Heartburn is a common digestive problem that affects many people. It is characterized by a burning pain in the chest or throat after eating. While heartburn can be triggered by different foods and drinks, some people find relief from their symptoms by drinking apple juice.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. This backing up of acid causes the burning sensation behind the breastbone that is characteristic of heartburn.
Some of the common symptoms of heartburn include:
- A burning feeling rising from the stomach or lower chest up towards the neck
- A bitter or sour taste in the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling like food is stuck in the throat
- Burping or regurgitation
Heartburn usually occurs after eating a meal. It can happen occasionally or frequently. Frequent heartburn is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). With GERD, the acid reflux happens more than twice a week.
What causes heartburn?
There are several factors that can contribute to heartburn:
- Lower esophageal sphincter (LES) dysfunction – The LES is a ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach. It normally closes after food passes through to prevent backflow. With GERD, the LES relaxes too frequently or for too long, allowing stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus.
- Hiatal hernia – This occurs when part of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm into the chest. This can increase reflux.
- Pregnancy – Hormonal changes and increased pressure during pregnancy can cause acid reflux.
- Obesity – Increased weight puts pressure on the abdomen and stomach, which can force stomach contents back up.
- Medications – Drugs like NSAIDs, calcium channel blockers, sedatives, and antidepressants can reduce LES pressure.
- Smoking – This impairs muscle function in the LES.
- Some foods and drinks – Things like coffee, alcohol, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomato products, and spicy or fatty foods can trigger reflux.
How can apple juice help with heartburn?
While no food or drink can treat the underlying causes of heartburn, some people find that drinking apple juice helps provide temporary relief from their symptoms. Here are some of the ways apple juice may help:
1. Contains antioxidants
Apple juice is a good source of antioxidants like vitamin C and polyphenols. Research suggests that antioxidants can help neutralize stomach acid and relieve symptoms of reflux.
2. Has an alkaline pH
The acidity of foods and drinks is measured by pH. The lower the pH, the more acidic it is. Apple juice tends to have a higher, more alkaline pH around 3.4 to 4. This may help neutralize some of the acidity in the stomach when reflux occurs.
3. Acts as an anti-inflammatory
Some compounds in apple juice like quercetin are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing inflammation associated with reflux may provide relief for some individuals.
4. Contains pectin
Apples are a source of pectin, a type of soluble fiber. Pectin can help thicken the layer of mucus that lines and protects the esophagus and stomach, acting as a barrier against damage from acid.
What does the research say?
A few small studies have looked specifically at the effects of apple juice on heartburn and acid reflux symptoms:
|2014 study with 16 GERD patients (Rahimi et al.)
|Drinking 500mL apple juice after a meal reduced reflux symptoms compared to placebo juice.
|2011 pilot study with 5 GERD patients (Zalvan et al.)
|250mL apple juice with meals for 2 weeks reduced symptom frequency and severity.
|2010 study in rats with reflux (Nasiri et al.)
|Apple juice reduced acid reflux and esophageal inflammation compared to control group.
While promising, larger and longer-term human trials are still needed. Overall the evidence is limited, but indicates apple juice may provide some relief, especially when drank with meals.
Tips for using apple juice for heartburn relief
If you want to try using apple juice to find relief from occasional acid reflux or heartburn, here are some tips:
- Drink 2-4 ounces with meals – Try a small glass with breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Choose fresh, organic juice – Processed and bottled juices may be less effective.
- Avoid extra sugars – Added sugars can make heartburn worse.
- Stick to a small serving – Too much apple juice may cause other GI issues.
- Wait at least 30 minutes after drinking to lie down – Give your body time to digest.
- Avoid drinking on an empty stomach – This can actually increase acid production.
It’s also important to identify any food triggers that make your heartburn worse. Common culprits include coffee, chocolate, alcohol, citrus fruits, tomato products, spicy foods, and high-fat meals.
Other home remedies for heartburn
While apple juice may be helpful for some heartburn sufferers, it’s not guaranteed to work for everyone. Here are some other home remedies that can provide relief:
- Aloe vera juice – Has a soothing, coating effect on the esophagus
- Baking soda – Helps neutralize stomach acid when dissolved in water
- Ginger or chamomile tea – May reduce inflammation and relax the esophageal sphincter
- Licorice root – Contains glycyrrhizic acid that can increase mucus production
- Chewing gum – Increases saliva production which can help clear acid
- Elevating the head in bed – Allows gravity to keep acid down in the stomach
When to see a doctor
For occasional, mild heartburn that responds well to home remedies, medical care is often not needed. However, it’s important to consult a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Frequent or severe heartburn more than twice a week
- Heartburn that does not respond to lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications
- Difficulty swallowing, nausea or vomiting with reflux
- Unexplained weight loss
- Heartburn with lightheadedness, sweating or chest pain
These may be signs of complications from GERD or another underlying condition that requires medical attention. A doctor can evaluate your symptoms and provide guidance on any needed testing or treatment.
Drinking a small glass of fresh apple juice with meals may help provide temporary relief for occasional heartburn and acid reflux. This is likely due to its alkaline pH, antioxidant content, anti-inflammatory properties and ability to coat and protect the esophagus.
However, apple juice is not a cure for heartburn. Those with more frequent or severe symptoms may need stronger medications or lifestyle changes to treat GERD. It’s also important to avoid triggers and see a doctor if symptoms persist or get worse.
Overall, apple juice is a simple, natural supplement to other reflux remedies. While not a guaranteed fix, it may be worth trying alongside other diet, lifestyle and medication adjustments suggested by your health provider.