Nothing ruins a good meal like following it up with uncomfortable heartburn. Don’t pop an antacid just yet – try these natural fixes instead.
If you’ve felt that familiar burning sensation in your chest after dinner, you’re not alone – about 46 percent of people experience heartburn on a regular basis. (1)
Grabbing an over-the-counter medication might help relieve immediate symptoms, but does little to fix this painful digestive symptom at its core. So what can you do to get rid of it for good?
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What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is a type of indigestion that produces a burning sensation in the stomach, abdomen, or chest. It can be related to acid reflux, which is a condition where contents of the stomach, including digestive juices, re-enter the esophagus and irritate the tender tissue.
When heartburn or acid reflux become a regular way of life, they can be associated with GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition in which the esophagus becomes damaged from chronic exposure to digestive fluids, sometimes resulting in esophageal cancer.
Heartburn in and of itself is not a disease but is a symptom of a digestive problem. When people aim to treat this symptom alone without digging for a root cause, it can often remain a chronic problem and at times progress into a chronic condition or disease.
Common Causes of Heartburn
Heartburn can be triggered by numerous things, including: (2, 3)
- Medication side effects
- Hiatal hernia
- Hormone imbalances
- Lack of stomach acid
- Food intolerance or allergy
- Digestive disorders
- Frequent use of antacids
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Being over or underweight
- Older age
Symptoms of heartburn can sometimes be easy to miss since it isn’t only a burning feeling in the stomach. Other symptoms of heartburn can include: (4)
- Reduced appetite
- Gurgling noises in the stomach
- Gas, belching, or bloating after meals
- Inability to lie down after meals
- Feelings of burning or heat in the lower esophagus, chest, stomach, or abdomen, especially after meals
- Sour taste in mouth
- Pain or irritation in the throat
- Bad breath
6 Natural Ways to Get Rid of Heartburn
While most medical advice will involve taking antacids to address heartburn, unfortunately, this only addresses the symptom and not the root cause. While it’s always wise to seek medical advice, when it comes to heartburn, be sure to find a practitioner who is well-versed in digestive health.
Addressing heartburn naturally can be done in a few simple ways.
1. Improve Digestion
We live in an age of rushed meals and fast foods, and this speedy eating often results in digestive discomfort. When we scarf down our food without chewing properly, we leave more of the digestive process to be done in the stomach. When the stomach doesn’t contain enough acid to get the job done, it simply can’t break down food quickly enough. This results in the feelings of burning or regurgitation that can occur.
Better digestion starts with chewing food much longer than you think you need to, but it doesn’t end there. Other ways to support digestion include avoiding hard-to-digest food groups, like grains and legumes, and focusing on plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, which contain enzymes that can boost digestive function and gut health.
Eating smaller portions can also help to reduce the burden on the stomach at any single time and lead to more efficient digestion.
2. Reduce dietary triggers
Certain foods cause or worsen heartburn more than others. Common foods that exacerbate stomach acid problems are typically harder to digest, spicy, or loaded with processed fats and carbs. They can include:
- Vegetable oil and other refined oils
- Synthetic additives
- Fried foods
- Spicy foods
- Sugar, including both natural and artificial sweeteners
- Citrus fruits
While some of these foods won’t necessarily need to be avoided forever, some people will find that due to food sensitivity, certain foods will always tend to provoke heartburn or digestive upset.
3. Exercise Regularly
If you normally experience heartburn when you’re lying down to sleep at night, it’s likely related to obesity and a lack of daily exercise. (5) While heartburn can occur in people who are not overweight, carrying extra weight in the midsection can contribute because of extra pressure on the stomach and organs.
Take daily walks, engage in yoga, and stick with a Paleo, whole foods diet to promote natural weight loss. When you maintain a healthier weight, you’ll be less likely to experience nocturnal heartburn.
4. Reduce Caffeine and Alcohol
Stimulants like caffeine and alcohol can worsen heartburn and other digestive-related disorders like hernias and ulcers. These substances can alter the digestive tract, leading to a worsened effect on digestive ability.
The acidic nature of coffee, alcohol, and other caffeinated beverages can also cause irritation to the lining of the stomach, which can increase inflammation and reduce normal stomach acid production in response to food ready for digestion.
While caffeine and alcohol don’t have to be entirely avoided, they should be consumed infrequently, and never at night to minimize acid-based discomfort that could cause sleep disturbances.
5. Manage Stress
Your parasympathetic “rest and digest” system to be switched on to be effective, but when you’re stressed or overwhelmed, that means your sympathetic nervous system has the wheel. The “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system can spare your life if you need to flee a hungry bear, but in order for you to digest your food efficiently, you need to get into the parasympathetic state.
Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and spending time in nature are all ways to activate the parasympathetic response, and will give you great digestion-boosting results.
6. Boost Stomach Acid
If heartburn has been a chronic problem, you may need to help supplement your stomach acid until it can eventually produce more. This can be done by taking digestive enzymes, which are usually found in capsule form, and might contain pepsin or HCL.
You can also skip the supplements and drink apple cider vinegar before or after meals to improve stomach acid and reduce heartburn. To use ACV as a digestive aid, mix a tablespoon with two ounces of water and drink before meals, or take one or two straight tablespoons after meals to combat heartburn.
7. Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods
Foods that are unprocessed, not spicy, and rich in nutrients are generally easiest to digest. This does not mean that you must eat a bland diet though!
Nourishing foods like bone broth, coconut yogurt, grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, squash, leafy greens, ginger, and healthy fats like salmon and avocado are all easy to digest and produce a low rate of heartburn. They can also be flavorful, savory, and satisfying.
By focusing on foods that are minimally processed and contain no unnatural ingredients, you take the pressure off your digestive system.
Heartburn is a symptom of a digestive problem that can be addressed through diet and lifestyle changes. If your heartburn is chronic and doesn’t respond to any of these natural methods, get medically evaluated to ensure that you don’t have GERD or another digestive-related complication.
(Read This Next: The Gut-Brain Connection: How Stress Triggers Gut Problems)