Spice up Your Heartburn Treatment

Almost everyone experiences heartburn once in a while. But for some people, the burning and related discomfort after eating is a regular occurrence. But there’s good news: Certain natural spices may help douse the fire.

What Is Heartburn?

Heartburn, which is the informal name for gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, occurs when acid from the stomach leaks up into the esophagus [the tube that brings food to the stomach], says Jay Kuemmerle, MD AGAF FACG, Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Biophysics and Interim Chair of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the Medical College of Virginia Campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He explains that symptomatic GERD occurs when the natural barrier between the stomach and esophagus is weakened, enabling food and liquid to travel back up the way it came.

The symptoms of heartburn can vary from person to person, but there’s often a burning feeling or pain in the chest, regurgitation (food coming back up into your throat), and water brush, which is a sensation of increased salivation.

Heartburn Causes

While some medical problems can lead to GERD, many people with heartburn also notice that their lifestyle choices can affect their symptoms. For instance, eating large portions can make the stomach more prone to releasing the acid back into the esophagus. Being overweight can also put more pressure on the stomach and cause heartburn to flare.

Some foods and drinks can also aggravate heartburn symptoms: Eating high-fat foods can cause or worsen GERD because the fat delays the stomach from emptying, putting more pressure on the esophagus muscle and causing it to relax. Foods high in acid (such as some fruits and juices) also increase the acid content in the stomach, so there’s more to be released.

What’s a Sufferer to Do?

Kuemmerle says that preventing and treating occasional bouts of mild heartburn can be as simple as making some strategic changes to your diet and exercise routine. So try eating several small meals throughout the day instead of one large; don’t eat right before sleeping or exercising, and choose lean meats and vegetables that are easy to digest.

You can also look to your spice rack for some forms of natural comfort.

Spices to Ease Heartburn

"There are a number of natural remedies touted to help with heartburn," Kuemmerle says, and many of them can be easy to add to your favorite recipes. Here are a few of his picks:

  • Ginger: Ginger helps promote digestion, so food is processed through your stomach more quickly. It also increases salivation to neutralize the acid in your esophageal track. Drink ginger tea, or add ginger to stir fries, rice, stews, and soups.
  • Parsley: The anti-inflammatory action of parsley can help to calm inflammation (swelling and redness) in your intestines and can help you better digest your food. Sprinkle sprigs or flakes of parsley on soups, stews, meats, salads, and other favorite foods.
  • Fennel: Fennel seeds can help to reduce acid in the stomach, and can also soothe inflammation and irritation in the digestive tract. Chew the seeds after meals or add fennel bulbs or fennel extract to soups, stews and casseroles.
  • Aloe Vera: The juice of this plant can help to calm an irritated esophagus and ease heartburn symptoms. Some nutritionists recommend drinking it before meals for best results. (Check with your doctor to find out how much to consume.)

For recipes using these and other heartburn friendly foods, Kuemmerle suggests picking up a cookbook tailored for GERD sufferers.

When to Seek Medical Care

These natural treatments, either alone or coupled with over-the-counter remedies, may relieve mild heartburn. However, if you have severe or persistent heartburn, or heartburn accompanied by alarming symptoms like difficulty swallowing, Kuemmerle says that it’s time to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment regime. The good news is that with proper care, most cases of heartburn can be extinguished successfully.

Jay Kuemmerle, MD AGAF FACG, reviewed this article.


Jay Kuemmerle, MD AGAF FACG, Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Biophysics and Interim Chair of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Medical College of Virginia Campus, Virginia Commonwealth University, Phone interview Feb. 24, 2014.