Most people get heartburn once in a while—that achy, fiery feeling in your chest after polishing off a big, fatty meal, also known as acid reflux. What is that, exactly? “At base, reflux is stomach juice moving from the stomach up into the esophagus or further up,” says Kevin Ghassemi, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate director of clinical programs at UCLA’s Center for Esophageal Disorders. (Your esophagus is the canal that connects your throat to your stomach.)
This unwanted backflow of stomach juice can happen for several reasons. Being overweight or obese can create “abdominal pressure” that forces food back up into the esophagus, Dr. Ghassemi says. Or sometimes, taking certain medications (like painkillers, antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, or antidepressants) can cause the valve that links your stomach and esophagus to malfunction, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. When this happens, the stomach contents can migrate into the esophagus, where they don’t belong, Dr. Ghassemi says.
If you’re experiencing acid reflux more than a couple times a week, you may be among the one in five people in the United States who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Patients with GERD are typically prescribed proton-pump inhibitors (brand names include Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid, among others), which block the production of stomach acids.
If you don’t want to rely on medication, experts say there are natural remedies for acid reflux that may also provide relief. We’ll get to those home remedies in a minute. But first, one important warning: If whatever you try doesn’t work—that is, if your heartburn or other symptoms keep coming back—you need to let your doctor know.
“People think heartburn is just heartburn, but it can have very serious consequences,” says Bruce Greenwald, MD, a gastroenterologist, and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Reflux is the number one risk factor for esophageal cancer. It can also cause scarring and narrowing of the esophagus, as well as breathing problems—including asthma—and lost dental enamel, Dr. Greenwald cautions. So don’t just ignore your reflux symptoms; tell your doc.
That warning aside, here are six home remedies for acid reflux that health experts say are worth trying.