Heartburn Remedies: Natural Ways to Prevent Heartburn

By: Alyssa Langer

If you suffer from heartburn, you're not alone. Seven percent of Americans experience heartburn daily, and 44 percent feel the burn at least once a month. While heartburn can occur at any time of day, it's particularly a nuisance at nighttime.

Pictured Recipe: Raspberry-Peach Smoothie Bowl

Heartburn does not actually involve the heart; rather, it's a burning sensation in the chest caused by stomach acid that has traveled in the wrong direction due to a weakened or relaxed lower esophageal sphincter (the band of muscle around the bottom of the esophagus). When functioning properly, the sphincter acts like a gate; it relaxes to ensure the correct flow of food down into the stomach, and then it retightens to block the highly acidic stomach contents from coming back up and wreaking havoc. If heartburn becomes a frequent occurrence, it may be considered gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This phenomenon can occur due to many causes including stress, pregnancy, certain medications, overeating, exercising on a full stomach and being overweight or obese.

Related: 7-Day Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan

More than half of heartburn sufferers taking medications feel less than satisfied with their results (per a recent Gallup survey). Fortunately, there are many remedies for heartburn besides simply reaching into the medicine cabinet; just a few diet changes may be enough ward off the fiery sensation. Though it very much depends on the individual, there are several common trigger foods that tend to affect many people and may be worth avoiding.

Foods to Avoid to Prevent Heartburn

• Alcohol
• Coffee and other caffeinated food and drink
• Carbonated beverages
• Spicy foods
• Onions
• Citrus fruits and juices
• Mint
• Tomatoes and tomato products
• Large, fatty and/or fried meals

Eating Habits to Prevent Heartburn

Grilled Polenta & Vegetables with Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette

Pictured Recipe: Grilled Polenta & Vegetables with Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette

1. Eat a Mediterranean Diet

Eating a more plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet may help ease heartburn symptoms as much as medication, according to new research. Plus, it's good for your heart, weight and brain health—not to mention delicious.

2. Watch Your Portions

Refrain from overeating (a good rule of thumb overall anyway). Too much food in your stomach at one time can exacerbate symptoms. Here are 10 simple ways to control portions to help keep you from eating too much at one time.

3. Stop Eating at Least Two to Three Hours before Bed

You want to give yourself time to digest before heading to bed. This allows the stomach to empty before you lie down.

4. Avoid Sugar Spikes throughout the Day

If you eat too many carbohydrates at one time, your blood sugar can spike. Too many carbs may also increase abdominal pressure.

5. Choose Healthy Carbs

Opt for whole grains, fruit and starchy vegetables over refined grains like white bread and pasta because the fiber will help reduce the spike in blood sugar.

6. Eat More Fiber

Eating foods high in fiber may be protective. In a study published in the journal Gut, researchers found that people who consumed the most fiber had a 20 percent lower risk of experiencing serious heartburn.

7. Chew Gum

If you're a fan of chewing gum, you're in luck: it has been shown to help ease symptoms, thanks to increased saliva production. Try keeping a pack of gum handy just in case (but avoid peppermint- or spearmint-flavored gum if mint is a trigger food).

Lifestyle Tips to Prevent Heartburn

Women walking

1. Nap in a Chair

If you're a frequent napper, try napping sitting up in a chair instead of lying horizontally in bed, where it's easier for stomach contents to defy gravity.

2. Sleep on Your Left Side

Sleeping on your left side may prevent reflux as well, because the esophagus meets the stomach on the right side. Elevating the head of your bed slightly (about 4 to 6 inches) is also worth trying, as this slight angle makes it more difficult for stomach contents to creep back up into the esophagus.

3. Wear Loose Clothing

Even tight clothing or belts around the waist can aggravate heartburn by increasing abdominal pressure, so wear looser clothing that's less constricting.

4. Walk It Out

Instead of turning into a couch potato after dinner, go for a walk, as light activity has been shown to help decrease stomach acidity.

5. Quit Smoking

If you are a smoker, quitting may help ease symptoms (and is a good idea for many other health reasons).

Bottom Line: Though heartburn is very common, it shouldn't be ignored: ongoing reflux can cause serious damage to the lining of the esophagus. Be sure to consult your doctor if you're experiencing heartburn and before starting or changing any medications.

Read More:
7-Day High Fiber Meal Plan
6 High-Fiber Swaps to Make Right Now
Healthy Mediterranean Diet Recipes