What do chocolate, pizza, and pasta al pomodoro have in common (other than they’re delicious)? They can cause heartburn. Are you groaning? Because we certainly are.
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is often a symptom of acid reflux. Though it can feel similar to other forms of indigestion, it is characterized specifically by a burning sensation in the chest that occurs when stomach acid makes its way into the esophagus. Other symptoms may include an unpleasant, acidic taste in the mouth and jaw pain.
“Normally, when a person eats or drinks, food and beverage flow down, and the lower part of the esophagus relaxes to allow the passage of the food and beverage into the stomach, then closes back,” explains dietitian Maya Feller. “Heartburn happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) becomes weakened or relaxed without the presence of food or beverage passing. When this happens, the contents of the stomach can flow back into the esophagus, resulting in the burning sensation along with other symptoms."
“As a naturopathic physician, my question is why is the LES remaining open?” asks Ralph Esposito, ND, LAc. “This is identifying the cause. There are several reasons, but a few include high acid production, low acid production, damaged sphincter, and poor digestive function.” Fortunately, there are ways to prevent heartburn, such as avoiding certain foods, including greasy and fatty foods or making lifestyle changes like eating smaller meals. If, however, you’re experiencing heartburn, there are also foods you could eat ASAP to relieve discomfort.
Ahead, experts share nine at-home remedies for heartburn, including foods to eat and lifestyle modifications that’ll help alleviate heartburn symptoms.
Drink Apple Cider Vinegar and Water
One fix for heartburn involves apple cider vinegar and water. Esposito suggests mixing two tablespoons of ACV with three to five ounces of water to dilute it. More research needs to be done, but it's suggested that drinking a bit of apple cider vinegar will neutralize stomach acid and balance your intestinal pH.
Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
“Eat smaller, more frequent meals,” says Feller, who works with patients seeking weight management and those looking for nutritional management of diet-related chronic illnesses. Feller suggests having four to six light meals versus three large ones. “Smaller meals tend to be easier to digest and reduce stomach pressure resulting from large meals.”
Snack on Licorice
Esposito recommends licorice to help relieve heartburn because it acts to coat the stomach lining and protect the stomach from erosive damage. You can also drink licorice tea to get the benefits without any sugar and with the added soothing effect of hot liquid, which may not relieve the heartburn but certainly feels nice!
There is research to suggest that licorice root consumption can alleviate the symptoms of acid reflux, including heartburn.
Avoid Trigger Foods
Certain foods may trigger your heartburn. Feller suggests keeping track of said personal trigger foods and omitting them from your diet. Culprits may include caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods, beer, and wine. To figure out what sets off your heartburn, write down everything you consume for a few weeks and record whether you develop symptoms afterward. You can also try an elimination diet to pinpoint exactly what foods set you off so that you can avoid them entirely.
Sip Fresh Pineapple Juice
“Pineapple juice contains an enzyme called bromelain, which will help digest proteins,” explains Esposito. According to Healthline, pineapple juice is also high in both fiber and water, two substances that can ease digestion. However, the publication suggests that pineapple, which is an acidic food, may make acid reflux symptoms worse for some. Take it on an individual basis and discontinue the consumption of pineapple juice if you notice your heartburn flaring up even more.
Skip Tight-Fitting Clothing
If you’re prone to heartburn, Feller suggests not wearing clothes that are tight around the waist, such as skinny jeans and snug belts, which can be extremely restrictive. "Tight-fitting clothing puts pressure on the abdomen and may force acid and food in your stomach up into your esophagus," according to On Health. Reach for pants with a stretchy waistband or your favorite flowy dress if you know you're about to have a big, indulgent meal.
Try Ginger Tea
Another at-home remedy is fresh ground ginger tea, which Esposito says helps with digestion and is soothing to the stomach and intestines. Michelle Davenport, PhD, RD, cofounder of Raised Real, suggests eating ginger on its own, which contains gingerol, an anti-inflammatory compound good for soothing digestion.
“It helps keep food moving along the digestive tract and strengthens muscle tone in the digestive tract as well, meaning it keeps that lower esophageal sphincter (connection between stomach and esophagus) tight so that acid can’t come up,” she says.
Reduce Fat Intake
While it might not be fun advice, experts recommend keeping an eye on your fat intake. “Reduce the fat portion of your meal,” suggests Feller, who adds that fat takes longer to digest and can make reflux symptoms worse. While you don't want to skip fats entirely, check out these low-fat meals that are no less delicious. When your body is really craving fats, reach for healthier options like avocado, salmon, and olive oil as opposed to, say, red meat. When in doubt, chat with a nutritionist about what diet plan might be right for you.
Don't Lie Down Immediately After You Eat
This one can be tough to follow after a decadent meal: "Don’t lie down within two hours of eating,” cautions Feller. Note: Be mindful of your bedtime when you have your final meal, shares Davenport. If you tend to crash on the couch after dinner, prop yourself upright with a few pillows so that your chest is positioned above your knees. You'll still be comfy, but the position is less likely to bring on a bout of acid reflux.
Heartburn can be a huge pain (sorry). If you're finding that it's really disrupting your life, see your doctor for more advice about long-term treatment options.