Heartburn hurts – but so can overzealous treatment, concluded a recent collection of studies in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which looked at proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) – the powerful drugs that shut off production of stomach acid.
PPIs are effective, but heavily used. Researchers have found that hospital patients who take PPI are more likely to be infected with Clostridium difficile, a dangerous superbug. For older women, long-term use increases the odds of breaking a bone. For milder symptoms, an antacid may be all that is needed, say Dr. Mark Naunton, the deputy head of pharmacy at Charles Darwin University, who has studied the use of PPI in Australia.
In the case of more troublesome or ongoing symptoms, talk to your doctor. “It is important that people ask their doctor or pharmacist for a medication review,” says Nauton. “In my experience, patients do get left on PPIs or are put on higher doses than necessary.”
Lifestyle changes are unlikely to make a big difference to people with severe heartburn, says Nauton, but sometimes avoiding certain foods means people experience heartburn less frequently.
Here are some simple remedies that may help with mild heartburn:
It gets saliva flowing, which can prevent stomach acid from burning your esophagus.
The root is a traditional stomach soother, so try some candied ginger or a cup of ginger tea after a meal. To make tea, grate the root, steep in hot water for a few minutes, and strain.
Eat a banana or an apple
Bananas contain natural antacids that can act as a buffer against acid reflux. If you want to try out the simplest home remedies for heartburn first, try letting a few bananas ripen up nicely and eating one every day. Another option is to try an apple a day. Slice one up and eat it a couple of hours before bedtime to relieve or prevent discomfort.
A spoonful of sodium bicarbonate, or teaspoon-full to be exact, can help put an end to the gnawing, burning, sensation of heartburn caused by acid reflux. Baking soda, as sodium bicarbonate is more commonly known, can help your reflux and in turn help your heartburn because it is a base substance. It has a pH higher than 7.0, and therefore neutralizes stomach acid. Neutralizing the stomach acid means that if/when your LES decides to be lazy and acid comes up your throat, you don’t get “burned.”
Mix either a ½ teaspoon or 1 single teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of water that is no more than 8 ounces. Give it a good stir and drink all of the mixture. You can repeat this as needed but should not exceed seven ½ teaspoon doses in a 24 hour period. Also, avoid using this as a remedy for more than a week straight, as it is high in salt and can have side effects such as swelling or nausea.
Chin up (and don’t lie down)
Heartburn tends to get worse at night, thanks to the fact that you’re lying down when you sleep. Gravity works against you, and it’s easier for the digested contents of your stomach to back up into your esophagus, along with acid. Try elevating your head about 6 inches when you sleep by placing bricks, books, or blocks under the legs at the head of your bed. You could also try a wedge-shaped pillow under your mattress, but doesn’t simply pile up extra pillows as it’s easy to slip off of them at night. Don’t lie down within 3-4 hours after eating, because lying down with a full stomach makes stomach contents press harder against your lower esophageal sphincter.