Is This Popular Spice The Secret To Natural Heartburn Relief?

Although generally not considered a serious health issue, heartburn can still be severely uncomfortable, to say the least. That foul taste in your mouth and burning sensation within your chest can certainly make it hard to bask in the bliss of a post-meal coma. All you want to do is recline back on the couch, but laying down can often make symptoms worse.

Stomach acid that's moved backwards into the esophagus is what causes heartburn. Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter constricts after we swallow to keep food down in the stomach. But if these muscles don't do their job and remain relaxed and open, it paves the way for acid reflux, explains the Mayo Clinic. To help relieve the discomfort, many of us reach for antacids, an over-the-counter (OTC) medication made up of magnesium, calcium, and aluminum salts that blocks pepsin activity, the stomach's main digestive enzyme, according to updated research published in 2023 in StatPearls. In doing so, this neutralizes stomach acid, which helps alleviate heartburn symptoms. Rather than reaching for medication, however, there's one natural ingredient sitting on your spice rack that may do the same.

The curcumin in turmeric may help relieve heartburn

Used on a daily basis by 1 billion people globally, turmeric is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine practices and can be consumed as a spice or as a capsule supplement, per 2014 research published in Antioxidants in Food, Vitamins and Supplements. Turmeric contains the natural compound curcumin, which is thought to be responsible for the spice's ability to relieve heartburn.

According to 2019 research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, studies have shown that curcumin exhibits protective properties against damage to the lining of the esophagus due to acute reflux esophagitis. Experts at Ocean Endosurgery Center explain that reflux esophagitis is characterized by inflammation of the esophagus resulting from chronic heartburn and acid reflux. When a person experiences these ongoing symptoms, it's known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition thought to affect approximately 20% of American adults, reports the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Potential risks of curcumin supplements

In a 2023 study published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, researchers set out to determine how effective curcumin, proton pump inhibitors, or a combination treatment of the two would be in relieving symptoms of patients' chronic indigestion. Proton pump inhibitors are an established treatment drug for indigestion, and those who received the combo intervention took one 20-milligram capsule of omeprazole daily, along with two 250-milligram capsules of curcumin, four times a day for 28 days. The study findings showed that curcumin was no more or less effective than omeprazole or the combination treatment in alleviating patient indigestion, proving all three treatment methods to have about the same degree of effectiveness and with no severe negative side effects noted.

Consuming the amount of turmeric that one would normally cook with is not considered harmful, but some experts caution against the use of curcumin supplements. Study co-author Dr. Krit Pongpirul told Prevention that curcumin supplements often contain significantly higher concentrations of the compound, which may increase the risk of bleeding, bruising, or gastrointestinal distress. Curcumin can also negatively interact with certain medications, and large amounts of turmeric may not be safe for those who are pregnant. Therefore, it's best to first consult with your physician if you are considering taking turmeric or curcumin supplements.