Causes of heartburn
Heartburn (also known as acid reflux) is caused by stomach acid entering the oesophagus and irritating the mucous membrane. It is triggered by two things: too much acid in the stomach and a permeable stomach entrance that allows the acid to spill back into the oesophagus. If the symptoms occur frequently, the condition is called gastroesophageal reflux disease.
What home remedies can help relieve heartburn?
If you occasionally suffer from heartburn or acid reflux, you can help yourself with some simple home remedies.
The simplest remedy is to take small sips of still, lukewarm water or unsweetened herbal tea (e.g. camomile tea). The liquid dilutes the stomach acid and soothes the pain. Camomile in particular is a herb proven to regulate acid production in the stomach. It has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Sodium bicarbonate is known as an effective home remedy for heartburn because it neutralises stomach acid. For this reason, it is also an ingredient used in reflux medicines. However, it's easy for the uninitiated to take too large a dose and upset the body’s pH level.
Oats or finely chewed nuts bind the acid in the stomach and can help with heartburn. The same effect is achieved with bananas, wholemeal bread and potatoes.
Chewing on gum leads to more saliva. The gum is slightly alkaline and therefore able to neutralise small amounts of excess stomach acid.
How effective is milk?
Like bicarbonate of soda, milk was long considered a proven home remedy for acid reflux. However, the effect of milk has since been questioned due to the acid it contains. Drinking water or herbal tea is certainly a better method for getting rid of stomach acid in the oesophagus.
Everyday prevention tips
If you have an irritable stomach and frequently suffer from heartburn, it’s best to eat several small meals throughout the day. A walk after a meal will stimulate digestion and reduce acid reflux. A few hours’ space between dinner and bedtime is ideal as this gives the stomach time to digest. People with heartburn should refrain from taking naps immediately after eating, as lying flat makes the symptoms worse.
Alleviate night-time symptoms
Heartburn is particularly unpleasant at night because it prevents you from falling asleep and is even more painful than during the day. If you’re lying in bed and can’t sleep because of reflux, put a few extra pillows under your head or raise the bed frame. This will help keep the acid in the stomach.
The right diet for acid reflux
A healthy diet with lots of vegetables, little fat, and fresh herbs helps alleviate reflux complaints. By contrast, sweet, fatty and spicy foods can trigger the unpleasant burning sensation in the oesophagus. Carbonated drinks, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are also counterproductive.
Foods to avoid
If you often have reflux symptoms, there are certain foods you should try to avoid. These include:
- Peppermint: this medicinal plant relaxes the muscle between the oesophagus and stomach, which can aggravate heartburn.
- Citrus fruits and sour berries: due to their high acid content, oranges, lemons and grapefruit are not advisable. Apples, bananas and grapes are better.
- Carbonated or alcoholic drinks: these drinks cause the sphincter between the stomach and the oesophagus to open.
Prevent heartburn with alkaline foods
Foods with a lot of starch, such as wholemeal bread and potatoes, bind the stomach acid and help to reduce heartburn. Conversely, acidic foods aggravate the pain. In order to maintain an acid-alkaline balance, minimise your consumption of meat, pasta and convenience foods.