12 Home Remedies for Acid Reflux and Heartburn
- Home remedies for acid reflux include eating smaller meals and taking deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL).
- You should avoid trigger foods that slow down digestion — and try to get more fiber in your diet.
- Herbal remedies like aloe vera and slippery elm may help soothe your esophagus and GI tract.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid flows upward into your esophagus or throat, the pipe that connects your mouth to your stomach, causing pain in your chest and throat. It is a common condition — 1 in 5 people in the US experience acid reflux.
Acid reflux can be uncomfortable, but lifestyle changes and home remedies can help ease your symptoms without medication. Here are some science-backed ways to treat acid reflux at home.
What is acid reflux?
Normally, when you eat or drink, food travels down your esophagus to a muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter, which opens to let food into your stomach.
- Pain or burning feeling in your chest
- Pain or discomfort in your throat
- Regurgitation of acidic liquid into your mouth or throat
Though you may be more likely to experience acid reflux if you are pregnant or obese, there are many reasons it could occur. Some of the most common causes of acid reflux include:
- Eating an especially large meal
- Eating late at night
- Certain foods or drinks like spicy food, fried food, alcohol, or coffee
- Smoking cigarettes
“Lifestyle changes are the first treatment if the acid reflux is bothersome,” says Jacqueline Wolf, MD, a gastroenterologist and professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. This may involve avoiding some of the causes listed above, but there are also several proven at-home treatments to help control acid reflux.
1. Elevate your upper body while sleeping
Acid reflux often gets worse at night, because when you lie down, it is easier for stomach acid to flow into your esophagus. You can improve nighttime symptoms by changing the angle of your body during sleep.
Specifically, it is helpful to raise your head and shoulders above your stomach and keep your esophagus tilted downward. For example, you can elevate the head of your bed or prop yourself up on a slanted pillow. “This lets gravity help clear anything that comes into the esophagus at night,” says Wolf.
A small 2011 study found that people who elevated the head of their beds with an 8-inch block for one week saw significant improvements in their heartburn symptoms and had less disturbed sleep.
And a 2016 review of four studies found that even for people already taking acid reflux medications, adding an elevated sleeping position helped symptoms more than just taking medication alone.
To elevate your bed, you can use bed risers under the top two feet of your
, or if this isn’t possible, you can buy a sloped pillow to help angle your head and shoulders upward while sleeping.
2. Try taking deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL)
DGL works to treat acid reflux because it helps to reduce inflammation in your esophagus.
Inflammation, a reaction caused by your immune system, can be helpful when you need to heal a wound or fight an infection, but it can also worsen health problems like acid reflux for some people. This is because your immune system releases inflammatory cells called cytokines that can damage the lining of your esophagus.
Although DGL has been proven to work when combined with other acid reflux treatments, more research is needed to see how it works on its own.
DGL generally comes as a chewable tablet and can come in multiple flavors for people who don’t like the taste of licorice. To use DGL for acid reflux, you should take one 400 mg tablet 20 minutes before you eat a meal or 20 minutes before going to bed if you have nighttime symptoms.
Other herbal remedies that may also help with acid reflux include:
3. Eat smaller meals
Eating large meals puts greater pressure on the sphincter that separates your esophagus from your stomach. This makes the sphincter more likely to open and allow acid to flow upward into your esophagus. Swapping out big meals for more frequent smaller meals can help ease your symptoms.
For example, instead of eating three large meals, try spreading out those portions into five smaller meals.
4. Limit coffee intake
If you are a coffee drinker, cutting down or cutting out your daily cups could help reduce acid reflux. Not only is coffee already an acidic beverage, but when you drink it, your stomach is triggered into creating more stomach acid, which can become backed up and flow into your esophagus. The caffeine in coffee also causes your lower esophageal sphincter to relax, allowing stomach contents to travel upward.
5. Avoid trigger foods
Certain foods may intensify your acid reflux. You want to avoid foods that slow down digestion and sit in your stomach for longer — because the longer they sit, the more likely they are to increase stomach pressure and force open your esophageal sphincter.
Some foods that are likely to trigger acid reflux are:
- Fried food
- Processed snacks like potato chips
- Fatty meats like bacon
- Chili powder
6. Eat more alkaline foods
Foods that are more alkaline than acidic can counteract stomach acid and help prevent reflux.
Some foods with a higher pH (meaning they are more alkaline) include:
7. Get more fiber
A small 2018 study found that patients with non-erosive acid reflux disease who had a low fiber intake decreased their incidences of acid reflux and heartburn after taking psyllium fiber supplements. The extra fiber also helped increase the esophageal sphincter’s resting pressure, meaning it was less likely to relax and allow reflux through.
However, it’s not a good idea to take too much fiber or eat too many fibrous foods at once, as it can increase pressure in the gut and possibly exacerbate reflux.
8. Sit up after eating
Staying upright for three hours after eating may help prevent acid reflux.
This might mean eating dinner earlier so you can sit up before bed, or skipping your after-lunch nap.
When you’re upright, gravity helps keep stomach acid in your stomach, rather than in your esophagus.
9. Try sleeping on your left side
Sleeping on your left side could improve acid reflux symptoms.
A small 2015 study found that people sleeping on their left side with the upper part of their body elevated had less instances of acid reflux.
Meanwhile, a 2006 review cited several studies that found people who slept on their right side had worsened acid reflux.
Researchers aren’t sure exactly why this is the case, but they suggest that it could be because the point where the esophagus and stomach meet is positioned above the gastric acid in the stomach when you lie on your left side.
10. Take melatonin at night
A small 2010 study found that melatonin could improve symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) by protecting the esophagus and reducing heartburn, especially when used in conjunction with omeprazole. A person may be diagnosed with GERD if they experience acid reflux frequently.
Additionally, a 2014 randomized controlled trial found that, when taken in addition to omeprazole in the morning, 6 mg of melatonin taken nightly improved symptoms of functional heartburn — more so than the antidepressant nortriptyline.
Melatonin is still being studied for its use as a treatment for GERD.
You can try taking 6 mg of melatonin every night to see if it helps you. Melatonin may interact with some medications, so if you’re on any prescription drugs, talk to your doctor before starting melatonin. Also, if you are pregnant, you should not take melatonin.
11. Drink aloe vera juice
There is some research that indicates drinking aloe vera juice could help relieve acid reflux.
A small 2016 study focusing on male patients who developed GERD after exposure to sulfur mustard gas found that taking 40 mg of the proton-pump inhibitor pantoprazole in the morning and 5 ml of aloe vera syrup in the morning and before bed for two weeks improved the severity of GERD symptoms better than pantoprazole alone.
Proton-pump inhibitors are among the strongest medications for acid reflux. They work by lowering stomach acid levels, but long-term use is associated with some risks and side effects.
Talk to your doctor if you’re on any medication or are pregnant or breastfeeding before consuming aloe vera.
If you want to try drinking aloe vera juice, look for decolorized aloe vera juice that has been purified to reduce the anthraquinone content.
12. Try slippery elm
Slippery elm is a demulcent, meaning that it can coat and protect mucous membranes in the body. This is why it is often used to soothe sore throats.
In one small 2020 study, researchers gave participants with GI disorders a mixture of slippery elm, aloe vera, curcumin, guar gum, pectin, peppermint oil, and glutamine. Participants, including those with upper GI symptoms such as severe acid reflux, saw a reduction in symptoms. Researchers also pointed out that almost half of the patients with upper GI symptoms were able to stop taking proton-pump inhibitors by the end of the three-month study.
A small 2017 study had people with gastric irritation or GERD take a mixture of slippery elm and peppermint oil. Participants reported a significant improvement in symptoms and said the results were better than traditional antacids.
While slippery elm helped GI symptoms when combined with other ingredients, more research is needed to look at its effects independent of other substances.
To use slippery elm, mix one to two tablespoons of slippery elm bark powder into a glass of water to drink after a meal or before bed. You can also find teas containing slippery elm at some grocers and health food stores.
When to see a doctor
If home remedies aren’t enough to control your acid reflux symptoms, you should see a doctor for medical treatment.
Over time, untreated acid reflux can lead to more serious illnesses like Barrett’s esophagus, in which esophagus damage makes it harder for you to swallow food. In rare cases, you can even develop esophageal cancer.
Acid reflux is a common problem that can cause daily discomfort, particularly at nighttime.
There are many over-the-counter remedies, lifestyle changes, and herbal remedies you can try to improve your acid reflux symptoms. “However, if the symptoms persist or cause trouble swallowing or are associated with other symptoms you should call your doctor,” Wolf says.