A Safer Way to Heal Heartburn

Heartburn hurts—but so can overzealous heartburn treatment. That’s the takeaway from a recent collection of studies in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which looked at the risks of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)—the powerful drugs that shut off production of stomach acid. They’re effective but overused: 113 million prescriptions for it are filled each year, and that doesn’t include over-the-counter versions of Prilosec and Prevacid. The researchers found that hospital patients who take a PPI are more likely to be infected with Clostridium difficile, a dangerous superbug. For older women, long-term use ups the odds of breaking a bone. And previous studies have shown it increases the likelihood of catching pneumonia.

What you should do Start with less-powerful drugs: antacids (like Tums) and acid blockers (like Tag-amet). Don’t forget such lifestyle changes as losing weight and eating smaller meals, which can make a huge difference. And consider home remedies—they can be very effective, say Joe and Teresa Graedon, the pharmacologist–medical anthropologist pair who make up the People’s Pharmacy. Their favorites:

1. Gum. It gets saliva flowing, which can prevent stomach acid from burning your esophagus.

2. Ginger. The root is a traditional stomach soother, so try a bit of candied ginger or a cup of ginger tea. For tea, grate the root, steep in hot water, and strain.

3. Mustard. “This is going to sound wacko, but we’ve heard from many People’s Pharmacy readers that a teaspoon of yellow mustard alleviates heartburn,” Teresa Graedon says. “We haven’t heard that any of the fancy mustards work, so stick with the cheap stuff.”

4. Almonds. Munch two or three after a meal. “I have no idea why,” Graedon says, “but it might help and won’t hurt.”

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