You enjoyed that spicy burrito for dinner, but then it hits you — that uncomfortable feeling in your chest that can only mean one thing: heartburn.
Heartburn can be a normal part of life for many people. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, about 60 million Americans have heartburn at least once a month, and it's estimated that as many as 15 million have heartburn every day.
Along with working with a doctor to assess and manage your symptoms, there are also some steps you can take to stop acid reflux naturally. Here are some acid reflux remedies that may help get rid of heartburn without antacids.
If you regularly have heartburn more than two or three times per week, see a doctor, because your symptoms may be due to a more serious condition called GERD.
1. Eat Smaller Portions
You might find acid reflux relief by limiting how much you eat at one time, dietitian Holly Dykstra, RDN, tells LIVESTRONG.com. Making sure your stomach doesn't get too full may help prevent reflux in the first place.
Dykstra suggests eating several smaller meals rather than two or three larger meals during the day, to see if it makes a difference in your symptoms.
"Large meals can overfill the stomach and prevent the esophageal sphincter from working appropriately, leading to reflux," she notes.
2. Remain Upright for an Hour or Two After Eating
To get rid of heartburn at night especially, avoid eating too soon before bedtime or eating and then lying down on the couch, Dykstra says. Going horizontal makes it more likely that acid will flow backward into your esophagus.
If you find it difficult to avoid eating before to bedtime, you can try elevating the head of your bed to stay upright as you sleep. The Mayo Clinic recommends inserting a wedge between your mattress and box spring to do the trick (propping yourself up with extra pillows usually doesn't help).
Does Eating Slowly Help Heartburn?
One of the old-fashioned heartburn remedies is chewing food thoroughly and slowing down when you're eating, but research doesn't support this idea. A 2013 comparative study in the Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology found that eating speed had no significant effect on reflux attacks in people with GERD.
3. Get to a Healthy Weight
According to Dykstra, being at a healthy weight is one of the most helpful steps you can take to manage your acid reflux symptoms. Especially if you have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25 or have a large waist circumference, you may find heartburn relief simply from losing weight.
"This is because excess fat around the abdomen increases pressure on the stomach, and that can lead to reflux," Dykstra says. "Even a 5- to 10-pound weight loss can make a difference."
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4. Avoid or Cut Down on Smoking and Drinking
If you're a smoker, it's time to quit, and if you regularly drink alcohol, it's definitely worth considering cutting back or staying sober altogether.
"Both smoking and drinking alcohol have been known to irritate the digestive tract, so if there is already some inflammation and reflux happening, these habits may make the situation worse," Dykstra explains.
5. Get Regular Exercise
A regular exercise routine can help strengthen all muscles in the body, and that includes the ones in your digestive tract, Dykstra says. (Who knew?)
As a bonus: Exercise may also reduce the risk of constipation, which can in turn help reduce acid reflux.
"Constipation can increase stomach volume and therefore cause the sphincter not to work properly," Dykstra explains. "So if constipation is present, it can be helpful to treat."
It doesn't matter what kind of workout you do, so long as you enjoy it and keep it up.
Sometimes, getting active can trigger that burning feeling, but don't let that deter you from working out — instead, learn about small changes you can make to handle heartburn during exercise.
6. Avoid Trigger Foods
Heartburn triggers can vary from person to person, but in general, Dykstra notes that these are the foods to avoid with acid reflux:
- Spicy foods, including those with hot peppers, chili powder, curry powder or hot sauce
- Caffeine (in coffee, tea, soda or chocolate)
- Tomatoes or tomato-based foods like tomato sauce, ketchup and tomato paste
- Citrus fruits, like lemons, grapefruit, limes and oranges
- Carbonated beverages, including soda and seltzer
- High-fat foods, especially fried foods and those made with a lot of butter, cream or oil-based dressings
- Spearmint or peppermint, like in gum, mints or tea (although these are debated, and there's limited data on whether they worsen heartburn)
- Alcoholic beverages
Because everyone responds to food differently, it may be helpful to keep a food diary, noting what you eat and when you have heartburn, to help you figure out which foods trigger symptoms for you.
7. Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
Overall, Dykstra recommends sticking to a nutrient-dense, balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, because eating enough fiber is a natural remedy for acid reflux.
"Produce is high in fiber and also provides helpful antioxidants that can help reduce chronic inflammation," she says.
Indeed, diets low in fiber are associated with delayed gastric emptying and poor gut motility (when food doesn't move through your system as quickly as it should), which can cause acid reflux and increase the risk of GERD, per a June 2018 study in World Journal of Gastroenterology. Fiber may also help neutralize stomach acid.
Beyond fruits and veggies, high-fiber foods include:
- Seeds, including flaxseed and sunflower seeds
- Nuts, including pistachios and almonds
8. Make Your Peace With Milk
Here's a riddle for you: Does milk help with acid reflux? The answer is...yes and no.
Milk can temporarily reduce acid reflux symptoms in some people, but in other people, it can actually aggravate their symptoms. The only way to know is to pay attention to how milk affects you personally.
If you do decide that milk relieves heartburn fast for you, Dykstra suggest sticking to fat-free or 1 percent milk because the fat content in 2 percent or whole milk could make reflux symptoms worse.
So, What Can You Drink for Acid Reflux?
Reach for the following drinks to avoid that burning sensation in your throat or chest:
- Water (avoid sparkling water)
- Coconut water
- Caffeine-free herbal teas, such as chamomile (avoid spearmint or peppermint)
- Plant-based milks, such as almond or coconut milk
- Non-acidic juices, such as carrot or cabbage juice (avoid tomato, apple, pineapple and citrus juices like orange juice)
- Smoothies made with plant-based milk, leafy greens and low-acid fruit, such as watermelon or pear
9. Pay Attention to Other Symptoms
If you notice any additional digestive symptoms besides heartburn — such as nausea, diarrhea, bloating or vomiting — it is important you discuss those with a doctor to see if there may be additional causes behind your acid reflux.
For instance, Dykstra point out that sometimes gluten or lactose intolerance can cause digestive symptoms, including reflux.
What About Baking Soda for Acid Reflux?
You may have heard that baking soda acts as a natural antacid and helps with acid reflux, but there's no research to support this idea. Plus, baking soda is high in sodium and can cause uncomfortable side effects such as gas and burping, so it's best to avoid this old-fashioned remedy.
When to See a Doctor for Acid Reflux
If you are having frequent, recurrent acid reflux or if your acid reflux is interfering with your quality of life, you should schedule a check-up with your doctor. Your doctor can help you determine what may be behind your heartburn and work with you to manage your symptoms.
Your doctor can also assess you for a more severe form of acid reflux called GERD, which might require more treatment, like medication or even surgery. It could also be gastric ulcer disease, which can be dangerous if left untreated.
"Acid reflux is usually easily treated with diet and lifestyle changes," Dykstra says. "However, it is possible that other conditions are causing it, such as infection, food intolerances or other disorders. It's important to discuss symptoms with your physician to determine the cause."
She also recommends seeking help from a registered dietitian. "The goal is to avoid restricting foods if possible," she says, "and a dietitian can help you figure out how to do that."
Is This an Emergency?
- American College of Gastroenterology: "Acid Reflux"
- Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine: “Efficacy and Safety of Aloe Vera Syrup for the Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: a Pilot Randomized Positive-Controlled Trial”
- Mayo Clinic: "Heartburn-Symptoms and Causes"
- Mayo Clinic: "Heartburn: Diagnosis & Treatment"
- Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology: "The effect of the speed of eating on acid reflux and symptoms of patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease"
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Fiber-enriched diet helps to control symptoms and improves esophageal motility in patients with non-erosive gastroesophageal reflux disease"