Can Chewing Gum Relieve Heartburn?

Fact or Fiction: Chewing Gum for Heartburn?

Assorted types of chewing gum
Can chewing gum reduce symptoms of heartburn?. Maximilian Stock Ltd/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Chewing gum is known to stimulate the production of saliva, which may help relieve heartburn symptoms. Since saliva is alkaline, it can help neutralize the acid. Saliva can also relieve heartburn by bathing the esophagus and lessening the effects of acid refluxed into the esophagus by washing it back down to the stomach.

Causes and Mechanisms of Heartburn

Evidence That Chewing Gum Reduces Heartburn

Previous studies have shown that chewing sugarless gum after meals can help prevent cavities by lowering acid and sugar levels in the mouth.

Scientists wondered if the same acid could also help with heartburn.

In an effort to see if chewing gum could also help with acid reflux/GERD, researchers at Britain's Kings College in London tested their theories on 21 volunteers in 2005. Over the span of two days, the volunteers ate two high-fat meals, one each day. After one of the meals, the volunteers would chew gum for 30 minutes, and after the other meal, they didn't chew any gum. For two hours after each meal, researchers measured the levels of acid in each volunteer's esophagus. The researchers then compared the results from the time after meals when gum was chewed, and from the time after those meals when gum was not chewed. The study showed that chewing gum after a meal reduced acidity levels in the esophagus.

A 2016 study took this a step further, demonstrating that gum chewing may not just increase saliva (resulting in bathing of the esophagus and reducing acidity) but may help in esophageal healing through an increased production of protective substances in saliva including bicarbonate, mucin, enodthelial growth factor and prostaglandin E2 in people with reflux esophagitis.

Does the Type of Chewing Gum Matter?

For the most part, we don't really know if the type of chewing gum used makes a difference. Most of the research on this has used small samples, meaning fewer than 100 people, so there really isn't a definitive answer. One study out of Wake Forest University in North Carolina found that chewing gum, whether it was sugarless or contained a bicarbonate, help lower acidity—though the bicarbonate did so more effectively.

More recently, a 2015 Journal of Dietary Supplements study testing a gum with calcium carbonate found that it reduced heartburn symptoms more than a placebo gum.

Side Effects of Chewing Gum for Heartburn

While the results of various studies support chewing gum to reduce the effects of acid reflux, it may not work for everyone. In particular, chewing gum or sucking hard candy may lead to swallowing excess air. Swallowing air, in turn, can result in bloating and an increase in flatulence. It is important, therefore, to discontinue chewing gum or sucking hard candy if swallowing air becomes a problem for you.

Bottom Line on Chewing Gum for Heartburn

In general, chewing gum, or even sucking on a lozenge or a hard candy for 30 minutes after meals increases the production of saliva, making this a fairly easy natural remedy to help with heartburn. It's important, however, to note that heartburn isn't always just an annoying symptom. Chronic heartburn can lead to serious problems such as erosive esophagitis, scarring and strictures, Barrett's esophagus, and even esophageal cancer.

If you're coping with chronic heartburn, make sure to talk to your doctor. In addition to chewing gum, there are several things you can do yourself to help manage your symptoms. Sometimes medications are necessary. And if your symptoms are ongoing, your doctor may recommend an endoscopy procedure to make sure you aren't developing any of the complications mentioned above.

Sources:

Brown, R., Sam, C., Green, T., and S. Wood. Effect of GutsyGum™, A Novel Gum, on Subjective Ratings of Gastro Esophageal Reflux Following a Refluxogenic Meal. Journal of Dietary Supplements. 2015. 12(2):138-45.

Moazzez, R., Barlett, D., and A. Anggiansah. The Effect of Chewing Sugar-Free Gum on Gastro-Esophageal Reflux. Journal of Dental Research. 2005. 84(11):1062-5.

Sarosiek, J. Does the Healing of the Esophageal Mucosa Improve the Function of the Esophageal Submucosal and Salivary Glands? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2016. 1380(1):155-161.

Smoak, B., and J. Koufman. Effects of Gum Chewing on Pharyngeal and Esophageal pH. Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology. 2001. 110(12):1117-9.

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