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You might have heard that avoiding spicy foods, like chili peppers, onions, and garlic, helps you get rid of heartburn. Do you really need to say goodbye to some of your favorite foods to be free of acid reflux, though? Research is inconclusive.

Many people who often suffer from heartburn report that spicy foods — onions and garlic among them — are one of the worst triggers of acid reflux [1]. 

Research has made it quite clear that changed dietary habits can greatly minimize episodes of heartburn and that food is a natural heartburn remedy in itself. Hence, many medical professionals advise people with frequent heartburn, or with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), to avoid the foods known to cause heartburn in some people altogether. Chocolate, coffee, tomatoes, alcohol, peppermint, fatty foods, and spicy foods are all on this list of "banned foods on an acid reflux diet". [2]

It so happens that the foods and drinks people with heartburn are often advised to avoid are also many people's all-time favorites — and saying goodbye to spicy foods, onions, and garlic is really quite upsetting to some.

Do you really have to go on a lifelong, really boring, bland, diet if you want to get rid of heartburn forever? Do your taste buds get a life sentence if you want to stop torturing your esophagus? 

Maybe it's not quite that simple. 

Spicy Foods May Trigger Heartburn, But Research Is Inconclusive

Here's what we know about heartburn:

  • Episodes of heartburn can be triggered by consuming certain foods
  • Certain risk factors, like obesity and pregnancy, make it more likely that you will suffer from heartburn
  • A weakened esophageal sphincter makes it easier for stomach acid to back up into the esophagus, leading to heartburn
  • Esophageal hypersensitivity is another major cause of heartburn [3, 4, 5]
As you can see, eating spicy foods or other foods that are known to aggravate heartburn in some people doesn't cause acid reflux in everyone — spicy foods are not a root cause of heartburn.

People who suffer from chronic heartburn are, however, most likely to identify fried foods, spicy foods, and alcohol as dietary products that trigger individual episodes of acid reflux, one study suggested — perhaps because these foods relax the esophageal sphincter. [6] This does not mean that all people who are prone to heartburn get it after eating a spicy meal, just that some do. 

It gets much more interesting, though.

Research suggests that Asian populations are less likely to suffer from chronic heartburn than Western populations [7]. We all know that Asian cuisine is generally much spicier than Western cuisine — so if spicy foods really consistently led to heartburn or made it worse, shouldn't we be seeing much higher rates of GERD, the chronic form of heartburn, in Asian countries?

That's not all, either. Some studies even suggest that the heavy chili pepper consumption seen in many Asian countries is the reason for the lower rates of heartburn seen in those countries! Asian populations are not, research shows, less likely to experience acid regurgitation, but those who frequently consume chili peppers are less likely to experience that acid regurgitation as heartburn. This could be due to a desensitization of capsaicin receptors in the esophagus. [8]

The verdict is that there is no verdict. Spicy foods may trigger heartburn in some people, particularly those who haven't grown up eating chili peppers on a daily basis, but a spicy diet may actually help prevent that burning feeling too. Putting together an acid reflux diet is more complicated than you thought. 

So, Should You Avoid Spicy Foods If You Suffer From Chronic Heartburn?

If you're frequently plagued by episodes of heartburn and you are desperately looking for natural heartburn remedies and ways to get rid of heartburn, one of the best things you can do is to start a food journal. Jot down what you eat and when you get heartburn. In time, you will see an emerging pattern and may determine that particular foods trigger your heartburn, while others do not have much of an impact at all. 

While you are doing this, keep in mind that:

This means that it's best to avoid eating and drinking these things together while trying to figure out what triggers your heartburn. If you make a spicy tomato curry and then have an orange and a coffee afterward, you still don't know which one is to blame for your acid reflux. 

Should you find that you do, in fact, tend to suffer from heartburn more often after eating spicy foods, including onions, garlic, and chili peppers, you would certainly be wise to avoid them. Don't make that conclusion prematurely, though, or you might miss out on the foods you like best for no reason. 

Besides re-examining your diet, you should also consider adjusting how you eat — eating smaller meals more frequently rather than three large meals may help you get rid of heartburn [9] and it's also best to avoid eating anything in the three hours before you go to bed [10]. 

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