You indulge in a favorite food, and not long after, it hits: the sour, unpleasant churn in your stomach, maybe paired with the familiar, low-level heat of heartburn. Pop an antacid, again? While those can be useful, there are also natural strategies for getting back on track.
How Stomach Acid Works
Before considering tactics for dealing with stomach acid, it's helpful to know the role it plays — because you don't want to knock out this acid completely.
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Cells within the stomach, known as the parietal cells, are responsible for producing and secreting gastric acid, which is critical for breaking down food and for activating the enzymes needed for digestion, according to December 2016 review in Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology. The lining of the stomach is protected from acid by cells that produce mucus and a substance called bicarbonate, explains the American Pancreatic Association. This acts as a defense mechanism to neutralize the stomach acid.
When there's too much stomach acid, though, this process can get disrupted and leave the stomach lining more vulnerable. It can also aggravate acid reflux symptoms, as stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Dealing With Acid Reflux
Although there are prescription medications that can be taken if acid reflux is something you're experiencing regularly, there are some natural remedies for heartburn and excess stomach acid, including lifestyle changes, that can help you deal with the issue in the short-term. For instance:
Alkaline foods. Alkaline foods can help neutralize stomach acids, according to Colleen Christensen, RDN, a registered dietitian/nutritionist in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Some foods that are alkaline — also referred to as having a "higher pH" — include bananas, melons, almonds, carrots, cabbage, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peas, lentils and green leafy vegetables. Not only can these soothe the stomach, Christensen says, but they're also packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, along with some healthy fats.
Water. Acid reflux, which occurs when the acid in your stomach "backs up" and goes upward instead of into your digestive tract, may come as a result of dehydration, says registered dietitian Martha Lawder, MS, RDN, adjunct professor at California State University, Sacramento.
"Your body uses water in many ways, and one of them is to produce stomach acid," she states. "While this might seem counterintuitive, drinking water may actually help your digestive system work more effectively when producing stomach acid and help lessen those acid reflux symptoms."
Fiber. When it's been a few hours since you had a meal, consider eating a modest, high-fiber snack to calm the acid, Lawder says. A choice like cut-up veggies with hummus or a small bowl of oatmeal with sliced fruit would be ideal, she says. "High-fiber snacks help lower acid in a few different ways," she notes. "The snack provides some bulk to the stomach to help use the stomach acid, and the fiber helps to slow digestion so the acid has time to work."
Things to Keep in Mind
While foods with a higher pH can be beneficial, those with a lower pH may exacerbate the issue because they're more acidic, according to Christensen. Examples of acidic foods include pineapple, tomatoes, blueberries and processed meats, she says.
Stress and anxiety can also contribute to stomach acid flare-ups, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports.
Though some people think that honey can ease acid reflux, there's no evidence to support that conclusively. However, putting a little in some chamomile tea can be helpful, Christensen says, because it helps calm the nerves. She also suggests deep breathing and relaxation through gentle exercise.
Medications known as NSAIDs (the acronym for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) — which include over-the-counter options like ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen, as well as prescription meds like Celebrex — may increase the amount of inflammation in your stomach, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery. They can also reduce the mucus that would help soothe your stomach naturally and interfere with cell repair, according to a February 2018 review in the journal Gastroenterology.
If you're experiencing discomfort after using NSAIDs, talk with your doctor about other options. Lifestyle changes and shifts in your eating habits should help, but if you're still struggling with problems like heartburn and indigestion, check in with your doctor, who can determine if there's a more significant concern.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Heartburn”
- Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology: "Gastric Hypersecretory States: Investigation and Management"
- American Pancreatic Association: "Regulation of Pancreatic Secretion"
- Colleen Christensen, RDN, dietitian/nutritionist, Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Martha Lawder, MS, RDN, dietitian, adjunct professor, California State University, Sacramento
- Hospital for Special Surgery: "Guidelines to Reduce the Side Effects of NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs)"
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: "How to Calm an Anxious Stomach: The Brain-Gut Connection"
- Gastroenterology: "Mechanisms of Damage to the Gastrointestinal Tract From Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.