So many people suffer from heartburn and indigestion, and instead of relying on over-the-counter and prescription medications—which often come with short-term and long-term effects—it’s best to try and understand exactly what heartburn is, why it’s happening, which foods are triggering it, and how to treat it naturally.
What Is Heartburn?
Heartburn is completely unrelated to the heart. It is a symptom that is felt when a person has acid reflux. When a person has acid reflux, the lower esophageal sphincter—the seal that separates the esophagus from the stomach—loosens and allows stomach acid into the esophagus.
The stomach is built with a special lining to hold stomach acid, but the esophagus is not. The result is inflammation, irritation, burning, and scarring of the esophagus, which, as you can imagine, causes a lot of pain, burning, and irritation.
Heartburn is a tightness or a burning sensation that a person feels in the chest as a result of acid reflux.
When a person frequently experiences acid reflux, they have what is called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. People who have GERD are at a greater risk for developing other health issues like a chronic cough, laryngitis, asthma, or even esophageal cancer.
The Lowdown on Antacids
Acid reflux and indigestion can be totally debilitating. It’s not surprising that many people turn to over-the-counter and prescription medications to keep symptoms under control. But like most other medications, antacids may come with side effects.
The most common antacids used are H2 blockers and proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), both of which suppress stomach acid production. Short-term effects may be anything from constipation and diarrhea to nausea and vomiting. Long-term effects are more serious, and they may include nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis, and a higher risk of infection.
Not only that, but these drugs only work as long as you take them, and they create dependency. When you stop taking an antacid after having relied on it for a long time, your symptoms will likely get worse.
Avoid the vicious cycle by learning how to manage and prevent acid reflux naturally.
How to Manage Acid Reflux Naturally
1. Avoid These Foods
Since acid is causing your heartburn, you’ll want to avoid acidic foods, like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and onions. Other foods that are known to exacerbate GERD include fatty foods, spicy foods, mint, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, and carbonated drinks.
2. Eat Smaller Meals
The more food you eat, the more digestive juices and stomach acid are produced. You can minimize the amount of stomach acid present by simply cutting down on portion sizes. When you eat small amounts, the risk of stomach acid leaking back into the esophagus is reduced.
3. Don’t Lie Down After Eating
Keep gravity on your side and remain upright after eating to avoid stomach acid going up into the esophagus. Give yourself three hours between dinner and bedtime if you are at risk for GERD.
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight
People who are overweight or obese have a much greater chance of developing GERD. You can alleviate acid reflux and all the nasty symptoms that come with it by losing weight if you are overweight.
5. Baking Soda
Baking soda is a natural antacid because it reduces acidity in the stomach by neutralizing stomach acid. If you can bear the taste, dissolve one teaspoon of baking soda into an 8-oz glass of water and drink. Keep in mind that overuse of baking soda can result in belching, bloating, stomach cramps, and flatulence.
It may sound entirely unappealing to an acid-reflux sufferer to add even more acid to the mix, but many people swear by this natural remedy. The idea is that adding some acid to the stomach will prevent the stomach from overcompensating and producing too much acid like it usually does.
Down a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar straight, or mix it with water and honey to make it a little more bearable.
RELATED: 8 Natural Cures for Acid Reflux
Ginger is an age-old and well-known gastroprotective agent that is proven to relieve symptoms of indigestion, nausea, and upset stomach. (1)(2)(3)
Make yourself a cup of ginger tea using a one-inch piece of ginger in a cup of hot water.
8. Slippery Elm
Slippery elm is a tree native to North America. Its inner bark is used as an herbal remedy for digestive issues, including indigestion, constipation, bloating, diarrhea, and GERD. (4)
Slippery elm works by coating the digestive tract and stimulating mucus secretion, which protects the stomach from ulcers and excess acidity.
Use slippery elm in the powdered bark, capsule, or tincture form to relieve symptoms of indigestion.
If you have recurring acid reflux, chances are that the bacterial balance in your gut is off. It’s time to restore balance by getting that good gut flora in. Not only will this cut down on your heartburn, it will also give your immune system a major boost.
You can increase your intake of probiotics by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, kombucha, and kefir. You can also start taking probiotic supplements, which you can find at your local health food store.
10. Aloe Vera
If you’ve ever slathered on some aloe vera after a sunburn for some sweet relief, then you understand how cooling and soothing this natural remedy is.
Aloe vera is an anti-inflammatory, so it not only helps to soothe an irritated esophagus, but it also settles the stomach, preventing heartburn in the first place.
One study showed that aloe vera is effective in reducing frequencies of the main symptoms of GERD, including heartburn, food regurgitation, flatulence, belching, and nausea. (5)
Sip on some aloe vera juice to prevent or treat acid reflux.
Don’t treat your acid reflux with medications that may pose some serious short-term and long-term effects. Instead, manage and treat your acid reflux with the natural tips, tricks, and remedies listed above. You may be surprised by how a few lifestyle changes will allow you to say bye-bye to heartburn—for good!