Heartburn is a common problem affecting millions of people. It occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, causing a burning discomfort in the chest. While over-the-counter medications can provide relief, some people prefer natural remedies like lemon water. But is drinking lemon water an effective way to treat heartburn?
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn, also called acid indigestion, is the most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It feels like a burning pain or discomfort in the chest, usually after eating. Occasional heartburn is normal, but frequent episodes can indicate an underlying health issue.
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid flows backward into the esophagus. The esophagus doesn’t have the same protective lining as the stomach, so acid reflux can cause inflammation and pain. The valve between the esophagus and stomach (lower esophageal sphincter) normally prevents backflow. But this valve can weaken or improperly relax, allowing acid to flow upward.
Common causes of heartburn include:
- Eating large meals
- Lying down too soon after eating
- Eating fatty, spicy, or acidic foods
- Alcohol use
- Some medications
- Hiatal hernia
Frequent heartburn can interfere with daily life and sleep quality. Chronic acid reflux can erode the esophageal lining and cause serious complications like ulcers, strictures, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer. Prompt treatment is key for managing heartburn and preventing complications.
What is Lemon Water?
Lemon water is simply the juice from lemons mixed with water. It provides vitamin C, antioxidants, and small amounts of nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B6.
To make lemon water:
- Squeeze the fresh juice from 1/2 to 1 lemon into 8-12 ounces of water.
- You can adjust the amount of lemon to taste.
- For extra flavor, add honey, mint leaves, ginger, or cucumber.
- Drink it cold or hot first thing in the morning or before meals.
Lemon water is very low in calories and sugars compared to other drinks. It provides hydration without artificial additives or sweeteners. Many people drink lemon water because they enjoy the taste, while others believe it provides health benefits.
Does Lemon Water Help with Heartburn?
There is some evidence that lemon water can temporarily help relieve heartburn symptoms like chest pain, burning, and indigestion. Here are a few key ways it may work:
Acts as a Mild Antacid
Although acidic itself, lemon juice has an alkalizing effect when metabolized. This can help neutralize stomach acid and raise the pH slightly, reducing acidity. Lemon water likely doesn’t neutralize as much acid as antacids containing baking soda or calcium carbonate.
One study in 10 healthy people found that drinking a diluted lemon juice solution increased the pH of gastric juice for 30 minutes. However, the effect was weaker than an antacid tablet.
Stimulates Saliva Production
Saliva contains bicarbonate, an alkalizing compound that helps neutralize stomach acid. Drinking lemon water triggers saliva production, which may help dilute acid that has refluxed into the esophagus.
One study injected diluted lemon juice into the stomachs of 7 participants. It significantly increased pre-meal saliva production compared to plain water.
Lemon contains citric acid, a weak organic acid that may stimulate the release of gastric juices to break down food and improve digestion. Better digestion can prevent acid reflux in some cases.
One study in dogs found that supplementing meals with citric acid improved digestion and reduced gastroesophageal reflux.
The vitamin C in lemon water may also help by decreasing inflammation associated with GERD.
Promotes Weight Loss
Being overweight or obese increases risk for chronic heartburn. Excess weight places pressure on the stomach and can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter. Losing weight often relieves GERD symptoms.
Some research shows that drinking lemon water may promote weight loss by increasing feelings of fullness. This may indirectly prevent acid reflux episodes related to being overweight.
In one study, obese subjects who drank two 8-ounce servings of lemon water per day lost 2 pounds over 2 weeks without changes to diet or physical activity.
Things to Consider
Lemon water alone is unlikely to completely prevent heartburn for most people. It may provide short-term relief by stimulating saliva, neutralizing some acid, and improving digestion.
However, lemon juice also contains acids that can irritate the esophagus. For some people, it could make heartburn temporarily worse after drinking it.
It’s best to avoid lemon water right after meals to allow food to be digested and emptied from the stomach before introducing more acid.
Here are some other drawbacks to using lemon water for heartburn:
- The alkalizing effects are mild and temporary.
- Frequent use can erode tooth enamel over time.
- Unfiltered lemon juice may provoke GERD symptoms in sensitive people.
- Those with stomach ulcers may experience increased heartburn.
Lemon water is not a substitute for medications or other dietary and lifestyle changes advised by your doctor. It should not be used by anyone with allergies or sensitivities to lemons.
Does Lemon Water Work for Heartburn?
A few small studies suggest lemon water may temporarily alleviate heartburn symptoms, but there’s limited evidence available:
|2008 study in the Journal of Dental Research (10 participants)||Measured gastric juice pH after drinking diluted lemon juice solution||Increased pH of gastric juice compared to plain water within 5 minutes, lasting up to 30 minutes|
|2006 study in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology (7 participants)||Analyzed effects of diluted lemon juice injected into the stomach before meals||Stimulated release of gastric acids and increased pre-meal saliva production|
|2015 study in BMC Gastroenterology (75 participants)||Surveyed association between foods and beverages and heartburn severity||Lemon juice was associated with worsening heartburn symptoms in some participants|
Overall, evidence suggests lemon water can temporarily neutralize stomach acid and stimulate saliva to improve digestion. This may relieve mild heartburn symptoms for some people. However, it may make symptoms worse for sensitive individuals.
How to Use Lemon Water for Heartburn
Here are some tips for using lemon water to help manage occasional heartburn while avoiding side effects:
- Drink it first thing in the morning or between meals, not right after eating.
- Choose filtered or pasteurized juice to remove pulp and bacteria.
- Rinse your mouth with plain water after to prevent enamel erosion.
- Start with a small amount of lemon juice diluted in 8 ounces of water.
- Avoid drinking more than 16 ounces per day.
- Stop drinking it if symptoms worsen or persist beyond 2 weeks.
You can maximize the benefits and minimize side effects by only drinking lemon water when needed for heartburn symptoms. Monitor your body’s response and adjust the amount of lemon as needed.
Alternative Heartburn Remedies
While lemon water may help temporarily, it shouldn’t replace other lifestyle measures or medical treatment for chronic heartburn. Here are some other ways to prevent and manage acid reflux:
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
- Avoid large meals, eat slowly, and don’t lie down after eating.
- Limit fatty, acidic, spicy, and processed foods.
- Lose weight if overweight.
- Stop smoking and limit alcohol intake.
- Wear loose clothing.
- Elevate the head of your bed.
- Chewing gum to increase saliva.
- Aloe vera juice or capsules.
- Baking soda and water solution.
- Ginger, chamomile, or licorice root tea.
- Antacids like Tums, Rolaids, or Mylanta.
- H2 blockers like Pepcid, Zantac, or Tagamet.
- Proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec, Prevacid, or Nexium.
- Prokinetics like Reglan or metoclopramide.
See your doctor if symptoms persist after 2 weeks. They can recommend long-term treatment options, rule out underlying conditions, and provide appropriate testing and monitoring.
When to See Your Doctor
You should consult your doctor regarding heartburn symptoms if:
- It occurs more than 2 times per week.
- It interferes with sleep or daily activities.
- Over-the-counter medications don’t help.
- You have difficulty swallowing.
- You have unexplained weight loss.
- You vomit blood or food.
- You have severe chest pain.
Frequent heartburn may indicate complications like erosion, ulcers, strictures, Barrett’s esophagus, or adenocarcinoma. Only a doctor can diagnose and monitor these conditions.
Your doctor may recommend prescription medications, surgery, or endoscopic treatments if medication and lifestyle changes aren’t enough. Prompt treatment can reduce permanent damage to the esophagus over time.
The Bottom Line
Drinking lemon water may provide temporary relief from occasional heartburn thanks to its ability to neutralize stomach acid, stimulate saliva, and improve digestion. However, its effects are mild and not well proven.
Lemon water is not recommended for severe or chronic heartburn. It should not replace medications or medical treatments prescribed by your doctor. Those with frequent heartburn symptoms should see a doctor to rule out complications.
While not a cure-all, lemon water can be included as part of an overall health plan to prevent and manage heartburn naturally. Drink it cautiously and avoid relying on it as your only treatment.