Heartburn is not caused by a raging fire around your heart, but sometimes it sure feels like it. Instead, heartburn is often triggered by indigestion, which causes some gastric juice to splash up and out of the stomach. Ginger is an herbal folk remedy used for indigestion and other digestive problems, although most commercially made ginger ales contain little or no actual ginger.
Heartburn is a painful burning sensation felt mainly in the middle of the chest and sometimes up to the back of the throat. The burning is caused by hydrochloric acid escaping from the stomach into the esophagus, where it causes irritation and inflammation. Chronic heartburn, also called acid reflux disease, is often related to a malfunctioning esophageal sphincter, which is the valve between the stomach and the esophagus. Gas and bloating are also contributing factors. About 10 percent of Americans experience heartburn daily, which equates to approximately 30 million people. Other symptoms of heartburn include difficulty swallowing, stomach upset, belching and vomiting.
Ginger looks like a root vegetable, but it’s actually an underground stem called a rhizome. Ginger “root” has been used for thousands of years, especially in Asian countries, as a spice and herbal medicine. Medicinally, ginger is used to treat a variety of conditions including indigestion, nausea, mild gastrointestinal infections, diarrhea and menstrual cramps. Fresh ginger contains enzymes that help promote digestion, as well as compounds that display anti-spasmodic and anti-nausea properties.
Ginger ale is a common home remedy for heartburn and indigestion, although most mainstream brands contain little or no real ginger. Instead, these sodas contain artificial flavorings that merely taste like real ginger. However, these artificial ginger ales may help with heartburn from indigestion because they are fizzy and promote burping, which can relieve the pressure in your stomach and intestines and stop the acid from being pushed into the esophagus. On the other hand, ginger ales typically contain high fructose corn syrup, which is acidic and may promote stomach upset in people with sensitive stomachs.
In order to enjoy the benefits of ginger and carbonation, make your own ginger ale at home. Boil or pickle a piece of fresh ginger, slice it up and add it to a glass of carbonated mineral water. Let it steep for about 15 minutes and then slowly sip the beverage and see if that relieves your indigestion and heartburn symptoms. Some health food stores sell natural ginger ales with real ginger, but read the labels carefully before buying. You can also try eating pickled ginger directly, brewing some ginger tea or taking capsules filled with powdered ginger. Keep in mind that chronic heartburn caused by a dysfunctional esophageal sphincter is unlikely to be resolved by consuming ginger or drinking any carbonated beverages. Consult your doctor if your heartburn persists or gets worse.
- Textbook of Functional Medicine; David S. Jones
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine; Simon Mills and Kerry Bone
- Textbook of Nutritional Medicine; Melvyn Werbach and Jeffery Moss
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.