It’s estimated that 1 in 5 Australians suffer the misery of heartburn.1 Characterised by a burning sensation in the chest, a sour or acidic taste in the throat and discomfort in the upper abdomen, heartburn symptoms are not only unpleasant but can interfere with sleep, socialising, work productivity and day to day functioning. It can be difficult to get persistent relief from heartburn with the treatment options available but what if there was another way to enjoy your favourite foods again without the burn?
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is a form of indigestion that describes a burning sensation felt behind the breastbone that occurs when the contents of the stomach flow back up into the oesophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). Normally when food is swallowed, a band of muscle around the bottom of the oesophagus, known as the lower oesphageal sphincter relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into the stomach. It then tightens again. With heartburn, this sphincter doesn’t close properly allowing stomach acid and contents to move upwards. Occasional heartburn might be caused by eating a large meal, having too much coffee, alcohol, fatty, citrus or spicy food, eating a large meal and then bending over or lifting something, which allows stomach acid to move more easily into the oesophagus as well as anxiety and smoking.2,3 Pregnancy and carrying extra weight can also trigger heartburn symptoms due to added pressure on the stomach and abdomen.2 Age also appears to be a factor, with symptoms more prevalent in people over the age of 50.4 Ongoing heartburn is caused by a number of medical conditions and can be provoked by dietary factors like fatty food, alcohol, coffee and overeating.
Signs and symptoms of heartburn
Aside from a burning sensation, heartburn may create a sour or acidic taste in your mouth, cause coughing or hoarseness, discomfort in the upper abdomen, stomach bloating and the feeling of having food stuck in the throat. Symptoms might begin shortly after eating and last a few minutes to a few hours. You may feel worse if you lie down or bend over. It’s estimated that between 15-20% of adults experience heartburn at least once a week.5
Lifestyle and dietary changes can help manage heartburn like avoiding any known foods that trigger symptoms, eating smaller meals, not eating too late at night and avoiding lying down straight after eating, not wearing tight clothing, losing weight if necessary, stopping smoking if relevant and lifting the head of your bed so you’re raised from the waist up.3 Over-the-counter or prescribed medication is often used to manage symptoms but doesn’t address the root cause.
How probiotics and herbs can help
Although it was long thought to be a sterile organ, the stomach has a unique microbiome known as the gastric microbiome, which plays a role in maintaining stomach health and can influence gut function and acidity.6 The gastric microbiome can be affected by antibiotics, taking certain medication long term and diet. Emerging research suggests that taking probiotics may be a complementary way to helping manage heartburn by nourishing the gastric microbiome and maintaining digestive health.7
Liquorice extract has a long history of use for supporting digestive health in traditional systems of medicine. GutGard® is a form of liquorice extract with high levels of important flavonoids, that has been found to relieve digestive symptoms including heartburn. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study, GutGard® significantly improved symptoms of heartburn, upper abdominal pain, upper abdominal fullness and bloating after 15 days of use. GutGard® supports digestive health through its gastroprotective, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects as well as potentially inhibiting the growth of troublesome gut bacteria.8
- NPS Medicine Wise, 2023, Managing Reflux and Heartburn, viewed 18 May 2023, https://www.nps.org.au/consumers/managing-reflux-and-heartburn#what-is-gord?
- Better Health, 2012, Indigestion (Heartburn and Reflux), viewed 18 May 2023, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/indigestion
- Health Direct, 2021, Heartburn, viewed 18 May 2023, https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/heartburn
- Thrive Insights Population Metrics, April 2022, pp. 21-24
- Gastroenterological Society of Australia. Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease in Adults: Reflux Disease. Mulgrave, VIC. Gastroenterological Society of Australia. 5th ed. 2011. p 5.
- Nardone G et al, 2015, ‘The human gastric microbiota: is it time to rethink the pathogenesis of stomach diseases?’ United European Gastroenterol J, vol 3, no 3, pp 255-260
- Cheng J et al, 2020, ‘Gastroesophageal reflux disease and probiotics: A systematic review’, Nutrients, vol 12, no 1, a 132
- Raveendra KR et al, 2011, ‘An extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra (GutGard®) alleviates symptoms of functional dyspepsia: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study’, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, vol 2012