, which may be contributing to extra weight you might be carrying. Experts agree that people who are overweight or obese can reduce reflux symptoms by getting to a healthy weight. Even a loss of 10 percent of your body weight can be enough to make a big difference, Dr. Levinthal says.
2. Eat Dinner Earlier
The more food you have sloshing around in your stomach at bedtime, the more likely you are to experience reflux. “When we lie down, we lose the natural, protective effect of gravity,” Dr. Natarajan says. “And acid can flow more easily from the stomach back up through the esophagus.”
According to Dr. Levinthal, it takes about four hours for your stomach to empty fully after a meal. Try to cut off food intake about three hours before bedtime.
3. Chew Gum for Dessert
Along with lessening the intensity of that acidic, post-meal taste in your mouth, a piece of minty gum might also reduce your reflux symptoms.
In one study from the United Kingdom, heartburn sufferers were given sugar-free gum after eating. The result: Levels of acid in the esophagus were significantly lower among the gum-chewers than those who didn’t have a piece.
That’s because chewing gum naturally increases the production of saliva, serving as a buffer for creeping stomach acid, Dr. Levinthal says. What’s more, the act of chewing itself and the flavor of the gum stimulate the vagus nerve, which helps the stomach empty naturally. The less time the food stays in the gut, says Dr. Levinthal, the less time there is for that material to cause reflux.
4. Stay Upright After Eating
Another reason many people have heartburn more often at night: We tend to sprawl on the couch after dinner. Stay upright for at least an hour after you eat, Dr. Natarajan recommends, so that gravity can help keep stomach contents in place during the digestion process.
5. Take a Post-Meal Stroll
Mild exercise, especially after dinner, helps to empty your gut faster—leaving less time for your meal to sit, simmer, and ultimately creep back up your esophagus.
But don’t overdo it, says Dr. Levinthal. Stick to a simple walk around the block. Anything strenuous, even if it’s just hiking up a steep hill, can have the opposite effect.
6. Elevate the Head of your Bed
Put gravity to work for you at bedtime by elevating the head of your bed more than 30 degrees, suggests Dr. Natarajan. “That can really help keep the acid down in the stomach.”
Propping yourself up with pillows can lead to pain in the neck and back, so she advises using cinderblocks (or something equally solid) to prop up the bed frame itself, with one under each side of the head of the bed. You can also purchase slanted pillows, a slanted mattress topper, or bed risers designed to prop up the legs of the bed.
7. Lie on Your Left Side
Interestingly, the side you sleep on matters, too, Dr. Levinthal says. Resting on the left side of your body helps stomach contents move farther from the valve to the esophagus, making heartburn less likely.
This was confirmed by a 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, which examined people who both elevated their head and laid on their left (not right) side. However, Dr. Levinthal notes that if you’re having trouble sleeping as is, you shouldn’t force yourself into a position that’s not comfortable.
8. Sip Apple Cider Vinegar
There’s not a ton of research to prove it, but Dr. Levinthal notes that some of his patients swear by a spoonful of apple cider vinegar to subdue their heartburn.
From a chemistry standpoint, the logic is sound: Stomach acid (with a pH of about 2) is fairly strong, while apple cider vinegar (with a pH of about 4.5) is weaker. Mixing a weak acid into a stronger one dilutes it.
“It kind of has a buffering capacity,” says Dr. Levinthal. Don’t expect a miracle cure, he warns, but trying it shouldn’t worsen your symptoms.