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The Cider Vinegar Heartburn Cure?

The "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" nutrition column in today's Health section explores ways to manage heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD through altering your diet. Losing weight and identifying those foods that seem to trigger your heartburn (and then avoiding those foods) are the prime tips offered by dietitian Elaine Magee, author of Tell Me What to Eat if I Have Acid Reflux.

One remedy that doesn't appear in Magee's book is the apple cider vinegar cure, which has been circulating in home- and folk-medicine circles for decades and more recently has found a presence on the Internet. My friend Elizabeth, who, like me, has GERD but who, unlike me, prefers to manage it without taking a lot of medicine, got wind of this apple cider thing via a syndicated newspaper column written by Dr. Peter Gott that Elizabeth's mother forwarded to her.

Here's the remedy as it appeared in the column:

DEAR DR. GOTT: I am a 43-year-old male who has suffered from heartburn or acid reflux for years. Each day, I would require multiple doses of over-the-counter heartburn relief medicines. I also did two courses of Prilosec OTC. I changed my diet to avoid foods containing high acids, to no avail. I was on a regular regimen of prescription medications that made me unhappy, so I explored another therapy for this ailment. A friend told me about apple cider vinegar, so I tried 3 tablespoons in a 6-ounce glass of water three times a day for five days. I dealt with the nasty taste of the vinegar and had some initial heartburn discomfort, but I didn't take any OTC meds. I've been heartburn-free for over a month and have not taken an acid reducer since I began this therapy. The total cost has been about $2 for the vinegar. Please pass this remedy along to your readers and patients. DEAR READER: I just did! Sometimes we find success in the places we least expect. If you remain symptom-free, you just struck gold. Stick with the regimen and thank your friend.

Elizabeth gave it a whirl. Her first report back to me came by an e-mail with the subject line "cure worse than the disease." In short, she wrote, the concoction was "REALLY NASTY stuff," so bad she couldn't bring herself to swallow anywhere near as much as required. Within days, she'd gone back to Prilosec. She told me she "sure would like to know what about the apple cider vinegar is at work so I could figure out if there's a compromise."

I tried to answer Elizabeth's question. I spoke to four experts -- a dietitian and three gastroenterologists. None of them had any experience with the supposed cure (only one had "heard people mention it"); none said they'd recommend it to a patient. Joel E. Richter, professor of medicine at Temple University School of Medicine and a leading expert on heartburn treatment, wrote to me in an e-mail that he had "absolutely no idea how cider vinegar would help a patient with GERD and heartburn. The folklore behind these home remedies continues to amaze me."

A call to the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine confirmed that there's no published research on any cider vinegar cure for heartburn. And a Google search turned up lots of sites touting the remedy, but none from authoritative sources.

I felt bad that I didn't have more to offer Elizabeth, but I did tell her about Magee's suggestion to curb heartburn by chewing gum (which stimulates saliva production, diluting stomach acid and keeping things flowing downward, not up). She's been doing so for several days now and seems to think it's helping.

Okay, Checkup readers, now it's your turn. How do you manage your heartburn/acid reflux/GERD? Any home remedies you recommend?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  November 4, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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Comments

This folky remedy is worth studying. Its possible that the cider vinegar needs to be 'natural'. That is, it should contain vinegar cultures. these acid loving bacteria may displace some other bacteria living in the GERD sufferer's stomach.

Posted by: osulliva | November 4, 2008 8:18 AM | Report abuse

I recently saw a rather well though out test of this remedy on the TV show Food Detectives. It seemed to work rather well, and the explanation was interesting. The heartburn is caused by acidic gases and liquid getting up into the esophagus, irritating the lining of the esophagus. The vinegar seems to trigger the sphincter like muscle at the lower end of the esophagus, causing it to tighten up and stop the "leakage". They tested other home remedies as well. I defer to their web site for the full details. I had always thought that antiacid tablets went into the stomach and neutralized the excess acidity there. Turns out that it actually works by coating the lower esophogal lining and relieving the irritation.

Posted by: BlueRidgeBoy | November 4, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Marshmallow Root cures and prevents heartburn. It is completely safe. It is available at vitamin stores or online. I had bad acid reflux for years. Now I take marshmallow root. It coats the stomach. It has a cumulative effect and does not have to be taken every day or at any particular time. I can eat anything I want now.

Posted by: themaryrose | November 4, 2008 8:52 AM | Report abuse

My father used to suffer from heartburn. He always took what he called a "gin fiz". He mixed 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a little sugar and added water to make the glass about half full. He then added a little baking soda and drank it while it was fizzing. Recently, I tried this for severe heartburn, and it does work--within a minute or so. The sugar sweetens the vinegar enough to make it tolerable and the baking soda fiz makes it easy to swallow. I much prefer this to taking prilosec.

Posted by: lynnadams | November 4, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

I kept a diary of my diet and daily activities and realized that my worst spells occurred after I worked in the garden. Gravity was the real problem; by leaning over, I was allowing acid to move up to my esophagus. Now I sit flat on the ground when I plant or weed rather than leaning over or squatting, and I make a point to eat well before starting my work. Can't tell you what a difference this has made.

Posted by: catsndogs | November 4, 2008 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Please see various books re: Alkaline vs. Acidic foods, or at least research it online for further information. At least one book on the topic can be found in the book section at Whole Foods.

You might find that if you eat more alkaline foods rather than acidic ones that some of your symptoms are aleviated. The vinegar solution seems to fall within this paradigm, but I'm not sure, I'm no doctor.

Nevertheless, my diet is not very healthy, but when occasionally I start to experience symptoms of heartburn, for example, I try to switch my diet to more alkaline foods for a day or so, and all symptoms go away without fail. So perhaps give it a try.

Alkaline foods tend to include most vegetables, many fruits, and things of that nature -- in other words, proper eating! Good luck!

Posted by: jjjjjjj | November 4, 2008 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I use 1 Tbsp of organic unfiltered natural apple cider vinegar (Braggs) mixed with a teaspoon of honey and about 4 ounces of water at bedtime. After a week or so, heartburn disappears for about a month. When it comes back, I repeat and it works like a charm.

Learned this from a guyI work with who also swears by it.

Posted by: WIReader | November 4, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I have a sliding hiatal hernia. Steps I took are basic: I lost about 35 pounds, try not to bend over as much or wear tight belts, I do not normally eat big, heavy meals in the evening, my big meal is late mid-day and only a light early evening meal or snack (normally), this helps me sleep much better also, reduced coffee in the AM, reduced alcohol especially later in the evening, eliminated all the usual GERD triggers in the evening (mint, coffee, chocolate, etc.), try to sleep at a bit higher angle but this is difficult as I'm a side sleeper. I also take probiotics and digestive enzymes regularly.

Posted by: brgberens | November 4, 2008 9:43 AM | Report abuse

I put about a half a teaspoon of ginger (from my spice rack) in a cup of decaf green tea once a day. Relieves my symptoms. Some sites have called for it two to three times a day, but my symptoms aren't that bad.

I realized this when using the ginger to deal with a vertigo problem. Ginger is a super solution to that problem.

Posted by: SueRi | November 4, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

One big spoon down the hatch and 15 minutes later KABOOM ! heart burn .
To me it's the vinegar that works , no need for gimmicks .

Posted by: hasnah1 | November 4, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I've heard that drinking the apple cider vinegar, honey, water combination through a straw decreases potential damage to the enamel on teeth. Yes, it has a bitter taste but it's better than popping pills.

Conversely, I've found that eating raw apples creates GERD for me.

Posted by: landrews1 | November 4, 2008 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I've done this for years. Even Dill pickle juice, or a dill pickle works.

When I read of the remedy the theory was that the Heartburn is a reaction to any substance which requires more stomach acid to digest and the stomach over reacts. SO, adding some vinegar to the stomach helps aid digestion, and calms the over reaction.

It works for me. Kitty

Posted by: klbfelton | November 4, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

These all sound like interesting remedies! Thanks for posting them. I starting experiencing GERD when I took up distance running in 2004. Went to my Dr., who gave me Protonix to take daily. It worked so well that within 6 months I only needed 1 pill a week. My job then changed their insurance to Kaiser, who wouldn't give me Protonix (too costly), and switched me to Prilosec. I immediately started needing it daily, sometimes twice a day, and I was stuck with that for 4 years. New job, new insurance, and I'm back on the Protonix. After only a month, I'm already only needing it every other day. It must be doing something right! I'm determined to stay with Protonix until I don't need it anymore at all.

Posted by: Centava2007 | November 4, 2008 10:24 AM | Report abuse

My husband suffered with acid reflux for years. We tried drugs, elevating the bed, eliminating foods, everything you can imagine. A friend of mine mentioned the natural cider vinegar and tada, no more heartburn.

He took it everyday until the symptoms subsided, and now just takes it every few days or when he eats something that may cause heartburn. Says the taste sucks, but its worth it.

Down it like a shot then follow with water to avoid damaging enamel. I think it would take forever to get it all down with a stray and you wouldn't get good results.

Posted by: lcessar | November 4, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

The daughter of a friend had reflux since she was an infant. At 7 years old, the girl was still having frequent problems, and the latest and greatest medications worked on for a while before not working any longer. In desperation, the mother took the daughter to an alternative medicine guy (a naturopath, I believe), who said in the daughter's case, the underlying problem was that she did produce much stomach acid at all. Thus, food would sit in her stomach, not digested (ugh) and whatever acid the stomach did produce was pushed up the esophagus because there wasn't room in the tum any longer. He tested this theory by giving her apple cider vinegar, which helped improve her symptoms immediately. Had the apple cider not helped, he said the underlying cause would indeed have been overproduction of acid. He gave the daughter some kind of bitters to swallow daily, then weekly, etc., and now she takes the occasional maintenace dose. She is much better--her symptoms are gone. I thought it was interesting, since all the GERD treatments are aimed at reducing acid production.

Of course, I'm not a doctor and don't play one on TV . . .

Posted by: scribblerjenn | November 4, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

eh, that would be did NOT produce much stomach acid at all

Posted by: scribblerjenn | November 4, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

My understanding of the explanation as to how apple cider vinegar works is similar to 'klbfelton's' comment above. My digestive issues increased after gall bladder surgery two years ago, at which time I discovered apple cider vinegar tabs. I take a couple of those per day, along with probiotics and digestive enzymes (including bile salts). No more massive problems related to the surgery and my reflux issue is a thing of the past. However, I do need to take the tabs every day, so I'm curous to try the marshmallow root and some of the recommendations given above. Thanks, all, for the suggestions.

Posted by: zbaldwin | November 4, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse

This happened to me a few years ago. But it wasn't acid reflux like my doctor thought. I went into the hospital to have a gastro exam, with a tiny camera inserted into my stomach, and it showed that I had ulcers. That's what was creating the acid regurgitation. It was so bad that it was taking the enamel off my teeth. Anyway, I was diagnosed with H pilori, a bacteria that was eating away at my stomach. Took some antibiotics and I'm good as new. And happy, too. I'm a Cajun, and I missed my spicy food somethng awful. So, please have a complete diagnosis before trying some of these home remedies. Good luck to everyone.

Posted by: born2win | November 4, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

small simple cure for reflux at night: sit up and drink some plain seltzer. it works for me... seems to just wash the acid back down.

Posted by: nan-tse | November 4, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

This mystifies me vinegar is 5% acetic ACID, how that would make the stomach less acidic defies chemistry.

Posted by: stikyfingas | November 4, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

One of the reasons apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice) will work for reflux is because it has acid which the stomach needs to digest food. Most of the time, it's not too much acid that causes reflux, it's too little. We need stomach acid and without it, food doesn't get properly digested and it stays in the stomach too long, pushing up into the esophagus. It's the opposite of what most people think but if you research and study the digestive system, it makes sense. The lower esophageal sphincter needs to sense that there is acid in the stomach to stay closed. If there isn't enough, it will relax, that's why bending or laying down will seem to cause reflux, but that's not the cause. I did all the usual things recommended for heartburn and nothing worked until I did the research and learned that I had too little acid, with a pH test. After that I started taking betaine hydrochloride pills with meals (only under a doctor's recommendation) and my life has changed completely, I get better nutrition and have never had reflux since. I would not recommend the betaine hydrochloride without asking a doctor first though, because if someone has an ulcer or other intestinal problem, it could make it worse, just like vinegar would, so see a doctor first. Also, most traditional doctors will not recommend natural remedies, so you'd have to see a naturopath or homeopathic doctor.

Posted by: stomachacidisnecessary | November 4, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Knowing the physiology of the stomach as well as the actual causes for "heartburn" help you understand why cider vinegar could be helpful in many cases. For example, like BlueRidgeBoy says above, the ingestion of cider vinegar could trigger the lower esophagial sphincter to contract, holding the contents of the stomach back from refluxing upwards. Another way it could help is that when taken regularly, it works with the negative feedback loop that controls how much acid is secreted, telling the body that there is enough acidity, causing the cells in the stomach down- regulate their production of acid. One thing to remember too, is that sometimes people call indigestion (food sitting in the stomach or slow emptying of a meal, etc) heartburn, and the addition of acidic or bitters-type substances stimulates the digestive system to speed up emptying of the stomach, which relieves the discomfort.

Posted by: dolgre | November 4, 2008 1:35 PM | Report abuse

roughly a week ago i went to the ER being convinced i was having a heart attack. the pain was nerve racking. it turned out my heart was in top form and that i was suffering from acid reflux. they gave me pepcid intravenously (which worked) and a prescription for more which i never used. i never take drugs. have been drug free for 4 years. instead i went on the internet looking for natural cures for acid reflux - and found earthclinic.com and the apple cider vinegar cure. i had some at home, took it and felt great instantly. made a chocolate cake and ate it the day after. i take 2-3 tbsp. in around 3-4 oz. of water 2 to 3 times daily. for cold days i heat up water just a little bit (do NOT boil it), put some ground cinnamon, some xylitol (natural healthy sugar substitute) and pour it into a cup with the cider vinegar in it. tastes deliciously. you can also add half a spoon of coconut oil - fantastic! tell your friend elizabeth to try it that way!

Posted by: voodoo_no_9 | November 4, 2008 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Apple cider vinegar does work for many people and would have far fewer side effects than meds such as prilosec. Take a look at earthclinic.com to read testimonials and the other benefits of apple cider vinegar and other natural remedies. I have used many remedies there while avoiding traditional meds. Just look at askapatient.com for patient stories on drug side effects. It will open your eyes.

Posted by: gjemengelt | November 4, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I've had reflux for 15 years. Recently I started taking 2 acidophilus capsules before I eat and have much less of a problem. When I forget to take them I really know they work!

Posted by: littledog | November 4, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I've been thru all kinds of stomach problems including a long term ulcer, which was finally cured by treating me for the H pyloris bug. When I do have a bit of occasional heartburn, a teaspoon of common baking soda in water fixes me right up. I just wait for the "burp of relief" and I'm fine.

Posted by: mtndance | November 4, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Heartburn relief, fresh ginger root, one of the natural cure alls, the other garlic. Just boil some water and put in the peeled ginger until ready and drink up. You can add a little honet for flavor and your good to go.

Posted by: Iluv2read | November 4, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Coming from a long line of stomach sufferers, I depend on prescription drugs to help GERD. I had acid backed up to my throat for years. An endoscopic exam showed I had an ulcerated esophagus and a hiatal hernia. My doctor put me on prilosec initially, then switched to Zantac (before it was sold OTC). After about 12 years of Zantac, he switched me to Protonix. I know that stuff works because if I skip a dose the old fire-breathing dragon returns.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | November 4, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I swear by apple vinegar in water for my rare acid reflux and for stomach collywobbles in general 3 tablespoons (or even 3 tsp) in 6 oz seems like WAY too much. Tell your friend to cut way back--just a drizzle in a big glass of water and work her way up to larger amounts of vinegar. I need very little to make me feel better. I've heard that as we age, the stomach produces LESS acid so we need a bit extra to digest our food.

Posted by: Woodwose | November 4, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Note to Baltimore11 or anyone who takes prescription med and notices the return of heartburn without them - the prescription drugs inhibit your stomach from producing both acid or alkaline, and it gets accustomed to the lack of either and the pH stays more neutral. So, if you skip the drugs even once, your stomach has a hard time adjusting to the different pH level and it feels like there's too much acid. Alkalinity can be just as corrosive to the stomach or esophagus. It takes a while, maybe even months, to get adjusted to being without proton pump inhibitors, and have the stomach lining become accustomed to normal amounts of acid. But as long as those drugs work for you then that's great, you're lucky they are working. I read somewhere they work for about 85% of those who take them.

Posted by: stomachacidisnecessary | November 4, 2008 4:13 PM | Report abuse

An acidophilus caplet per day helps keep my digestive system happy.

Stay away from drinking half of your beverage after you've finished your meal, too. Gulping it down that way can cause backups.

Long-term use of Prilosec, et al, may reduce nutrient absorption, and should be avoided if possible.

Posted by: Heron | November 5, 2008 6:16 PM | Report abuse

I remember trying the apple cider remedy several years ago. It didn't work... principally because it wasn't GERD, it was angina I was experiencing. Apple cider vinegar doesn't work on coronary artery disease either. Bottom line, if you are having GERD symptoms, get it checked out because it could be heart related.

Posted by: sdnye | November 7, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

My stomach started giving me much less trouble after I went off of chemical birth control. It's something to consider.

Posted by: Heron | November 8, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

ACV is good to keep on hand, helps fight food poisoning, but what works best for me for GERD is 1,000 mgs of Vit C per day. If I skip it for 3-4 days, I get GERD back. Take it again, goes away. Your stomach must be acidic to fight off bacteria, but what acid is the most tolerable/effective, might vary from one person to another. Been using the Vit C for 2 years now. ACV day after day just didn't feel good in the tummy, perhaps I used too much, but the Vit C is cheap, easy & it works. Info on the web supports Vit C killing h.pylori, also. I do
use vinegar for all sorts of cleaning now instead of other chemicals.

Posted by: peachfuzz1 | November 9, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Never mind the vinegar. I have found that apples control my heartburn. I just eat a slice or two before bed or any time I feel a flare up. Any type of apple works for me.

Posted by: Lilly1 | November 10, 2008 7:27 PM | Report abuse

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