Heartburn is a common problem that many people experience occasionally after eating. It is characterized by a burning discomfort behind the breastbone, which sometimes spreads up to the throat. Heartburn is often triggered by eating certain foods or drinking certain beverages. One home remedy that some people turn to for heartburn relief is drinking lemon juice. But does this remedy really work?
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that carries food from your mouth down to your stomach. At the bottom of the esophagus is a ring of muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This sphincter normally stays tightly closed after swallowing to prevent the backflow of stomach contents. However, sometimes the LES relaxes or weakens, allowing stomach acid to reflux up into the esophagus. This reflux causes the burning sensation known as heartburn.
Some common causes and risk factors for heartburn include:
- Eating large meals
- Eating fatty, spicy, or acidic foods
- Drinking alcohol, coffee, carbonated beverages
- Hiatal hernia
- Stomach abnormalities
- Certain medications like NSAIDs or calcium channel blockers
How does lemon juice affect heartburn?
Lemon juice has an acidic pH of about 2-3. Some people believe that drinking lemon juice can neutralize stomach acid and relieve heartburn symptoms. However, this is not necessarily true. While lemon juice is acidic, the hydrochloric acid in your stomach has a very low pH of 1-2. So, lemon juice is nowhere near as acidic. Drinking it has no neutralizing effect.
In fact, lemon juice contains citric acid and vitamin C, both of which can irritate the esophagus. For some people, drinking lemon juice may make heartburn worse. The sour and acidic taste can also stimulate further production of stomach acid, which counteracts any potential benefits.
Does lemon juice help with heartburn?
Despite the theoretical risks, some people do report that drinking a small amount of lemon juice helps provide heartburn relief. There are a few potential reasons why:
- Placebo effect – Believing lemon juice will help may make the heartburn seem less severe.
- Increased saliva – The tart taste stimulates saliva production, which can temporarily neutralize acid.
- Alkaline after-effects – Once metabolized, lemon juice has an alkaline effect on the body.
- Relief of nausea – The aroma of lemons can help settle an upset stomach.
However, there is no definitive scientific evidence that drinking lemon juice reduces heartburn. Any benefits are considered minor and short-term at best. Rather than treating the underlying cause, lemon juice provides quick relief of temporary symptoms in some cases.
Dangers and side effects of lemon juice for heartburn
While lemon juice may help very mildly and briefly with heartburn discomfort, it can also have negative effects in many instances, including:
- Increased heartburn – Lemon juice contains acids that can further aggravate heartburn in many people.
- Tooth enamel erosion – Lemons contain erosive acids that can damage tooth enamel over time.
- Exacerbation of GERD – In those with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), lemon juice can worsen symptoms.
- Heartburn escalation – Some components may stimulate increased stomach acid secretion.
- Throat irritation – The acidity can irritate tissues in the throat, especially in those with chronic heartburn.
- Indigestion and nausea – Large amounts of lemon juice may exacerbate indigestion and nausea.
Additionally, lemon juice has little nutritional value. It offers only small amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. While fine in moderation, drinking large amounts to treat heartburn provides minimal benefits.
What drinks help heartburn?
While evidence for lemon juice is lacking, some beverages have been shown to be beneficial for reducing heartburn and related reflux symptoms:
|Low-acid fruit juices||Contain nutrients and antioxidants without exacerbating acid reflux|
|Herbal teas||Have soothing, anti-inflammatory properties. Avoid spearmint and peppermint.|
|Plant-based milk||Calcium and protein can strengthen LES. Avoid carrageenan varieties.|
|Water||Helps dilute stomach acid and improve motility/digestion|
|Ginger tea||Settles the stomach and has anti-nausea effects|
|Licorice root tea||Creates a protective mucus barrier in the esophagus|
Drinking these beverages, especially in between meals, can support digestion and potentially ease or prevent heartburn flare-ups. They are gentler on the esophagus than lemon juice.
7 tips for preventing heartburn without lemon juice
Making lifestyle changes can also reduce heartburn without relying on quick fixes like lemon juice. Try these tips:
- Avoid trigger foods – Identify and limit foods that seem to cause heartburn like onions, chocolate, etc.
- Eat smaller meals – Large meals exert more pressure on the LES and extend digestion.
- Don’t lie down after eating – Let gravity keep food down in your stomach by staying upright.
- Limit acidic drinks – In addition to lemon juice, avoid coffee, alcohol, and soda.
- Quit smoking – Smoking weakens the LES and increases reflux.
- Lose weight if overweight – Extra weight puts more pressure on the LES.
- Avoid tight clothing – Tight belts, slender jeans, and shapewear can increase intra-abdominal pressure.
Making changes like these are often more impactful for reducing heartburn than quick fixes like lemon juice. However, speak to your doctor if lifestyle modifications are not providing sufficient relief.
When to see a doctor
Occasional mild heartburn after meals is common and usually manageable with lifestyle changes or over-the-counter remedies. However, you should speak to your doctor if you experience:
- Frequent or severe heartburn episodes
- Heartburn lasting over 2 weeks
- Heartburn pain that radiates to the back, arm, or jaw
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unexplained weight loss
These signs may indicate an underlying digestive disorder needing medical attention and treatment. Serious cases of heartburn may require prescription medication or even surgery.
The bottom line
Lemon juice is sometimes used as a home remedy for heartburn. However, there is little scientific evidence confirming its effectiveness and safety. While some people report minor, temporary relief of heartburn pain from drinking small amounts of lemon juice, it also poses risks of side effects for many. Lemon juice is highly acidic and can potentially worsen reflux in those with heartburn or GERD.
Rather than relying on lemon juice for heartburn, try more proven remedies. Drink soothing beverages like herbal tea in between meals. Make dietary and lifestyle changes to prevent triggers of heartburn. Speak to your doctor if symptoms persist despite home treatment. With the right long-term approach, you can achieve heartburn relief without quick fixes like lemon juice.