Home heartburn remedies
As well as over-the-counter or prescription treatments for heartburn, some people turn to alternative or complementary approaches for relief.
If heartburn isn’t relieved by medicines or lifestyle changes, seek medical advice as it could be due to GORD - gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.
Do herbal heartburn remedies work?
There isn't much research into herbal remedies for heartburn. However, several products have been registered under the medicine regulator MHRA's Traditional Herbal Registration scheme. This doesn’t mean the herbal remedies have been proven to work, but it does confirm traditional use and good manufacturing standards.
Remedies registered for the relief of heartburn and other digestive problems include:
- Ginger rhizome, milk thistle fruits, holy thistle herb, valerian root, dandelion root and myrrh resin.
- Meadowsweet herb, gentian root and euonymus bark
- Oat seed, peppermint leaf, lemon balm leaf, southern prickly ash berries
- Elm bark powder/slippery elm
Just because herbal remedies may be seen as 'natural', they can still interfere with other medicines so seek medical advice first.
Can drinking milk help my heartburn?
You may have heard that drinking a glass of milk can relieve heartburn. While milk may temporarily buffer stomach acid, nutrients in milk, particularly fat, will stimulate the stomach to produce more acid. Even though milk might not be a great heartburn remedy, it's a rich source of bone-building calcium. Try fat-free skimmed milk, and don't overdo it. Drink no more than 225ml (8floz) of skimmed milk at a time - as a snack in between meals. Overfilling the stomach may increase heartburn.
Is chewing gum an effective way to get heartburn relief?
It may sound strange but gum stimulates the production of saliva, which is an acid buffer. Chewing gum also makes you swallow more often, which pushes those nasty acids back out of your oesophagus. When you pick a packet of gum, make sure it's sugar-free so you also protect your teeth, and avoid peppermint flavour.
Finding heartburn relief at home
A few simple strategies can help soothe the burn of heartburn:
- Watch what you eat. Avoid foods that you find trigger heartburn. Common culprits include peppermint, caffeine, fizzy drinks, chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes and high-fat foods. Eat more fibre to keep your digestive tract moving and healthy. Also reduce your portion sizes. Try eating five or six small meals a day, rather than three big ones. Eating too much at once is a big heartburn trigger.
- Watch when you eat. Push away the plate at least three hours before bedtime so your stomach has a chance to empty before you lie down.
- Watch how you eat. Eat slowly, taking smaller bites.
- Lose weight. Excess abdominal fat can press against the stomach, forcing acids up into the oesophagus. Follow a diet and exercise programme to shed extra pounds.
- Keep a diary. Write down what you've eaten and when your heartburn symptoms occur so you can pinpoint which foods are your triggers and avoid them.
- Stub out the cigarettes. Smoking can reduce the effectiveness of the muscle that keeps acids in the stomach. For this - and so many other health reasons - it's always the perfect time to stop smoking.
- Loosen your belt. Ditch the skin-tight jeans. Tight clothes put added pressure on the abdomen.
- Tilt up. Put wood blocks under your bed to raise the head about 15cm (6in). Don't bother raising your pillows, though - it's not effective for heartburn.
- Work it out. Exercise may protect against the acid reflux that leads to heartburn.