Acid reflux is a fairly common digestive complaint. For some, the symptoms are occasional and come with eating certain types of food. For others, acid reflux is chronic and occurs weekly or daily.
While some forms of acid reflux have an underlying cause that needs to be addressed, there are many herbs that will help to soothe the occasional kind. They are a much better option than constantly taking antacids and can help to improve your overall digestion.
Here's a look at why you sometimes feel a burning sensation after eating and the top herbs and remedies to combat acid reflux naturally.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux, which also goes by the name of heartburn, occurs when stomach acid travels up into your esophagus, causing a burning sensation as it goes. When acid reflux becomes chronic and happens at least two times a week, it can be diagnosed as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The biggest symptom of acid reflux is a burning sensation in your chest. It typically gets triggered by eating and feels worse when you lay down. You may also notice a bitter taste in the back of your mouth from the acid.
The root cause of acid reflux is not agreed on by experts. At a basic level, it happens because the lower esophageal sphincter doesn't close all the way and allows acid out of the stomach and into the esophagus.
However, that's where agreement ends.
A conventional understanding of heartburn is that it's caused by too much stomach acid. This has led to the common prescribing of OTC antacids and stronger prescription proton pump inhibitors that also decrease stomach acid.
Many holistic (and some conventional) practitioners believe that acid reflux is actually the result of too little stomach acid or some other imbalance in the digestive system. By constantly taking antacids and other drugs, the pH level of your stomach can be thrown even more out of balance, leading to potential bacterial infections and symptoms that never go away.
By truly supporting your digestive system, specific herbs can provide relief for heartburn symptoms and help your digestion recover balance.
Herbs and Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux
Marshmallow root is a demulcent herb, which means that it helps to coat and soothe the tissues it comes into contact with. The root contains a high amount of mucilage, a substance that makes a thick and slippery mixture when it comes into contact with water.
This demulcent and mucilaginous nature is very soothing for your esophagus, stomach, and entire digestive tract. It can help ease the burn without affecting stomach pH. Studies have also shown that marshmallow root has anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce stomach ulcers as well as acid reflux. (1)
Try marshmallow on its own or in these Reflux Relief herbal tablets.
Licorice root is another demulcent herb with anti-inflammatory properties that is soothing for your esophagus and the lining of your stomach. It doesn't get slippery and thick like marshmallow root but creates a film that may act as a barrier between acid and your esophagus.
Licorice has long been used for all kinds of digestive complaints, including heartburn and ulcers. Some studies indicate that it could be just as effective for acid reflux as common medications. (2)(3)
Aloe vera is an incredible plant for skin health and known to soothe all kinds of burns. Interestingly enough, it's also one of the top herbs for helping with the "burn" of acid reflux.
Aloe is thought to work by having an anti-inflammatory effect that soothes the symptoms of heartburn. It also may mildly decrease stomach acid, though not in the same way as OTC antacids. Studies have confirmed its efficacy for acid reflux and even for the more severe GERD. (4)
Drinking a little pure aloe vera juice 20-30 minutes before a meal is usually the best way to use this remedy.
Papaya Enzyme (Papain)
Papaya fruits contain a digestive enzyme known as papain. This enzyme helps to break down the protein in food, which has the effect of making the digestive process go more smoothly.
For certain people, acid reflux is associated with high protein meals and poorly digested protein foods. In this instance, eating papaya or taking the isolated enzyme papain can ease acid reflux in the long term and help with other digestive symptoms like bloating and constipation. (5)
Plantain leaf is an herb that has been labeled a "weed" by the uninformed. It grows in many backyards in unassuming rosettes and has demulcent properties like marshmallow and licorice.
Plantain is often used for a variety of digestive complaints, including diarrhea and heartburn. It helps to coat your esophagus and has anti-inflammatory properties that further ease acid reflux. Plantain is also one of the safest herbs you can use and can be taken for long periods of time- even eaten as a functional food. (6)
Fennel seed is one of the top overall digestive herbs. In fact, a traditional practice in certain eastern cultures is to chew fennel seeds after a meal to aid digestion and prevent upsets like acid reflux.
Basically, fennel helps to enhance digestion by stimulating digestive juices and enzymes. It may even help to balance the pH level in your stomach. (7)
Slippery elm is yet another demulcent herb that will form a thick, slippery liquid when mixed with water. This slipperiness can be extremely effective for constipation and will also coat your esophagus and stomach, helping to ease the burn of acid reflux.
Both slippery elm and marshmallow root work in similar ways, although some find the taste of slippery elm to be the better of the two. However, it is considered an at-risk plant due to the rapid spread of Dutch Elm Disease, so be sure to buy yours from a reputable company that sources sustainably.
Chamomile has so many benefits that there's not much this herb can't do, including helping with acid reflux.
It works by having an antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory effect on the muscles in your digestion, which may help to prevent acid from entering into your esophagus and ease the burning sensation. Chamomile also decreases gastric secretions, including acid, without causing an imbalance. (8)
Because chamomile is not demulcent, it may work best when combined with slippery elm, marshmallow root, and/or licorice root.
Meadowsweet is an herb with a long history of use for pain and digestive disorders. It contains the plant form of salicylic acid, which was synthesized into acetylsalicylic acid- the active ingredient in aspirin.
Unlike aspirin, which can cause serious digestive issues, meadowsweet has protective effects on your digestion and may help to prevent the damage normally cause by acid reflux. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that calm and protect digestive tissues. (9)
Catnip has antispasmodic properties (like chamomile) that ease cramping in your digestive tract and support effective digestion. This, combined with anti-inflammatory properties, helps to reduce spasms that may be contributing to acid reflux.
However, just like in the case of chamomile, catnip may be most effective when combined with a strong demulcent herb like marshmallow root, plantain, slippery elm, or licorice root.
Baking soda is one of the oldest remedies for acid reflux. Basically, it works like a natural antacid (and is found in many OTC antacids) to neutralize stomach acid and quickly relieve the burn.
In spite of this, please note that baking soda should only ever be an occasional remedy for heartburn. It works effectively but only on the immediate symptoms of acid reflux- not the root cause. Just like with conventional antacids, constant use of baking soda may cause your body to overproduce stomach acid, making heartburn worse in the long run.
To use it, simply dissolve 1/2-1 teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of water and drink slowly.
Dietary changes are often an important part of resolving acid reflux.
While everyone reacts differently to different foods, it's generally a good idea to minimize alcohol consumption, fried or spicy foods, carbonated beverages, and highly processed foods to decrease your chance of getting heartburn.
You may also find out that other specific foods are more likely to trigger an acid reflux attack and should be avoided.
Adding in high fiber foods and probiotic-rich foods can be a big boost for your digestive system as a whole, which will only help you out in the long run. Herbal and alternative practitioners often recommend adding lots of carrots and apples as well as carrot juice, lemon juice, cabbage juice, and celery juice to your diet to support healthy stomach acid levels.
Chronic acid reflux, or GERD, can cause significant damage over time. While natural herbs and remedies are usually easier on the body than conventional medication, you should never use them as a substitute for medicine that you need.
If your heartburn is severe and/or won't go away even with your best efforts, be sure to consult a qualified physician for help. Also, always research individual herbs before using as they may interact with medications, etc.
Easing Acid Reflux Naturally
Many people have found great success with using herbs and natural remedies for acid reflux. But something you should keep in mind is that most herbs do their best work over time. Yes, they can provide instant relief for the burn of acid reflux, but use them daily for the most effect.
When you do this, they will help bring your entire digestive system back into balance, which will benefit your body for years to come!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.