Can Ginger or Baking Soda help with your reflux symptoms?
Many patients will take medication for reflux, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), for long periods of time without understanding the risks.
Yet, official advice says PPIs shouldn’t be taken for more than three 14-day treatment courses in one year.
In our blog series on natural remedies, we look at alternatives people often use for relief from their reflux symptoms, such as heartburn and indigestion, and investigate whether there is any scientific evidence supporting the claims.
Ginger and reflux
Ginger is the common name for the whole or cut underground stems (rhizome) of the Zingiber officinale plant. Typically, ginger is obtained by drying and powdering the rhizome.
It is commonly used by people to help treat various types of digestive issues, such as morning sickness (nausea and vomiting in pregnancy), heartburn, dyspepsia (indigestion), digestive function and irritable bowel syndrome.
How do people ‘take’ ginger?
Ginger can be used as a spice, fresh or dried and ground to a powder. Some people drink ginger tea, eat ginger-flavoured foods or mix a ¼ teaspoon of ginger root powder into water. You can also buy dried ginger root tablets.
Why is it used?
The exact way ginger acts on the stomach and digestive system is not fully known, but it is thought to work by blocking certain receptors for the hormone 5HT3, known as serotonin, which are involved in the contraction of the smooth muscles inside the stomach and gut. When serotonin attaches to these receptors it causes nausea and vomiting.
It has also been suggested that ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, which may help relieve symptoms of reflux and relieve gastrointestinal irritation. It is also suggested that ginger improves upper gastrointestinal symptoms.
Is it safe?
According to the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) at the European Medicines Agency, ginger can be used in adults to treat the symptoms of mild complaints affecting the stomach or gut (including bloating and flatulence).
Ginger is also recognised by the US Food and Drug Administration as a food additive that is “generally recognised as safe”.
In high doses, ginger may cause mild heartburn, irritation of the mouth, stomach upset, belching, and nausea.
Does it work?
Several studies have found ginger to be effective in the prevention of nausea and vomiting.
One study in 2008, also found that ginger effectively accelerated gastric emptying and stimulated antral contractions (speeding up emptying of the stomach and improving contractions in the antrum lower end of the stomach to prevent abdominal bloating, pain and nausea).
One study has claimed that the Traditional Chinese Medicine method of using the ginger-containing formula Wendan decoction is superior at reducing the symptoms of dry throat, heartburn and throat discomfort in patients to treatment by Omeprazole.
In 2016, one research paper identified that in the first trimester ginger might improve nausea and vomiting in pregnancy or stop vomiting for one in three women at six days.
While a 2020 study suggests that ginger can improve gastric myoelectrical activity (electrical signals related to contractions of stomach muscles) with cancer patients reporting improvement in symptoms, such as nausea and reflux-like symptoms.
A further 2020 study found that a supplement of ginger combined with the mint-like herb perilla resulted in a significant reduction of symptoms including heartburn, gastric reflux and nausea.
Baking Soda and reflux
Bicarbonate of soda, or baking soda, is an alkaline salt composed of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions. Some people dissolve a teaspoon of baking soda in cup of water to alleviate their reflux symptoms.
Why is it used?
It is often dissolved in water as a natural antacid remedy – relieving symptoms by neutralising the acidic contents of the stomach. It is thought that baking soda mimics the same effects as natural sodium bicarbonate production in the body, helping to prevent stomach acid from backing up in the oesophagus and reducing the risk of long-term oesophageal damage.
Sodium bicarbonate comes as a tablet and powder to take by mouth.
Omeprazole – a proton pump inhibitor – and sodium bicarbonate is a combination medicine often used to treat heartburn and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Does it work?
Sodium bicarbonate has been described as a quick-acting antacid that provides temporary relief for symptoms, including heartburn, indigestion and upset stomach. Alka-Seltzer, the well-known effervescent antacid and pain reliever, contains bicarbonate of soda.
According to the NHS, sodium bicarbonate should no longer be prescribed alone for the relief of dyspepsia but it is present as an ingredient in many indigestion remedies.
A 2018 study concluded that omeprazole/sodium bicarbonate therapy is not more effective than omeprazole in the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease. However, data suggests that it can have a more sustained response and sustained total relief.
Omeprazole-sodium bicarbonate oral suspension powder taken twice daily helped control nocturnal oesophageal reflux in 100 per cent of patients with Barrett’s oesophagus in a 2012 study.
Is it safe?
Side effects of consuming baking soda can include gas, nausea, increased thirst, headache and abdominal cramps. It should not be used it if you’re following a low-sodium diet.
A 2012 study warned that misuse of baking soda can result in serious electrolyte and acid/base imbalances.
Without thorough scientific investigation, it is difficult to claim natural remedies really work and, of course, what works for one person may not always work for another.
Many people think that ‘they are safe because they are natural’ but this is not always true.
It is important to see your doctor for a full discussion about supplements and medication, especially if you develop new or worsening symptoms.
An early and objective diagnosis of reflux, such as Peptest provides, opens the door to lifestyle changes, and future treatment. Peptest can also be used after reflux treatments to assess the success or failure of any treatment. Find out more about Peptest and order your Peptest home testing kit now.
Disclaimer: This is an informational blog and does not constitute diet or lifestyle advice. We always recommend you do your own research on top to ensure it’s right for your specific circumstances. You can always get in touch if you have any questions. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. You should always consult your doctor prior to undertaking any treatment for reflux. This blog content was last updated in 2021.