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Does drinking lemon water affect heartburn?

Heartburn is a common problem that many people experience occasionally after eating. It is characterized by a burning discomfort in the chest and throat. Heartburn is caused when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach). While heartburn is unpleasant, it’s usually not a sign of anything serious. There are several lifestyle changes and home remedies that can help prevent and treat heartburn.

What causes heartburn?

When we eat, food travels down the esophagus into the stomach. At the bottom of the esophagus is a ring of muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES acts as a valve between the esophagus and stomach. It opens to allow food to enter the stomach and then closes to prevent stomach acid from flowing back up into the esophagus.

Heartburn occurs when the LES relaxes inappropriately or weakens, allowing stomach acid to flow up into the esophagus. This acid reflux can cause inflammation and irritation of the esophageal lining. Certain foods, habits, and medical conditions make it more likely for the LES to relax and acid reflux to occur. Common triggers include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy, fatty, or acidic foods
  • Lying down too soon after eating
  • Large meals
  • Eating late at night
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Hiatal hernia

Symptoms of heartburn

The most common symptom of heartburn is a burning pain in the center of the chest. It often starts behind the breastbone and moves up into the throat. Some additional symptoms may include:

  • Bitter or sour taste in the back of the throat
  • Excessive burping
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid

Symptoms typically occur after eating a large meal or while lying down. For most people, heartburn is worse at night or while bending over.

Does lemon water help with heartburn?

Lemon water is often touted as a home remedy to help relieve heartburn and reflux. Lemons contain vitamin C, antioxidants, and minerals like magnesium. Lemon water is acidic and has a pH between 2 and 3. Some sources claim that the acidity of lemon juice mimics stomach acid and may help improve LES function and esophageal clearance of gastric contents.

However, there is limited scientific evidence that drinking lemon water can help treat heartburn. A few small studies have examined the impact of lemon water on reflux:

  • One study in 18 patients found that drinking a hot lemon beverage decreased acid reflux more than drinking plain hot water.
  • Another small study showed that lemon juice triggered less acid reflux than orange juice.
  • Some research indicates lemon water may increase primary peristalsis in the esophagus, which helps clear refluxed material.

Overall, research is insufficient to conclude that lemon water is an effective remedy for heartburn. More large-scale studies are needed.

Can lemon water make heartburn worse?

While some think lemon water can help heartburn, others claim that it may worsen symptoms. Potential reasons why lemon water could aggravate heartburn include:

  • Acidic pH: Although less acidic than stomach acid, lemon juice contains citric acid and has a very low pH. For some, this acidity may irritate an already sensitive esophagus.
  • Can relax the LES: There is some evidence citrus juices may relax the LES, allowing more reflux.
  • Damages esophageal tissues: Animal studies found lemon juice damages esophageal tissues impaired by acid reflux.

If lemon water makes your heartburn feel worse, it’s best to avoid it as a home remedy. The juice may be too acidic for your esophagus.

Tips for using lemon water if you have heartburn

If you want to try lemon water for heartburn but are concerned about acidity worsening symptoms, here are some tips:

  • Drink it cold – Cold temperatures can narrow esophageal blood vessels and improve LES barriers.
  • Don’t drink it straight – Dilute the lemon juice in a full glass of water.
  • Use a straw – This can help bypass much of the esophagus.
  • Don’t lie down after – Stay upright to avoid reflux.
  • Rinse your mouth – Swish water in your mouth after to rinse acid off your teeth.
  • Avoid before bed – Drink lemon water earlier in the day to prevent nighttime symptoms.

Start with a small amount of juice diluted in water and see how your body responds. Avoid drinking lemon water close to mealtimes or when you already have symptoms.

Other tips for relieving heartburn

While the effects of lemon water are debatable, there are several other science-backed ways to prevent and treat heartburn:

  • Avoid triggers – Eliminating foods, drinks, and habits known to trigger reflux can go a long way in reducing symptoms.
  • Lose weight – Excess weight puts pressure on the stomach and esophagus.
  • Stop smoking – Smoking weakens the LES and increases risk.
  • Wait 3 hours after eating to lie down – Gravity is helpful for digestion.
  • Wear loose clothing – Tight clothing adds pressure on the stomach.
  • Elevate the head in bed – Let gravity keep acid down.
  • Take antacids – Help neutralize stomach acid.
  • Try over-the-counter acid blockers – Reduce acid production.

If lifestyle changes don’t relieve symptoms, talk to your doctor. They may recommend prescription medication or additional testing if reflux persists.

The bottom line

There is limited evidence that drinking lemon water can help improve heartburn and acid reflux. For some people, the acidity of the lemon juice may actually aggravate symptoms. If lemon water makes your heartburn feel worse, avoid using it as a home remedy. Make sure to talk to your doctor if you have frequent or severe reflux that doesn’t respond to lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications.

Pros of lemon water for heartburn Cons of lemon water for heartburn
  • May stimulate primary peristalsis
  • Low pH could theoretically improve LES function
  • Provides antioxidants and electrolytes
  • Acidic pH can aggravate symptoms
  • Damages esophageal tissue impaired by reflux
  • Can relax the LES in some cases

When to see a doctor

You should make an appointment with your doctor if you experience:

  • Frequent or severe heartburn more than twice a week
  • Heartburn that doesn’t respond to lifestyle changes or OTC medications
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Vomiting or regurgitation
  • Chest pain or burning that radiates to other areas

Persistent reflux symptoms can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Your doctor can help diagnose the cause and provide appropriate treatment to find relief.