Whether you get heartburn, throat irritation or a nasty taste in your mouth, the symptoms of acid reflux can be unpleasant. Luckily, lifestyle changes can help prevent or manage the condition. Enter chewing gum for acid reflux, a tactic that may help ease your discomfort.
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But first, the basics: Acid reflux is a condition where your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) weakens or relaxes when it shouldn't, allowing stomach contents like food or acid to flow backwards into your esophagus, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when you have chronic or severe acid reflux, and the condition can cause damage to the esophagus or lead to cancer.
According to the NLM, the symptoms of GERD and acid reflux include:
- A dry cough that won't stop
- Trouble swallowing
- Bad breath
- A sour taste in your mouth
- Excessive burping
You can prevent or ease the condition with certain changes to your diet and lifestyle, such as knowing which foods to avoid with GERD (like high-fat foods, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol and citrus), according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD).
Lifestyle habits can also make a difference. That's where gum for acid reflux comes in. So, how exactly does gum help acid reflux? We talked to an expert to find out.
You can also manage your symptoms with natural remedies for heartburn, like eating smaller portions, sitting upright after meals and exercising.
Gum and Acid Reflux
"Studies and clinical reports have found that gum may actually help minimize gastric reflux, especially after eating a meal," says Kristi King, RDN, LD, senior pediatric dietitian at Houston-based Texas Children's Hospital, clinical instructor at Baylor College of Medicine and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
This is how chewing gum helps acid reflux: "[It] increases saliva production in the mouth. Increased saliva causes frequent swallowing. The saliva will actually act as a neutralizer to the stomach acid," King says. "Important to note: Saliva will not reduce the amount of acid that the stomach has produced, but it can raise the pH (acidity level) so that it is more neutral."
Chewing gum can also help neutralize the acid in your esophagus, potentially relieving irritation, according to the IFFGD.
So, chewing gum does help acid reflux. But when should you use it? According to an older November 2005 study in the Journal of Dental Research, people with reflux who chewed sugar-free gum for a half hour after eating experienced less reflux.
However, the study only included 31 people, so newer and larger studies are needed to better establish when you should be chewing gum for acid reflux.
Mint Chewing Gum for Acid Reflux
But not just any stick of gum will do — some varieties are worse than others. For instance, peppermint gum is not good for acid reflux.
In fact, King says any kind of mint could be a trigger. While there's no scientific evidence that peppermint or spearmint does cause acid reflux or GERD directly, "if you already suffer from GERD, it could potentially make symptoms worse," King says.
Why? According to the IFFGD, spearmint or peppermint can relax your LES muscle, the gatekeeper between your esophagus and stomach. If your LES doesn't close properly, stomach acids can seep back up into the esophagus.
But King says the jury is still out on whether mint gums have an effect on acid reflux. "Again, no scientific studies show that mint makes symptoms worse — only individual patient experiences reported," she says.
Mint is known as a natural smooth muscle relaxant, she says, which could include the esophagus. However, she says, not all research points to spearmint having any effect on the LES.
Ultimately, "nutrition is an individual thing," King says. "When it comes to spearmint gum and whether it's good — or bad — for reflux, you have to decide for yourself. It will just depend on your body, your symptoms and your tolerance."
Translation: If it is a trigger for you, it is best to avoid it.
The worst and best foods for acid reflux can vary from person to person, so keeping a food diary to track symptoms and what you eat may help you identify your triggers, per the IFFGD. In general though, developing an acid reflux diet that includes plenty of fiber — like the fiber in the best fruits and vegetables for GERD — can help keep symptoms at bay.
Best Gum for Acid Reflux
If you want to chew gum to try and help reduce reflux, King says any sugar-free gum or flavor will do the trick. She says the sugar-free factor, though, isn't so much to help your GERD — "it's more to reduce exposure of sugar to your teeth and keep your dentist happy."
And chew on this: As you may have experienced, if you take medications to help alleviate your reflux, they can make your mouth dry, per the American Dental Association (ADA).
Chewing sugar-free gum is a good antidote for dry mouth because it accelerates saliva production. Saliva is good for your mouth, not only because it helps neutralize the acids from reflux, but because it also helps wash away bacteria that can attack your teeth and cause cavities.
Gum with bicarbonate may be another solid option when it comes to reflux relief. Here's what bicarbonate gum is: It's gum that contains a base (that is, a non-acidic substance) that your body also naturally produces to help keep its pH balance in check, per the National Kidney Foundation.
And indeed, chewing bicarbonate gum for acid reflux may help ease symptoms. According to an older December 2001 study in the Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology, chewing sugarless, bicarbonate gum helped neutralize acidic pH levels in the esophagus of people with potential laryngopharyngeal reflux better than non-bicarbonate sugarless gum.
However, this study only included 20 people, so newer and larger studies are needed to explore the best bicarbonate gum for acid reflux.
Still, a more recent April 2016 study in the International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry found that chewing sugar-free bicarbonate gum also helped counteract a more acidic pH in the saliva.
That said, this was also a smaller study of only 30 people, and the study authors concluded that this change in pH is good for overall oral health, not acid reflux specifically.
If you have frequent reflux, it's important to see your dentist regularly so your teeth stay healthy, according to the ADA.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Acid reflux, Heartburn, and GERD: What’s the difference?"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Diet Changes for GERD"
- Journal of Dental Research: "The effect of chewing sugar-free gum on gastro-esophageal reflux"
- American Dental Association: "Erosion: Stomach Upset and Your Teeth"
- International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry: "Effect of Chewing Bicarbonate-containing Sugar-free Gum on the Salivary pH: An in vivo Study"
- Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology: "Effects of gum chewing on pharyngeal and esophageal pH"
- National Kidney Foundation: "Kidney Failure Risk Factor: Serum Bicarbonate"