Ways to prevent heartburn and acid reflux

14 natural ways to reduce your acid reflux and heartburn

Simple dietary and lifestyle changes can go a long way toward alleviating and preventing heartburn and acid reflux. We explore 14 science-backed options.

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Most of us are all too familiar with the painful, burning sensation in the center of the chest that’s associated with heartburn.

Up to 28% of adults in North America experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a common condition that causes heartburn. GERD occurs when acid is pushed up from the stomach back into the esophagus, which leads to the heartburn sensation.

Although people often use medications to treat acid reflux and heartburn, many lifestyle modifications can also help you reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Here are 14 natural ways to reduce your acid reflux and heartburn, all backed by scientific research.

1. Chew gum

A few older studies have shown that chewing gum may help decrease acidity in the esophagus.

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Gum that contains bicarbonate appears to be especially effective, as it can help neutralize acid to prevent reflux.

Chewing gum can also increase saliva production, which may help clear the esophagus of acid.

However, more up-to-date research is needed to determine whether chewing gum can help treat acid reflux or relieve the symptoms of heartburn.

Summary: Chewing gum increases the formation of saliva and may help clear the esophagus of stomach acid.

2. Sleep on your left side

Several studies have found that sleeping on your right side may worsen reflux symptoms at night.

In fact, according to one review, lying on your left side may decrease acid exposure in the esophagus by up to 71%.

Although the reason is not entirely clear, it could be explained by anatomy.

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The esophagus enters the right side of the stomach. As a result, the lower esophageal sphincter sits above the level of stomach acid when you sleep on your left side.

On the other hand, when you lie on your right side, stomach acid covers the lower esophageal sphincter, increasing the risk of reflux.

While sleeping on the left side all night may not always be possible, it could help make you more comfortable as you fall asleep.

Summary: If you experience acid reflux at night, try sleeping on the left side of your body.

3. Elevate the head of your bed

Some people experience reflux symptoms during the night, which can affect sleep quality and make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Changing the position that you sleep in by elevating the head of your bed could help reduce symptoms of acid reflux and improve sleep quality.

One review of four studies found that elevating the head of the bed decreased acid reflux and improved symptoms like heartburn and regurgitation in people with GERD.

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Another study showed that people who used a wedge to elevate their upper body while sleeping experienced less acid reflux compared with when they slept flat.

Summary: Elevating the head of your bed may reduce your reflux symptoms at night.

4. Eat dinner earlier

Healthcare professionals often advise people with acid reflux to avoid eating within the 3 hours before they go to sleep.

That’s because lying horizontally after a meal makes digestion more difficult, potentially worsening GERD symptoms.

According to one review, eating a late-night meal increased acid exposure when lying down by 5%, compared with eating earlier in the evening.

Another study including 817 people with type 2 diabetes found that eating dinner late at night was associated with a higher risk of acid reflux.

Still, more studies are needed before solid conclusions can be made about the effect of late evening meals on GERD. It may also depend on the individual.

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Summary: Observational studies suggest that eating close to bedtime may worsen acid reflux symptoms at night. However, the evidence is inconclusive, and more studies are needed.

5. Opt for cooked onions instead of raw

Raw onions are a common trigger for acid reflux and heartburn.

One older study in people with acid reflux showed that eating a meal containing raw onion significantly increased heartburn, acid reflux, and burping, compared with consuming an identical meal that didn’t contain onions.

More frequent burping might suggest that more gas is being produced. This could be due to the high amounts of fermentable fiber in onions.

Raw onions are also more difficult to digest and might irritate the lining of the esophagus, causing worsened heartburn.

Whatever the reason, if you think eating raw onion makes your symptoms worse, you should avoid it and opt for cooked onions instead.

Summary: Some people experience worsened heartburn and other reflux symptoms after eating raw onions.

6. Eat smaller, more frequent meals

There’s a ring-like muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter where the esophagus opens into the stomach.

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It acts as a valve and normally prevents the acidic contents of the stomach from going up into the esophagus. It typically stays closed but may open when you swallow, belch, or vomit.

In people with acid reflux, this muscle is weakened or dysfunctional. Acid reflux can also occur when there’s too much pressure on the muscle, causing acid to squeeze through the opening.

Unsurprisingly, most reflux symptoms take place after a meal. It also seems that eating just one to two large meals per day may worsen reflux symptoms.

Therefore, eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day may help reduce symptoms of acid reflux.

Summary: Acid reflux usually increases after meals, and larger meals seem to make it worse. Therefore, eating smaller, more frequent meals may be beneficial.

7. Maintain a moderate weight

The diaphragm is a muscle located above your stomach. Normally, the diaphragm naturally strengthens the lower esophageal sphincter, which prevents excessive amounts of stomach acid from leaking up into the esophagus.

However, if you have excess belly fat, the pressure in your abdomen may become so high that the lower esophageal sphincter gets pushed upward, away from the diaphragm’s support.

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This condition, known as hiatal hernia, is considered the leading cause of GERD.

Furthermore, research shows that having excess belly fat may be associated with a higher risk of acid reflux and GERD.

For this reason, some studies suggest that losing at least 10% of your body weight could significantly decrease symptoms of GERD in people with the condition.

Achieving and maintaining a moderate body weight can help reduce acid reflux in the long term.

However, if you’re interested in this approach, make sure to speak with a healthcare professional to assess whether it’s right for you, and if so, how you can lose weight safely and sustainably.

Summary: Losing belly fat and maintaining a moderate weight might relieve some of your symptoms of GERD. However, make sure to speak with a healthcare professional before attempting to lose weight to treat this condition.

8. Follow a low carb diet

Growing evidence suggests that low-carb diets may relieve acid reflux symptoms.

Some researchers suspect that undigested carbs may cause bacterial overgrowth and increased pressure inside the abdomen, which could contribute to acid reflux.

Having too many undigested carbs in your digestive system often can not only cause gas and bloating but also burping.

However, while some studies suggest that low-carb diets could improve reflux symptoms, more research is needed.

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Summary: Some research suggests that poor carb digestion and bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine may result in acid reflux. Low carb diets may be an effective treatment, but further studies are needed.

9. Limit your alcohol intake

Drinking alcohol may increase the severity of acid reflux and heartburn.

Some studies have shown that higher alcohol intake could be linked to increased symptoms of acid reflux.

Alcohol aggravates symptoms by increasing stomach acid, relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter, and impairing the ability of the esophagus to clear out acid.

Although new research is needed, some older studies also show that drinking wine or beer increases reflux symptoms, especially compared with drinking plain water.

Summary: Excessive alcohol intake can worsen acid reflux symptoms. If you experience heartburn, limiting your alcohol intake might help ease some of your discomforts.

10. Don’t drink too much coffee

Studies have found that coffee temporarily relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, increasing the risk of acid reflux.

Some evidence also points toward caffeine as a possible cause. Similarly to coffee, caffeine relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, which could cause reflux.

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Nevertheless, although several studies suggest that coffee and caffeine may worsen acid reflux for some people, the evidence is not entirely conclusive.

For example, one analysis of observational studies found no significant effects of coffee intake on the self-reported symptoms of GERD.

Yet, when researchers investigated the signs of acid reflux with a small camera, they found coffee consumption was linked to greater acid damage in the esophagus.

Thus, whether coffee intake worsens acid reflux may depend on the individual. If you find coffee gives you heartburn, it’s best to simply avoid it or limit your intake.

Summary: Evidence suggests that coffee may make acid reflux and heartburn worse. If you feel like coffee worsens your symptoms, consider limiting your intake.

11. Limit your intake of carbonated beverages

Healthcare professionals sometimes advise people with GERD to limit their intake of carbonated beverages.

This is because studies have observed that regular consumption of carbonated or fizzy beverages, including soft drinks, club soda, and seltzer, could be linked to a higher risk of reflux.

One study found that carbonated soft drinks, in particular, worsened certain acid reflux symptoms, including heartburn, fullness, and burping.

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The main reason is that the carbon dioxide gas (the bubbles) in carbonated beverages causes people to burp more often — an effect that can increase the amount of acid escaping into the esophagus.

Summary: Drinking carbonated beverages temporarily increases the frequency of burping, which may promote acid reflux. If they worsen your symptoms, try drinking less or avoiding them altogether.

12. Don’t drink too much citrus juice

Many types of citrus juice, including orange juice and grapefruit juice, are considered common triggers for heartburn.

These ingredients are highly acidic and contain compounds like ascorbic acid, which could cause indigestion if you consume them in large amounts.

In addition to being acidic, certain compounds found in citrus juice could irritate the lining of the esophagus.

While citrus juice probably doesn’t cause acid reflux directly, it could make your heartburn worse temporarily.

Summary: Some people with acid reflux report that drinking citrus juice makes their symptoms worse. Certain compounds in citrus juice, in addition to acids, can also irritate the lining of the esophagus.

13. Avoid mint, if needed

Peppermint and spearmint are common ingredients used to make herbal tea and add flavor to foods, candy, chewing gum, mouthwash, and toothpaste.

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However, they also contain certain compounds that could trigger heartburn in some people.

For instance, some studies indicate that peppermint oil could decrease lower esophageal sphincter pressure, which may cause heartburn.

Another study showed that menthol, a compound found in mint, could worsen reflux in people with GERD.

Additionally, one older study in people with GERD showed that spearmint did not affect the lower esophageal sphincter. Nevertheless, it found that high doses of spearmint could worsen acid reflux symptoms by irritating the inside of the esophagus.

For this reason, it’s best to avoid mint if you feel that it makes your heartburn worse.

Summary: A few studies indicate that mint and some of the compounds it contains may aggravate heartburn and other reflux symptoms, but the evidence is limited.

14. Limit high-fat foods

Fried foods and some other fatty foods may also be a trigger for GERD. Some research shows they may lead to heartburn. Examples include:

High-fat foods like these may contribute to heartburn by causing bile salts to be released into your digestive tract, which may irritate your esophagus.

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They also appear to stimulate the release of cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone in your bloodstream that may relax the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach contents back into the esophagus.

One study looked at what happened when people with GERD ate high-fat foods. More than half of participants who had reported food triggers said they experienced GERD symptoms after eating high-fat, fried foods.

Moreover, once these people eliminated triggering foods from their diet, the proportion of those who experienced heartburn decreased from 93% to 44%.

More research is needed to uncover how high-fat foods might trigger GERD symptoms, including heartburn, as well as what kinds of fats might have the strongest effects.

It’s important to note that fats are an essential part of a healthy diet. Rather than avoiding fats, aim to eat them in moderation from healthy sources, such as omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish and monounsaturated fats from olive oil or avocados.

Summary: Foods that are high in fat may trigger GERD symptoms, including heartburn, in some people. However, more research is needed.

Summary

Heartburn is an uncomfortable issue that can be caused by a variety of different factors.

Although there are many medications and treatment options available to ease heartburn, making a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle may also be beneficial.

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Try some of the tips above to find what works for you to reduce heartburn and acid reflux.

Last updated on March 21, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on January 18, 2022.
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