You may have heard that drinking milk helps with heartburn. Or maybe your aunt swears that eating a slice of bread is the quickest way to provide relief from that prickly sting.
But when the burning sensation starts, do home remedies actually work?
Nope, according to Dr. Patrick Hyatt, M.D., a specialist at The Center for Heartburn and Reflux Disease at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. They’re just old wives’ tales, and they might make your heartburn worse.
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid—the fluid that’s produced when you eat to kill bacteria—backs up into your esophagus, Dr. Hyatt says.
It’s often triggered by consuming acidic foods, like wine, coffee, or spicy meals, he explains. The acids in those foods combine with your stomach acid, resulting in an extra potent mixture that burns if it seeps into your esophagus.
Overeating can also prompt heartburn, says Dr. Hyatt. When you’re stuffed to the point of bursting, your stomach contents press against your esophageal sphincter, which can cause the mixture to leak through.
In either of these cases, eating extra bread or milk would only add to the bulk in your belly and prompt your body to produce more stomach acid, Dr. Hyatt says.
So what does work?
Your drugstore is stacked with options, but Dr. Hyatt says the quickest relief comes from over-the-counter histamine blockers like Pepcid or Zantac.
Those drugs work by blocking histamine, a chemical that triggers the production of stomach acid, he says. They can provide relief in 15 to 30 minutes, according to the drugs’ websites.
Ideally, you wouldn’t suffer from heartburn in the first place. Here’s how to prevent it:
Identifying common triggers, according to information from Harvard Medical School. To do this, pay particular attention to how you feel after eating foods that are spicy, high in fat or include garlic or tomatoes. Beverages such as milk, coffee, peppermint, chocolate, carbonated drinks can also cause reflux.
If you do eat problematic foods, pop a piece of non-peppermint gum after, advises Harvard Medical School. This increases salivation to neutralize acid and alleviates esophageal discomfort.
Eating lat at night can also cause heart burn, says Gastroenterologist Dr. David Poppers, MD, PhD and associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. He recommends waiting roughly two hours to sleep after eating. And when you do get some rest, sleep in an elevated position. This helps prevent acid from traveling up the esophagus, he says.
If you get heartburn more than twice a week, tell your doctor, Dr. Hyatt says. Frequent heartburn can increase your risk for esophageal cancer, but your doctor can monitor your symptoms and give you preventative treatment if necessary.