Natural Heartburn Relief

December 7, 2016 (Updated: August 22, 2018)
Lily Moran

Inside your body is an environment so hostile, you’d burn up if you had to live in it. It’s your stomach, a roiling inferno of harsh acids—which are the source of heartburn.  In a healthy body, they’re well controlled. Heartburn happens when some of those acids escape the protection of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). That’s a muscle between the bottom of your throat, or esophagus, and the top of your stomach.

A healthy LES is a little like a drawstring that only opens to let food pass down into the stomach, or to let burping or vomit pass up and out of you—otherwise, it should stay tightly closed.

But the LES sometimes opens when you don’t want it to, or doesn’t close tightly enough, letting stomach acid seep into your throat—and it burns like crazy.

But, before you reach for that antacid…

Most folks immediately reach for the Tums, the Rolaids or some other OTC/Rx acid blocker. All this really does is prevent your body from producing the acids you need to digest your foods properly.

Reducing them with a drug not only side-steps the root of the problem, if prevents you from breaking down your foods into vital nutrients. Plus, they come with some awful side-effects, over the long term, that include increased risk of infection, bone fracture, and magnesium deficiency, which can lead to seizure and muscle spasm. Natural antacid alternatives are better.

Strengthen your LES

If you want to close the drawstring tight again, one supplement that can help is melatonin. As a bonus, it will also help with the sleeplessness that weakens your LES. As always, you should take 6 mg of melatonin about a half hour before bed time. This is a  much larger dose than I would recommend just to help you get to sleep, so make sure that you’re ready to lie down and conk out when you take it.

Why we feel the burn

There are two main causes of the heartburn that some 20 percent of Americans experience weekly:

  • Too much food in the stomach (overeating)
  • Too much pressure on the stomach (frequently caused by obesity, pregnancy, or constipation)

There are also foods that relax the LES, including:

  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated products
  • Peppermint

Other causes of heartburn include:

  • Meals high in fats and oils
  • Stress and lack of sleep
  • Smoking, which relaxes the LES and stimulates stomach acid

Some medications also make heartburn more likely, including aspirin, ibuprofen, pain relievers, and many:

  • Antibiotics
  • Sedatives, anti-depressants
  • Iron supplements
  • Blood pressure meds
  • Osteoporosis meds
  • Potassium supplements

If you’re taking meds of any kind, be sure you and your doctor know if they’re the cause of any heartburn you might experience.  And if they are, be sure you don’t double down by adding diet-related heartburn to that discomfort.

Natural heartburn relief fights fire with diet

The next time those spicy dumplings win you over again, here are ways to eat or sip your way out of pain.

Ginger Tea

There are many reasons to root for this fabled root.  It’s an anti-inflammatory, which makes it the go-to choice for just about every ailment known—including heartburn. Just add a big tablespoon of grated or peeled ginger to boiling water and let it steep, covered, for at least five minutes—the longer, the better.  You can add some honey for its taste and additional health benefits.

Bananas

Our mellow yellow friend is a low-acid sweetheart that coats and soothes your sad esophagus, putting a barrier between that tender flesh and your stomach acids.

Oatmeal

Another highly respected health multi-tasker, fiber-rich oatmeal coats and protects your stomach lining, calming some of the acidic fire.  Don’t add milk or cream—they’re on the list of fats that relax the LES.  Unsweetened almond, soy, or rice milk are fine. In fact, you might want to look into savory oatmeal, and combine with our next food star…

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Leafy greens

There’s a reason why many smart food cultures save the salad for the end of the meal. Raw lettuce is low in fat, so it can both prevent heartburn and ease the pain if it’s already there. Veggies like broccoli, asparagus, green beans, celery, and cauliflower do a great job as well. Just avoid creamy dressings and don’t add cheese.  Dress with a little olive oil and some lemon juice.

Fennel

Like ginger, fennel seeds make a powerful anti-inflammatory tea. Combine two teaspoons of seeds with honey and cover with boiling water.  Let the tea steep, covered, for 30 minutes, strain and it’s good to go. Keep extra in the fridge so it’s ready when you need it.  Chewing a few seeds during the day will help maintain a calm stomach—and freshen your breath, too.

Pure licorice

Here’s yet another amazingly versatile root that gains its powers living in the embrace of earth’s life-giving soil. Its extract can lower stomach acid levels and put a protective coating on the esophagus.  Make sure it’s pure licorice, from a health food provider—not from the sugar-bludgeoned candy counter.

Kefir and aloe

Use juice from the succulent aloe plant, best known as a burn remedy, plus kefir, a fermented milk drink similar to yogurt.  The aloe reduces inflammation and heals the entire digestive tract, and the alkaline kefir neutralizes excess acids. Add a teaspoon of aloe juice to a few ounces of kefir and relax.

The prevention A-list

Now that we’ve covered remedies for heartburn that’s happening, here are ways to keep it from happening in the first place. Funny how many start with “A.”

Almond milk

If you expect the day’s menu will include something heartburning, try almond milk beforehand, straight or in a smoothie. It’s alkaline, so it neutralizes troublemaking acids.   If your smoothie includes heartburn fighters and fiber providers like bananas and greens (see below), they’ll remain in your digestive system longer than the almond milk alone, so those dumplings later might not be so risky.

Add aloe

I mentioned aloe vera juice with kefir as a curative.  As a preventive, adding it to your daily diet can work wonders.

Here’s one way to do it—a daily smoothie that will give you a delicious boatload of essential nutrients and keep your whole body, not just your LES, in top condition.

  • ½ pound strawberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ cup plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt
  • ½ cup rice, almond, or hemp milk
  • 2 tablespoons organic raw honey
  • 8 tablespoons aloe vera gel

You can add the aloe to just about anything in the same proportions: 8 tablespoons per cup of a “carrier” ingredient, like the yogurt and milk ingredients above, or even plain good water.

Add artichokes

Artichokes are loaded with a substance called cynarin, which stimulates the production of the acidic bile that breaks down fats and absorbs vitamins and other nutrients. Tip: the heart is delicious and gives us nice mouthfuls, but it’s the leaves that pack the anti-heartburn punch. Avoid creamy dipping sauces. Olive oil with lemon juice is the way to go.

Add apple cider vinegar

For some people, heartburn is caused by insufficient stomach acids. Apple cider vinegar makes up the shortage and improves digestive efficiency.  A teaspoon in a glass of water after meals is usually all it takes. You’ll get bonus antibacterial action as well

Add okra

A staple of US southern cooking, okra is coming on strong as a heartburn preventer.  In many ways similar to healthy greens like kale and broccoli, okra has an oversized load of slippery, anti-adhesive polysaccharides, which prevent harmful bacteria from sticking to the stomach lining and spreading from there.

Probiotics

Our entire system relies on probiotics, the “good” bacteria that live in our gut. When they’re out of whack, everything and anything can go wrong, from our cardiovascular and immune systems to our digestive system.  The absolute best way to keep our gut bacteria in good shape is with probiotics. They’re in yogurt and fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, buttermilk, kimchi, cheese, miso, and tempeh.  As the type and amount of probiotics in foods vary widely, I recommend a quality supplement.

Happy eating—feel the un-burn.

Take good care.

References

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