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Heartburn, the burning sensation in your chest caused by acid reflux, affects millions worldwide. While over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs may offer relief, many people look for natural home remedies, which leads them to wonder, “Do essential oils help with heartburn?”
In this article, I’ll review what causes heartburn, how essential oils may help alleviate some symptoms, and how to prevent it.
In the United States alone, it is estimated that approximately 60 million adults experience heartburn at least once a month, with 15 million suffering daily.1El-Serag, H. B., Sweet, S., Winchester, C. C., & Dent, J. (2014). Update on the epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review. Gut, 63(6), 871-880. Men are more likely to experience heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) than women, likely because of men’s hormones, lifestyles, diets, and alcohol consumption.2Nilsson, M., Johnsen, R., Ye, W., Hveem, K., & Lagergren, J. (2003). Obesity and estrogen as risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux symptoms. JAMA, 290(1), 66-72.
The prevalence of heartburn and GERD increases with age. One study found that GERD symptoms increased from 10.8% in individuals aged 18-24 to 21.8% in those aged 65-74.3Locke, G. R., Talley, N. J., Fett, S. L., Zinsmeister, A. R., & Melton, L. J. (1997). Prevalence and clinical spectrum of gastroesophageal reflux: a population-based study in Olmsted County, Minnesota. Gastroenterology, 112(5), 1448-1456. This increase may be attributed to age-related changes in esophageal function and increased gastric acid secretion.
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation and a burning sensation in the chest area. This condition, also known as acid reflux, can be triggered by obesity, smoking, certain medications, and consuming acidic, fatty, or spicy foods.4Mayo Clinic. (2018). Heartburn. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20373223 Lifestyle habits like stress and lack of sleep can also contribute to heartburn episodes.
I want to highlight obesity and medications, as they’re often overlooked or ignored as causal factors.
Obesity is a significant risk factor for the development of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Obesity leads to heartburn and GERD through:
- Increased intra-abdominal pressure: Obesity, particularly central or abdominal obesity, increases intra-abdominal pressure. This increased pressure puts pressure on the stomach, which can cause the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to weaken or open, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn.5Pandolfino, J. E., El-Serag, H. B., Zhang, Q., Shah, N., Ghosh, S. K., & Kahrilas, P. J. (2006). Obesity: a challenge to esophagogastric junction integrity. Gastroenterology, 130(3), 639-649.
- Hormonal changes: Adipose tissue in obese individuals can cause hormonal changes, including the release of adipokines and cytokines, which have been linked to inflammation and impaired LES function.6Hampel, H., Abraham, N. S., & El-Serag, H. B. (2005). Meta-analysis: obesity and the risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease and its complications. Annals of Internal Medicine, 143(3), 199-211.
- Esophageal motility disorders: Obesity may also be associated with esophageal motility disorders, which can contribute to developing heartburn and GERD.7El-Serag, H. B. (2008). Role of obesity in GORD-related disorders. Gut, 57(3), 281-284.
Several medications can contribute to heartburn by weakening the LES, irritating the esophageal lining, or slowing gastric emptying. Some common medications associated with heartburn include:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can irritate the esophageal lining and increase the risk of heartburn.8Wolfe, M. M., Lichtenstein, D. R., & Singh, G. (1999). Gastrointestinal toxicity of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. New England Journal of Medicine, 340(24), 1888-1899. These medications may also affect prostaglandin production, which protects the gastrointestinal tract from the effects of stomach acid.9Laine, L. (2001). Approaches to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use in the high-risk patient. Gastroenterology, 120(3), 594-606.
Calcium channel blockers: These medications, commonly used to treat high blood pressure, can relax the LES, allowing stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus and cause heartburn.10Fass, R. (2007). Proton-pump inhibitor therapy in patients with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: putative mechanisms of failure. Drugs, 67(11), 1521-1530.
Antidepressants: Some antidepressants, particularly tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), may contribute to heartburn by slowing gastric emptying and relaxing the LES.11Emerenziani, S., Sifrim, D., & Habib, F. I. (2008). Presence of gas in the refluxate enhances reflux perception in non-erosive patients with physiological acid exposure of the oesophagus. Gut, 57(4), 443-447.
Bisphosphonates: Used to treat osteoporosis, bisphosphonates can cause irritation and inflammation of the esophagus, leading to heartburn.12Castell, D. O. (2008). Adverse effects of drugs on the esophagus. Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, 22(5), 865-875.
Oral corticosteroids: Long-term use of corticosteroids can reduce LES pressure, increasing the risk of acid reflux and heartburn.13Hiyama, T., Yoshihara, M., Tanaka, S., Haruma, K., & Chayama, K. (2008). Strategy for treatment of nonerosive reflux disease in Asia. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 14(20), 3123-3128.
Antacids: Antacids are over-the-counter medications that neutralize stomach acid and temporarily relieve heartburn symptoms. While they can be effective in the short term, long-term use of antacids has been associated with worsening reflux symptoms in some cases. A few potential mechanisms can explain this phenomenon.
- Rebound acid hypersecretion: Long-term use of antacids can lead to a condition called rebound acid hypersecretion, in which the stomach begins to produce more acid to compensate for the neutralizing effects of the antacids.14Reimer, C., Søndergaard, B., Hilsted, L., & Bytzer, P. (2009). Proton-pump inhibitor therapy induces acid-related symptoms in healthy volunteers after withdrawal of therapy. Gastroenterology, 137(1), 80-87. This increase in acid production can exacerbate heartburn and reflux symptoms over time.
- Altered gastric emptying: Some antacids, particularly those containing aluminum or calcium, can slow down gastric emptying, which may lead to increased pressure in the stomach and subsequent reflux.15Kulig, M., Leodolter, A., Vieth, M., Schulte, E., Jaspersen, D., Labenz, J., … & Malfertheiner, P. (2001). Quality of life in relation to symptoms in patients with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease–an analysis based on the ProGERD initiative. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 15(10), 1627-1633.
- Decreased LES pressure: Chronic use of antacids may also decrease LES pressure, making it easier for stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus and cause heartburn.16Pandolfino, J. E., & Kahrilas, P. J. (2004). AGA technical review on the clinical use of esophageal manometry. Gastroenterology, 126(1), 153-156.
Essential Oils for Heartburn Relief
Essential oils, like other natural products and remedies, won’t cure GERD, but they may provide symptom relief. In this section, I’ll cover the top 10 essential oils you could try. In the next section, I’ll address how to prevent GERD, which addresses the root cause. When using essential oils, you must use only pure, unadulterated oils. Many of the products found on retail store shelves are not pure. And, as always, if your doctor is treating you for a disease, check with him or her before introducing any new natural product as a potential remedy.
- Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil contains menthol, which is known for its cooling and soothing properties. Menthol has been found to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, potentially reducing symptoms of acid reflux.17Kahrilas, P. J., & Shaheen, N. J. (2017). The role of transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations in gastroesophageal reflux disease. Gastroenterology Clinics, 46(3), 515-525. However, excessive use of peppermint oil may have the opposite effect and aggravate heartburn.
- Lavender oil: Lavender oil contains linalool and linalyl acetate, which exhibit anxiolytic and sedative properties.18Liao, M., Chen, C., Lin, S., & Chen, Y. (2018). Anxiolytic effects of essential oil from Lavandula officinalis in rats. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, 19, 31-37. These calming effects may help reduce stress, which has been linked to heartburn.19Naliboff, B. D., Mayer, M., Fass, R., & Fitzgerald, L. Z. (2008). The effect of life stress on symptoms of heartburn. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(5), 509-513. Diffuse lavender oil in your home or apply it topically to promote relaxation and potentially alleviate heartburn symptoms.
- Lemon oil: Lemon oil contains limonene, a compound with alkalizing properties. A study showed that limonene has gastroprotective effects and may help neutralize stomach acid, reducing heartburn symptoms.20Sun, J. (2007). D-limonene: safety and clinical applications. Alternative Medicine Review, 12(3), 259-264. To harness the benefits of lemon oil, add a drop or two to a glass of water and drink it slowly, or diffuse the oil in your living space.
- Ginger oil: Gingerol, the primary active component in ginger, has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties.21Grzanna, R., Lindmark, L., & Frondoza, C. G. (2005). Ginger—an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. Journal of Medicinal Food, 8(2), 125-132. Research suggests that ginger may help reduce inflammation in the esophagus and stomach lining, relieving heartburn.22Hu, M. L., Rayner, C. K., Wu, K. L., Chuah, S. K., Tai, W. C., Chou, Y. P., … & Hu, T. H. (2011). Effect of ginger on gastric motility and symptoms of functional dyspepsia. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 17(1), 105-110. Mix a few drops of ginger oil with a carrier oil and apply to your abdomen for potential relief.
- Eucalyptus oil: Eucalyptus oil contains eucalyptol, which has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.23Silva, J., Abebe, W., Sousa, S. M., Duarte, V. G., Machado, M. I., & Matos, F. J. (2003). Analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of essential oils of Eucalyptus. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 89(2-3), 277-283. These properties may help alleviate heartburn by soothing inflammation in the esophagus. Dilute eucalyptus oil with a carrier oil and apply topically to your chest and neck area for potential relief.
- Chamomile oil: Chamomile oil contains numerous bioactive compounds, including flavonoids, sesquiterpenes, and phenolic acids, which exhibit anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties.24Srivastava, J. K., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with a bright future. Molecular Medicine Reports, 3(6), 895-901. These properties may help reduce heartburn symptoms by soothing the gastrointestinal tract. Diffuse chamomile oil in your home or apply topically for potential relief.
- Fennel oil: Fennel oil contains anethole, a compound that has been found to relax the gastrointestinal tract and improve digestion.25Alexandrovich, I., Rakovitskaya, O., Kolmo, E., Sidorova, T., & Shushunov, S. (2003). The effect of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seed oil emulsion in infantile colic: a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 9(4), 58-61. These properties may help reduce heartburn symptoms. Add a drop or two of fennel oil to a glass of water and drink it slowly, or dilute it with a carrier oil and massage onto your abdomen.
- Bergamot oil: Bergamot oil is rich in compounds such as linalool and linalyl acetate, which exhibit anxiolytic and sedative properties.26Watanabe, E., Kuchta, K., Kimura, M., Rauwald, H. W., Kamei, T., & Imanishi, J. (2015). Effects of bergamot (Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) essential oil aromatherapy on mood states, parasympathetic nervous system activity, and salivary cortisol levels in 41 healthy females. Forschende Komplementärmedizin, 22(1), 43-49. These calming effects may help reduce stress and anxiety, which can contribute to heartburn. Diffuse bergamot oil in your living space or apply topically to promote relaxation.
- Frankincense oil: Frankincense oil contains boswellic acids, which have been shown to possess anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.27Hamidpour, R., Hamidpour, S., Hamidpour, M., & Shahlari, M. (2013). Frankincense (Ru Xiang; Boswellia species): From the selection of traditional applications to the novel phytotherapy for the prevention and treatment of serious diseases. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 3(4), 221-226. These properties may help reduce heartburn symptoms by soothing the gastrointestinal tract. Mix a few drops of frankincense oil with a carrier oil and apply to your abdomen for potential relief.
- Cardamom oil: Cardamom oil contains terpenes, such as 1,8-cineole and terpinyl acetate, which exhibit antispasmodic and gastroprotective properties.28Al-Zuhair, H., el-Sayeh, B., Ameen, H. A., & al-Shoora, H. (1996). Pharmacological studies of cardamom oil in animals. Pharmacological Research, 34(1-2), 79-82. These properties may help reduce heartburn by soothing the gastrointestinal tract. Add a drop or two of cardamom oil to a glass of water.
By following the proper guidelines for using essential oils and incorporating them into your heartburn management routine, you can benefit from a natural, holistic approach to relief and prevention. With the top 10 essential oils backed by scientific evidence, you can experiment to find the best combination that works for your unique needs. And, of course, consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice on managing your heartburn symptoms.
Other Remedies for Heartburn
In addition to essential oils, several other natural remedies may help alleviate heartburn symptoms:
- Dietary modifications: Avoid trigger foods such as spicy, fatty, and acidic foods, or when you eat them, plan ahead to ward off the heartburn that’s sure to follow. Also, if you remain upright or even go for a walk after eating, you’ll be less likely to experience reflux. Eating a big meal with triggering foods and then going to bed is an almost certain way to wake up with heartburn.
- Herbal teas: Drinking herbal teas like chamomile, licorice, or slippery elm may help soothe the digestive tract and alleviate heartburn symptoms.29Borrelli, F., Capasso, R., & Izzo, A. A. (2014). Herbal medicines: Study raises alarm over labelling. BMJ, 349, g4795.
- Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, or yoga may help prevent heartburn by reducing stress and promoting relaxation.30Shi, Z., Li, T., Wang, Y., & Zhou, W. (2020). Relaxation techniques for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 52, 102490.
- Lifestyle changes: Quitting smoking, losing weight, and avoiding tight-fitting clothes may help reduce the frequency and severity of heartburn episodes.
Essential oils can be natural, holistic solutions to relieve heartburn and minimize the effects of GERD. Experiment with the top 10 essential oils discussed in this article to find the best combination that works for your unique needs. Always use only the higest-quality essential oils, and consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice on managing your heartburn symptoms or for treating the condition.
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